Scotland's local council elections should be decided on local issues, not national ones – Scotsman comment

Can you name the leader of your local authority?

Scotland's council elections are seen as a test of national parties' popularity by many (Picture: Robert Perry/AFP via Getty Images)

If so, it appears you are in a minority, with 75 per cent of respondents telling a poll commissioned by think tank Our Scottish Future that they were not confident they could do so.

And yet, many planning to vote in May’s council elections will have already made up their minds about who they will support, as local contests are decided by national – Scottish or British – issues.

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Should Boris Johnson cling to power for the next few months, the Conservatives could pay a heavy price, particularly if volunteers shy away from canvassing because of the anger of voters over Downing Street’s lockdown parties. Staunch unionists are unlikely to vote SNP, while nationalists may jump at the chance.

But should local democracy be like this? Would it not be better to vote on local issues and to support candidates who are capable and in tune with public opinion?

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The Covid pandemic has surely underlined the importance of our local environment and the key services provided by councils.

Without close scrutiny by voters, councillors may be getting away with poor performance and bad policies, safe in the knowledge that national popularity is what counts.

Our Scottish Future suggests directly elected provosts would help improve voter engagement and this may be true.

But, in the meantime, we should recognise that the democratic system only really functions effectively when the public are prepared to hold those in elected office to account – and vote accordingly.

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