Tom Peterkin: Scottish council elections in dire need of charisma

IN the run-up to last year’s Scottish election, there were hopes expressed by those who disagreed with the politics of George Galloway that the former Big Brother contestant would succeed in his bid to make it to Holyrood.

At least, the argument went, Gorgeous George would bring a splash of colour to what can be a rather staid institution. Of course, Galloway’s failure at Holyrood has since been overshadowed by his remarkable triumph in Bradford West and he will be bringing his own particular brand of charisma back to the House of Commons.

Similarly, if one is looking for a bit of entertainment in the run-up to the local government elections, it is tempting to glance over the border at the colourful goings on in the London mayoral race and wish for that sort of knock-about on the Scottish political scene.

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The personality-dominated contest in London with Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone going head to head seems almost glamorous when contrasted with the drab dowdiness of Scotland’s local government elections.

To say that the forthcoming council elections have failed to set the heather alight is something of an understatement when compared with the fireworks of the Boris and Ken show.

With just a few weeks to go until polling day in Scotland, there are concerns that the fight for control of Scotland’s town halls will be meet with apathy. Despite the SNP’s efforts to drum up a bit of excitement over their battle for Glasgow, so far this has been a low-key contest.

With less than four weeks to go, it looks almost inevitable that turn out will be poor. For the first time in 17 years, the poll will be held on its own. Until last year, it had been a feature of devolution that local and Scottish elections were held on the same date.

That arrangement helped turn-out for the council contests. Those who might not normally be inclined to take part in local government election voted because they had already made the trip to the ballot box to vote for their MSP.

Another discouraging sign for those hoping for a revival of local democracy has been the poor turn-out in recent council by-elections. Admittedly, these contests are never going to compete with the X Factor, but turn-outs of 20 per cent or less are troubling.

Perhaps Scottish councils could do with a bit of Boris and Ken pizazz. But with brawls over tax returns and the impression that the mayoral contest is operating in a policy vacuum, it would seem that the cult of personality exerts too much influence in London.

Nevertheless, when the most notable feature of the Scottish campaign has been the ill-judged and offensive online comments made by a couple of SNP candidates, it is clear that something has to change for the Scottish council election to capture the public’s imagination.