Next year’s local elections shouldn’t be dominated by national issues, writes AILEEN COLLERAN


It’s ironic that the de-coupling of Scottish council elections from Holyrood was meant to enable local issues to come to the fore when next year’s vote looks set to be dominated by national debates. Even on the pages of LabourHame there’s been scarce mention of the impending campaign. Ten months and clock ticking, you’d never guess I was a councillor would you ?

Instead of a reasoned debate about the future of local democracy, service delivery and what matters to communities, the debate will be dominated by the national mood music. Constitutional wrangling over a referendum, the state of Scottish Labour, the fragility of the Tories and the corpse of the LibDems will all be picked over for public consumption in the coming months.

One party that will probably be quietly working away locally and will do rather better than this year’s result suggests is the Greens. As the ” lifestyle choice/none of the above ” party they’re not to be underestimated, especially given their tendency to hoover up second preferences.

Therein lies a challenge for us – do we really “get” PR? If this year taught us anything it’s that core vote isn’t enough and there’s no such thing as “our voters”. Not only do we need to reconnect with Labour switchers to the SNP but we also need to connect to a much wider electorate and persuade them that we have the vision to work with them to deliver for their communities.

So far there hasn’t been much of a vision from the SNP on that front, other than a vague promise about a Community Empowerment Bill. This is piggy-backing on an agenda we’ve already delivered in Glasgow, giving community groups the opportunity to manage and develop facilities in their area. I can think of three examples in my own ward alone , but unless we tell the story first and are clear about our support for this vision then we run the risk of our policies being stolen for campaign purposes. Sounds familiar? Council tax freeze, apprenticeships, living wage… Well, quite.

You have to search long and hard in the SNP manifesto for any strategy for tacking the thorny issue of local government finance. I stand to be corrected but I haven’t yet found a single mention in it of Local Income Tax. But there are at least five mentions of the council tax freeze. However, we urgently need to develop and explain our position on this. What would be refreshing is if all political parties in Scotland could engage in a non-partisan debate about whether local government has a future at all or whether increasing central control from Holyrood through financial measures is an inevitable consequence of devolution?

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance and some signs of hubris are emerging from the Nationalists. Bold declarations that after May 2012 the SNP will “own” Glasgow aren’t playing too well with people I’m speaking to as they do reserve the right to make that decision themselves. It will be a challenging campaign as we’ve got organisational/campaigning tactics to sort out, not least being outflanked by use of technology. The most important factor, though, is always about the vision and the story are we telling to engage with voters to positively persuade them that we are their community champions, concerned about local issues and services.

However, if community-based issues are crowded out and councils are elected next year on the basis of being a stepping stone for independence (or a bulwark to defend the union – I’d rather my campaign wasn’t about that thank you very much) , then our local democracy will be much poorer for it.

Aileen Colleran is the sole Labour councillor in the four-member ward of Partick West in Glasgow, and a former librarian. Follow Aileen on Twitter at @ColleranAileen.

Related Posts

11 thoughts on “Ten months and counting

  1. I think we also need to review what went wrong at the 2007 local elections for us. Just as we didnt learn the lessons of the 2007 Holyrood defeat, I dont think we really adjusted to the new style of voting.

    We never went out and sought peoples 2nd preferences – and that means having policies that attract them just as much as asking for them on the doorstep. Plus we should take advantage of the preferential system and run multiple candidates in wards where we already have councillors. According to the electoral commision’s guidance on STV for the scottish local elections, a party should run 1 candidate more than the number it hopes to get elected – and this is something the SNP did, and allowed them to make substantial gains.

  2. Aileen very well put. Local Income Tax/Poll Tax, I can’t tell the difference, is something that the electorate aren’t really aware of yet and is something that needs flagged up. There are alternatives that need to be considered then promoted and that is something that can be worked on properly during the intervening period. As the SNP (with some LibDem support) are already in at Aberdeen Dundee and Edinburgh they will see Glasgow as an obvious target to complete the City group and Labour has to strongly defend it’s position.

    1. “Local Income Tax/Poll Tax, I can’t tell the difference”, well only that it’s obvious to anybody that in a local income tax what people pay is based on what they can afford to pay and in the poll tax everybody pays the same regardless of ability to pay.

