LIKE everyone else in the UK apart from Prime Minister Theresa May and Her Majesty the Queen, councillors and campaigners of all parties as well as the people of South Ayrshire went to bed on Easter Monday night looking forward to a normal Tuesday.
Maybe they thought there would be increased activity across South Ayrshire as the local government elections on May 4 get nearer, but no-one guessed the political world would be turned upside down by the news from Downing Street.
On the streets of Ayr, Prestwick, Troon, Girvan, Maybole and across the Burns Country, the calling of the snap General Election caused a shock, but as the Bard himself wrote “nae man can tether time or tide” and now there are two election races under way.
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It remains to be seen how June 8 will impact on May 4, but in South Ayrshire it was business as usual yesterday as the various parties and independent candidates prepared for the first visit to the ballot boxes which is only a fortnight and a day away.
South Ayrshire suffered quite badly in the latest Local Government Boundary Commission’s reorganisation, losing two of its 30 seats. On May 4, three councillors – rather than four – will be elected to serve wards four (Ayr East) and seven (Maybole, North Carrick & Coylton).
Every ward will be contested, with a total of 45 candidates standing, 34 of whom are male and 11 female. Of the nine independent candidates only one is a woman, namely Karen Clark-McCartney in the Girvan and South Carrick ward.
One of the issues which has preoccupied the people of South Ayrshire in recent months is the cuts in the budget of the much- loved Gaiety Theatre in Ayr. It has seen its council contribution reduced from £150,000 to £100,000, a devastating blow that came just seven months after the theatre was reopened following a £2.4 million refurbishment.
The fall-out from that decision split the Conservative-Labour administration, and the SNP are hoping to cash in on that issue by promising to review the whole matter. A similar pledge has been made about funding of the famous Ayr Flower Show which was axed last year after the council withdrew funding.
The Scottish International Air Show is one of the most popular public events in Scotland attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the area every year. Again the issue is funding, with the current administration having pledged only to support the show for another year.
It’s certain to be a big topic for discussion over the next fortnight, with arguments for and against council funding of the event.
There is no doubt that South Ayrshire’s budget cuts have been particularly harsh, but many people in the area are questioning the wisdom of the Conservative-Labour administration’s decision to use up a lot of the council’s cash reserves. Some of that administration will not be back, including long-serving Tories Bill McIntosh, the council leader, and Ayr West Conservative stalwart Bill Grant who is acting as election agent for their candidates – not to be confused with William Grant of the SNP, the depute group leader who is standing again in Maybole, North Carrick and Coylton.
Veteran Labour Group leader and council deputy leader John McDowall is also standing down, as is the greatly-respected SNP councillor Nan McFarlane, a long-time campaigner for disability rights, and her colleagues Ian Douglas and Alec Oattes. SNP leader Allan Dorans is standing again, as is Labour Provost Helen Moonie.
A mixture of new faces and incumbents then, and once again there are no Liberal Democrat candidates and only one Green, Boyd Murdoch in Troon, with independents such as Alec Clark and Brian Connolly sure to benefit from their absence on the ballot paper.
The SNP is fielding 14 candidates and the good news for the party is that veteran Douglas Campbell, who has been a council member for 30 years, is well on the way to a full recovery from the stroke he suffered a few weeks ago. It happened after nominations had closed, but Campbell has recovered quickly and is looking forward to going out campaigning soon with no worries on the health score.
The certainty is that no party will be able to take overall control of the council since only the SNP is putting up enough candidates to do that and no-one really expects them to win all 14 seats they are seeking.
In a bold move, the SNP locally have said that on no account will they be part of a coalition with the Conservatives, not least because they consider that the current Conservative–Labour coalition has not been effective. In common with other areas where the Labour Party it is not putting up the expected number of candidates, South Ayrshire has only nine people standing for Labour which is the same number of councillors they currently have.