Explainer: The four major battles in Scotland’s council elections


Why the council elections are so different depending on what part of Scotland you live in 

IN NATIONAL ELECTIONS its common to try and follow national trends and report who ‘won’ the most votes and seats across the country. But in this May’s council elections that is a very difficult task. 

In fact there are many election wards in Scotland where the main five parties have no candidates at all. In different parts of the country there will be different ‘winners’ – with parties seeking seats and then coalitions across 32 different council authorities. 

There are four broad contests taking place in different regions, which vary considerably depending on what council you are registered to vote for. 

The Independent Councils 

In Na h-Eileanan Siar, Orkney, and Shetland the councils are run by independent councillors. In 2017 the vast majority of candidates do not represent a political party, but their own views and record. These three councils will have independent administrations after the election. 

In Highland and Argyll and Bute, the council administration is led by independent councillors. However, political parties are standing too. 

The high number of independent candidates makes the council election in these five regions different from elections to Holyrood or Westminster, where party political candidates are usually successful. 

Remaining Labour heartlands face the growth of the SNP 

Across the Central Belt, from West Dunbartonshire through Glasgow, North, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Midlothian, Edinburgh and East Lothian, Labour were the largest party in 2012. 

In West Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and Renfrewshire the party even won an overall majority. 

Yet it’s those same west coast regions that have witnessed a dramatic rise of the SNP, with Labour seeing its MSPs and MPs almost entirely wiped out in constituency elections.

The SNP will be aiming to confirm this change of fortune on May the 4th. 

The future of the shires: SNP v Tory contests 

An understated feature of the 2016 Scottish Election was the divergence in voting patterns between the central belt (where SNP support increased) and north of the central belt (where SNP support decreased, and the Tory vote went up).

The shires of Scotland – Aberdeenshire, Angus, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Perth and Kinross, Scottish Borders, and South Ayrshire – all have substantial Tory council groups, which are either the second biggest political party behind the SNP or the biggest party outright. 

On average, the shires also returned higher votes against independence and higher votes for Brexit than the national average. In several, the Labour Party don’t have any councillors and are not standing in many wards. This makes these council competitions between the SNP and Tory parties. 

Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrat challenge 

The fourth and fifth biggest parties will also be hoping for specific breakthroughs in the council election. The Scottish Greens have selected a record 219 candidates, while the Liberal Democrats have selected over 200 as well. 

Contesting a majority of wards, although not the vast majority, the parties will be aiming to increase representation in specific areas. 

In 2012 the LibDems performed strongest in East Fife, as well as specific wards in East Dunbartonshire and Aberdeen. The party has focused on its message as pro-local and pro-European party. It won 71 seats in 2012. 

The Scottish Greens, meanwhile, are aiming to expand their council representation from four councils towards a majority of the 32 total regions. In 2012 it won its highest number of ward seats in Edinburgh and Glasgow. While the Greens will expect a strong showing in those cities again, its main challenge is to convince voters elsewhere in Scotland that local politics needs a Green voice. In 2012 the Greens won 14 council seats. The party will aim to repeat its 2016 election success, when it overtook the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament.

Picture courtesy of David Muir 

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