The forgotten election

By Campbell Gunn, 3x1 Strategic Adviser

IN the excitement over the announcement by Theresa May of the surprise general election on 8 June, the local council elections, due next week, have been almost forgotten.

These are important elections, with the 32 councils across Scotland controlling billions of pounds of spending, and control of important issues such as education, roads, social work, lighting and refuse collection.

Unlike the Westminster election, which is first-past-the-post in each constituency, and Holyrood, which has an “additional member” system, local councils use yet another electoral system, STV – the single transferrable vote.

In this system, each ward can be represented by three or even four councillors. That means each party can list three or four candidates in the hope of gaining all the seats in a ward. The result is that voters will have a far longer list of candidates to plough through before making their choices, in order of preference.

Some parties – and the SNP have used this to their advantage in previous elections – will only list one or two candidates in wards where they believe they have little chance of winning on first preference votes. This avoids the risk of splitting what votes they do garner.

The SNP has been predicted to win handsomely next week. However, at the last council elections, in 2012, the Nationalists went into the polls on the back of a massive win at Holyrood, yet in the event, they failed to make the huge advances on Labour which had been predicted.

Instead of sweeping all before them, they polled just 32 per cent of the votes, to Labour’s 31 per cent. That resulted in the Nationalists missing out on the plum prize of Glasgow Council, as well as several others which they had been predicted to take.

Despite narrowly losing the popular vote, Labour, because of the voting distribution, ended up fully or partially controlling 19 of Scotland’s 32 councils.

Last time, Labour took 44 of Glasgow’s council seats to the SNP’s 27. But since then, the Nationalists have taken every Glasgow seat at both the Holyrood and Westminster elections, so the outlook for Labour in Scotland’s largest city looks grim.

While the most recent polls show the SNP a few points down on their peak, the Labour vote has all but collapsed across Scotland, and it will be very surprising if they do not take several Labour-controlled councils – including Glasgow – next week.

Meanwhile, Opposition parties in Scotland have been making bold claims about which SNP seats will fall in June. A few, certainly, are vulnerable – Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk,  East Renfrewshire, and one or two others to the Conservatives.

It’s difficult to see Labour making any inroads, thanks to the nationwide collapse in their support, and their single MP, Ian Murray, must be vulnerable to both the SNP and Conservatives this time.

However, despite these potential losses, the likelihood is that the SNP will still hold the overwhelming majority of Scottish seats come 9 June.