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.