Scotland council elections 2022: The slow death of local democracy must be prevented – Scotsman comment

Are Scotland’s local authorities in good shape? Are the essential services they provide – from education and social care to rubbish collection and pothole repair – up to scratch? Is your local councillor doing a decent job?

Such questions are among those that should be key in deciding how we cast our ballots in the council elections today.

However, it remains true that many people will vote based on national politics, such as their opinions on Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon.

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And this trend has created a serious problem for local authorities, one that is partly responsible for the state that some of them are in.

For if the mechanism by which we choose politicians to run councils becomes divorced from their performance in the job, then the all-important process of democratic scrutiny breaks down.

Failing administrations will continue in power. Councillors who waste money, make poor decisions and generally do a bad job will get away with it; candidates bursting with enthusiasm and good ideas may find themselves repeatedly defeated and simply give up.

In the end, we get the quality of government that we deserve. And if local elections are no more than proxy fight about national politics, then the outcome is unlikely to be a good one.

The Scotsman has repeatedly made a simple plea about the local elections: that they should be about what they are actually about – local politics.

Despite much cynicism about politics, it's still important to vote (Picture: George Frey/Getty Images)

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Scotland's local council elections should be decided on local issues, not nation...

As it happens, ahead of this particular election, the Conservatives have also been pushing this line. And while some may have long supported the idea, another reason is blindingly obvious: one of the main national issues likely to influence the way people choose to vote is the disgraceful behaviour of Boris Johnson.

Given he is the first Prime Minister of the UK to have been found to have broken the law while in office and a serial liar to boot, many people who otherwise might have voted Conservative will not do so. Others will support a local Tory candidate but then may come to regret their decision if results across the country enable Johnson to claim a victory or an endorsement of his leadership.

The fact that some voters are faced with this dilemma is Johnson’s fault. An honourable politician would have resigned long ago, partly to avoid putting voters in this situation and for the sake of decent, hard-working councillors who may lose their seats.

If a shift in our mindset about local elections is to be achieved, then all politicians and, indeed, commentators in the media need to play their part.

In recent weeks, the Scotsman has been doing what we can to highlight the local issues at stake and we hope others will join our efforts to reverse the trend of a growing importance of national ones.

In January, a poll commissioned by the think tank Our Scottish Future found that 75 per cent of respondents were not confident they could name the leader of their local authority. Given how important they are to our everyday lives, they really should be household names.

The leaders of the main political parties may find it understandably difficult to put aside their own parties’ interests at an election, but hopefully they are able to see that there is a problem which does need to be addressed.

After this election, there should be cross-party efforts to find ways to breathe new life into the ailing body of local government.

Such rare examples of politicians coming together for the good of the country may not benefit any one party, but they tend to help the public feel less cynical about politics in general.

And cynicism, coupled with the corrosive idea that voting does not matter, so why bother, is perhaps the greatest threat of all to democracy in this country.

As tyrannies around the world amply demonstrate, democracy really does matter, so whatever your politics, we would urge you to do one thing today: vote.

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