PARTY campaigners will stage a near 17-hour marathon today in a bid to bring disinterested voters to polling stations, as they fight to the wire to control Scotland’s councils.
In Glasgow, where the political stakes are highest, both the SNP and Labour are to stage a mammoth get-the-vote-out operation in the knowledge that a few dozen extra votes could make the difference in a low-turnout election.
In the Labour camp, campaign chiefs said their efforts would begin at 5:30am today as they post flyers through doors in an effort to alert people that an election is happening.
Party members are also being called into the city from across the UK to boost the effort, as the party seeks to avoid a repeat of its nightmare last year when a host of previously safe Holyrood seats went to the SNP.
The SNP is doing the same, with activists being hauled in from other parts of Scotland.
Both parties are aware of the totemic value of winning control in the city, with the SNP determined to show it is maintaining the momentum from last year’s vote in the run-up to the independence referendum.
SNP strategists have claimed in recent days that the same trend from last year is emerging, with support growing for the party as it gets closer to polling day.
Both sides are predicting a close race, with the likelihood that they will have to turn to the small number of councillors from other parties who win in order to form an administration to run the city.
Local elections are being held right across the UK today, with the mayoral race in London and the council election in Glasgow taking centre stage.
Across Scotland, all 1,223 councillor seats will be voted on, across 32 local authority areas.
Other key contests will see the SNP aiming to take the helm in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. It is also hoping to gain overall control of Perth and Kinross Council.
Labour, meanwhile, faces a battle to hold on to power in North Lanarkshire, the only council where it currently has a majority. The party also stands a chance of pipping the SNP to the post in Edinburgh.
However, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has already predicted that the SNP will have more councillors elected.
Scotland will be the only part of the UK where people queueing at 10pm will still be able to vote afterwards, in a bid to prevent the chaotic scenes from the 2010 election when such voters were turned away without being able to vote.
However, the prospects of queues forming were looking thin last night, with a low turnout expected across the country. In Scotland, as many as three-quarters of the country’s four million voters may not bother to turn out.
The elections are taking place on their own for the first time since 1995. Then, around 45 per cent of the population turned out to vote, but experts are predicting it could slump below 30 per cent in some areas today.
The low turnout will make today’s get-out-the-vote operation all the more important. With the elections taking place under a proportional representation system, the parties are also aware they need to contest every ward.
Labour last night said it would be laying on its largest-ever polling day effort to push up its vote, especially for the crucial battle in Glasgow.
A party spokesman said: “We are worried that the turnout will be low, so we have got the biggest operation we have ever had to get people out.
“People will be out on the streets from 5:30am. They are going to be delivering leaflets through people’s doors reminding them of the election so it is the first thing they get through their door in the morning.”
On the ground, party activists say they have noticed a marked stepping up in the organisation compared with last year, with party managers cracking down heavily on any oversights.
But those same party figures remain wary of the SNP machine, which last year outperformed Labour in delivering an election-winning vote.
There are also concerns in the Labour camp that too many previously supportive voters are now in the “don’t know” category.
SNP campaign director Derek Mackay said last night that the party had spoken directly to 250,000 voters over the last ten months ahead of the elections.
He added: “The last week has seen a big push with national newspaper adverts, target letters to voters in swing wards and our get-out-the-vote campaign, which has already started.”
He went on: “We are standing over 600 candidates in these elections – far more than ever before, and in more wards than ever before. Backed by thousands of local activists, this will make a big difference to encouraging as many people as possible to cast their vote.”
The party leaders yesterday made their final pitch to voters. In Edinburgh, First Minister Alex Salmond claimed that only SNP-run councils could be trusted to maintain the council tax freeze until 2016.
“Voters know that we are the only party in this election with a cast-iron pledge that they can trust to be delivered. If you look at Labour, they’ve never liked the council tax freeze and they’ve been all over the place on it.”
But Johann Lamont said: “While the SNP are putting the referendum first – their leader in Glasgow openly admits she sees this as a stepping stone to independence – Labour councillors will put you first. Even in tough times and in the midst of an unemployment crisis, Labour can and will create jobs.”
Election results will not be announced until tomorrow.
• The voting system is the Single Transferable Vote (STV).
• Voters number the candidates in order of choice using 1, 2, 3. They put the number 1 in the voting box next to their first choice, 2 next to their second choice and 3 next to their third choice.
• Voters can choose how many candidates to number. They don’t have to number every candidate. As long as they number at least one, their vote will be counted.
• To be elected, a candidate must receive a set amount of votes known as the quota. The quota number depends on how many people voted in the ward and the number of seats to be filled.
• Stage one: First choices are counted. Anyone who has enough first choices to reach the quota is elected. If all the seats are filled, the counting ends.
• Stage two (if needed): Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred proportionally to the second choice on the ballot paper. If not enough candidates have then reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is excluded and all of their votes are passed to the next choice on the ballot papers. Anyone who reaches the quota is elected.
• Further stages (if needed): This process is repeated until three or four candidates have been elected.