REGARDLESS of who wins control of Perth and Kinross Council next month, constituents should be prepared to make way for a number of new faces.
As many as 16 sitting councillors will not contest their wards, including Provost Liz Grant of the SNP and party colleague Ian Miller, who has led the council for the last 10 years of a 22-year career as an elected representative.
The 67-year-old announced his retirement last month as preparations for the May 4 vote stepped up around the country.
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Miller leaves at a crucial time for the predominately rural area, which has lodged a £1.8 billion proposal for a Tay Cities regional development deal in conjunction with Angus, Dundee and Fife councils.
Unveiled in February, the plan has the potential to transform the economy, creating up to 15,000 jobs between the regions involved.
The area is also vying to become the next UK City of Culture with a bid based on its status as the country’s oldest and youngest city – the site of regal coronations was given the modern day tag in 2012.
The Perth 2021 bid is also tied to three central ideas: “home”, which presents Perth as being at the heart of rural communities; “wild”, which positions the locale as the gateway to the Highlands; and “belong”, which emphasises community and creativity.
That spirit of community is something all 85 council candidates will want to tap into to secure a place on one of the area’s 12 wards.
As many as eight serving SNP councillors are certain not to return, including Miller and Grant, with five sitting Tories also out, as well as two Labour members and one independent.
There are more independents running than Labour hopefuls this time around, with Kezia Dugdale’s party fielding single candidates in just seven of the multi-member wards, including Tricia Duncan, chair of the local Labour Party.
Meanwhile, the Greens have put out their strongest ever team, with candidates in all but one ward, Perth City North, and a star player in the form of award-winning stand-up comedian Bruce Fummey, whose political ambition was revealed by The National.
Fummey and the Greens promise to take a ground-up approach to local government, empowering communities to participate in decision-making and focusing on sustainable development.
This follows a number of rows about housebuilding around the area, including residential schemes in Milnathort, Kinross and Lathro Farm, all of which included permission for more homes than stated in local development plans.
Meanwhile, the Tory campaign took a hit earlier this week when they had to issue an apology for remarks made online by Strathtay candidate Ian James, who branded the term “African American” a “stupid politically correct euphemism” and, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, questioned the Tory leadership, asking: “Where are the political characters like Churchill, Nye Bevan and Enoch Powell or even Margaret Thatcher?”
James also called Nicola Sturgeon a “poisonous Oompah fr****n Loompah” and a party official said the posts had been “inappropriate”.
At least 10 of the party’s prospective councillors have been caught up in such rows across the country. However, Ruth Davidson’s team are not the only ones to see their campaigns go off the rails – independent Susan Bathgate, who is standing in Perth City South, suffered a blow after distributing leaflets which erroneously claimed that the Inveralmond Brewery was “effectively gone”.
The move sparked a statement from brewery managing director Fergus Clark, who insisted the beer maker “still stands and operates” from its premises in the Inveralmond Industrial Estate and is on the cusp of tripling its production capacity. Clark said: “We’re alive and kicking, and we are here to stay.”
Apologising, Bathgate said the claim had been “retrieved from Facebook” by an assistant and included in her election material without further checks.
A total of 13 independents will have their names on the ballot paper, with another from the Scotland Independent Network. They include Perth City North candidate Sam Finlayson, a mother of three who aims to push for “common sense” improvements to local services and the use of “real consultation” to determine decisions.
Finlayson says this includes “not an announcement or a few poorly-scheduled meetings but the kind of consultation that takes the time to find those most affected and involved and gives local people the chance to really have their say”.
With more independents in the running than LibDem, Greens, or Labour candidates, these individuals could hold real influence in the next administration – depending on the numbers. Turnout in 2012 was lower than at the previous poll. All contenders will hope to rally their support to ensure greater participation this time around.