Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

Election day: new councillors, unexpected outcomes and reviewing local government


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This election day, LGiU Scotland Director Andy Johnston talks new councillors, unexpected (and expected) outcomes and what’s in store for local government after these elections.

Today, Scotland is going to the polls in its first local elections since 2012. Inevitably, the snap General Election called for June has both distracted from these vitally important elections and overshadowed local issues.

For many, this election has marked the end of their careers in local government: councillors across the country have stood down. The new generation of councillors elected today will come to office at a portentous time in Scottish local government. Councillors may find themselves spearheading a revolution in how things work in Scotland – or battling to keep up as change happens.

The next few days could also see a realignment between Scottish political parties at a local level. Polls predict a significant decrease in the Labour vote – meaning that they could lose control of the cities where they have held power for decades. The Scottish Conservative Party is also predicted to do well. However, these polls were conducted before the snap election announcement – tomorrow we will see what effect, if any, that has had on public opinion.

Should the SNP meet expectations and secure control of cities such as Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, the economic centres of Scotland will now be led by the same party as is in government at Holyrood. What will the effect of this be on local government – and local democracy – in Scotland? Will SNP-led councils find it easier to fight local government’s corner – or harder? The Scottish Government has big plans for local government whoever holds the reigns.

Recent polls show the Greens securing at least 4% of first preference votes – and some show 8%. Currently, the party’s only coalition is with the SNP and independent councillors in Midlothian. After tomorrow, they could be holding the balance of power elsewhere.

The Lib Dems are predicted to come out the other side of the local elections much the same as they went in. Unlike the Greens, they are fielding exactly the same number of candidates as at the last local elections in 2012.

Independent executives will almost certainly continue to lead the island authorities. There, councils are already pushing for significant change: the Islands Bill will pave the way for greater autonomy in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

However, these elections are nothing if not unpredictable: voting by STV can lead to quirky outcomes. These local elections are also the first in which 16 – 17 year olds have been able to vote. Add into the mix the changed ward boundaries across Scotland and you have just enough unpredictability to mean we can’t be certain what will happen over the course of the next few days.

Regardless of who runs Scotland’s councils, local government will continue to deliver Scotland’s services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. New councillors will have to hit the ground running – and are likely to find themselves on the frontline of a massive shift in the way Scottish local government works.

All day today and tomorrow, the LGiU Scotland team will be covering the Scottish local elections. Follow us on twitter for live updates, and watch out for our snap results blog tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be dropping in on counts in Falkirk and Glasgow too.