One thing has become clear in this raft of results for local elections and that is that the Lib Dems appear to be being punished for their role in the coalition. It is a political gesture that sometimes manifests itself against governments in mid-term and is not in itself unusual. The worry for them however is that this might represent a fundamental shift away from support for them because their voters feel that, by being in coalition, they have compromised their basic ideologies making them unacceptable to them, rather than just a case of a voicing of voter disapproval.
This leads us to explore what the issues should be in local elections? What should we look for in trends?
What in fact are local elections?
Well, they should be elections that produce councillors who deal with local issues. Ignoring the “backlash” effect identified above, it should hopefully be recognised by voters that what is needed are men and women who will act on behalf of their communities and for the interests of the community as a whole and those who simply seek to blow a political trumpet and spout party propaganda should probably not be electable.
Councillors who feather their own nests with little thought or care for their constituents are to be avoided. For this reason voters will often cross their own ideology lines and vote for a candidate who is recognised as a good councillor – not just one who belongs to the party they would naturally vote for in say a general election. This is also why independent candidates tend to do well in local elections especially if they are active in and have good standing in their communities.
In a local context, to many people, it matters little if a council is controlled by Labour, SNP, Lib Dems or Conservatives. What matters is that their rubbish is collected in a timely fashion and that the big pot hole at the end of their road is finally filled in.
To be fair though, political viewpoints can shape policies even at a local level but this, in general, tends to have a lesser impact on our lives than at a national level. The only time party politics would impact at a local level is when councillors are elected simply on a party ticket and get to feel their seat is secure. They then may feel free to act in their own interests and not those of their constituents.
Local issues should be the basis of a local election.
The run up to this election has been different however. Much has been made of using the results as a measure for support for Independence.
But were these local elections in fact fought with the Independence issue in mind? I have not seen much evidence of this. They still appear to have been fought largely on local issues and policies. I doubt the Independence issue was mentioned in much, if any, of the literature sent out – certainly I didn’t see it mentioned on any of the literature that dropped through my particular letterbox.
This means that any gains made by the SNP should not be interpreted as a rampant resurgence of Nationalism. It is more that constituents are either
– registering disapproval of the Lib Dems, as I mentioned above, and are seeking an alternative moderate left of centre party to support instead
– or they are tired of being taken for granted and want to send a clear message, to those they have chosen to elect in the past, that in future a party ticket should never again be seen as a guarantee for re-election.
Allegiances are transient in the new political world.
So are these results, in the end, to be seen as an increased mandate for seeking Independence?
I would say “no”.
Despite gains made by the SNP, the results have been disappointing for them – not the landslide they had hoped for. Significantly Glasgow has been retained by Labour despite hopes that it would fall to the SNP – no West of Scotland breakthrough here.
If anything, their lack of progress may reflect an increasing unease that many who voted for the SNP in the last Holyrood elections may now feel because they now think that that result was, to a certain extent, hijacked and interpreted by the resulting SNP Scottish Government as a push towards independence and a mandate to pursue that objective.
Certainly the results of these elections have brought us no further towards Independence and may in fact have dented a few dreams despite the bravado and rhetoric now being spoken.