      Stop trying to treat the voters like fools. The times when Labour or the Daily Record could say anything, no matter how outrageous or false, and people took it for granted that it was the gospel truth, are now well and truly over.

      I also don’t remember any predictions from the SNP that they will “own” Glasgow after next May, we will leave the territorial claims of party fiefdoms to Labour, given that this is how they have treated Glasgow over the last 50 to 60 years. All such predictions / distortions of projections made in terms of “owning” have been made by the unionist media, unionist politicians and unionist bloggers.

      The SNP will be fighting to win the election of course and I think there is a belief that we CAN win (not that we WILL, there is a difference). But I think we do recognise we have a very tough challenge ahead of us, and Labour will not give up one of their bastions of power without a very tough, and dare I say bitter, fight.

      1. A true Local Income Tax is impossible because, just like the Poll Tax, it’d be hideously unfair and an administrative nightmare.
        Moreover, a proportion of high incomes would be left outwith local income taxes because of the complexity of allocating investment incomes to defined areas.

  3. John- what you say about the SNP is just utter nonsense. In most seats they stood only one, and paid the price. In reality they would have had far more councillors if they had stood the right number of candidates but they erred on the side of caution.

    It is also misleading to say that you simply stand one more candidate than you are likely to get elected. You need to be more sophisticated than that. There are wards in your area for example that you may squeeze one candidate in on a 15%- 20% share of the vote but standing two in such circumstances would split the Labour vote too much and could result in none of them being elected. The reality is we got it pretty much spot on in 2007 in terms of the number of candidates across Scotland but suspect this time we will probably need to stand less candidates. When you say we need to review what went wrong in 2007- could I suggest you start by at least understanding what went right….

    1. Well, in 2007, we lost 4.5% of the vote and 161 councillors. Not sure much went right there, whilst the SNP gained 3.8% of the vote and 182 councillors. The SNP now have more councillors in Scotland than we do.

      As I said, the advice on how many candidates to field came from the electoral commision. Certainly locally, it was followed by the SNP, who fielded multiple candidates in every ward, and many of them got elected. If, as you say, they didnt field enough candidates last time, they will certainly have learned the lesson this time – they will increase their councillors dramatically.

      My other point certainly stands – we must do more to atttract 2nd preferences. In Angus we would have had twice the number of councillors we ended up with if we had managed to get the 2nd preferences that those candidates who had fewer 1st preferences managed.

  4. For John Ruddy. With regard to Glasgow council in 2007 you are incorrect. In all bar one of the wards the SNP ran only one candidate. All their candidates (around 22) were elected, suggesting that they should have, as you are advising, run a second in all wards.

    However, before the introduction of PR (fair voting to me), they had only a handful or so of councillors and wanted to allow new councillors to learn the ropes before launching a full blooded challenge to Labour in 2012.

    1. As you may have realised if you have been following this site, I dont come from Glasgow. Here in the North East, the SNP certainly did do what I said they did. It might come as a shock to you that a Labour member isnt bothered about Glasgow Council, but hey, what can I say?

      What I am talking about is a successful strategy which worked – I know, I have seen it work. It’s what was recommended by the electoral reform society here.

      1. Well John, Glasgow is a pretty significant place in Scottish politics. If you are thinking strategically, best not to ignore it 🙂

        Fortunately the nonsense about GARL and the SNP being anti-Glasgow seems to have played badly for Labour (the fact it isn’t true probably helped in that).

        *Outside Glasgow it irritated those who are not great lovers of my native city as Labour seemed to have become the “Glasgow” party.

        * Inside Glasgow, it obviously did not convince as the SNP one 5 of the 8 constituencies.

  5. hi move with the times. this is about local elections and we are stuck around the number of candidates where are we taking up the local government manifesto content i seem to recall we opposed the council tax freeze, especially glasgow’s leaders. how can we say ” we run the risk of our policies being stolen”. as for the living wage, we introduced it then sold the workforce a pup by giving them over to outsourcing and not having to pay the wage. no wonder the people are deserting us. look at our position on lightburn, we move closing the hospital and now want the scottish government to keep it open. we can no longer afford to have differing views within the same party but try to sy that was “another branch” ie councillors or msp’s or mp’s

Comments are closed.