Scottish council elections: Apathy in the UK as ‘two thirds’ snub poll

Voters go to the polls in the local elections. Picture: Neil Hanna
Voters go to the polls in the local elections. Picture: Neil Hanna
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TURNOUT in the local elections could be as low as 30 per cent in many areas despite mammoth efforts by party activists and good weather across much of the country, party organisers have warned, with voters remaining uninterested by the choice on offer.

The concern follows claims last week that voters are still far too disengaged from the country’s 32 local authorities, with little faith their vote will have an impact on the way that local services are run.

The names of more than 1,200 councillors will be announced across Scotland today, as counting begins.

All eyes will turn to Glasgow later this afternoon, with the first results in the crucial counts after lunchtime offering the first indication of whether the Labour-controlled city is set to switch to the SNP.

Some SNP figures were predicting as early as yesterday afternoon that the party was on course to beat Labour in the city, in what would be a totemic victory for the Nationalists and another major setback for Labour across the UK.

However, most party figures across the political spectrum said the crucial contest remained too close to call.

The single transferable vote system (STV) being used, which yesterday required voters to rank their candidates in order of preference, made any attempt at predictions near impossible, they said.

Nonetheless, Labour has already predicted that it expects the SNP to win the largest number of council seats today, with the Nationalists aiming to build on their landslide victory at last May’s Holyrood elections.

Other big SNP targets today include taking full majority control over Perth and Kinross Council and to become the largest party in Edinburgh, along with Dundee and Aberdeen.

Labour will be hoping it has pulled off a surprise victory in Edinburgh, and maintained its control on councils such as North Lanarkshire.

In a last-minute dash for votes, the SNP yesterday returned to its successful campaigning themes from last year’s Holyrood vote, focusing heavily once again on its pledge to freeze the council tax and maintain universal benefits.

Labour, meanwhile, was embarking on its biggest ever get-the-vote-out operation, with leaflets still being distributed at 8 o’clock last night, in the hope of persuading a last few voters to get to the polls.

The bright sunshine across much of the country was predicted to have boosted numbers going to the polls, but activists said that business at polling stations during working hours yesterday remained extremely slow.

Edinburgh City Council said turnout during the morning rush was “quieter than expected”. In many polling stations, fewer than 20 per cent of voters had turned out by the late afternoon. Although many people voted last night after work, party organisers said they expected turn-out not to hit much higher than 30 per cent across the country. Total figures will not be available until this afternoon.

Yesterday marked the first time since 1995 that council elections have taken place along with no others that might have drawn people to polling booths.

Around half-a-million of the country’s four million voters were estimated to have voted by post prior to yesterday’s polling.

Attention will turn quickly today to the counts across Scotland, which will be conducted using new electronic systems. That will prompt uneasy memories of the 2007 election fiasco, when new counting machines caused havoc with vote declarations.

However, local government minister Derek Mackay said yesterday: “The electronic counting system had been subjected to rigorous testing which should protect against the failures of the past.”

Concerns over the lack of interest in local government politics was expressed at the weekend in a report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation which concluded that a widespread lack of interest in regional politics in Scotland was linked to the fact that the country was one of the least democratic at a local level in Europe. It said few people had a connection to local government, seeing it as “strange and distant”.

However, for the political parties, the results today will be crucially important, in a term which will include the independence referendum, most likely planned for 2014.

Council figures say they expect that, if the SNP does win Glasgow, it will offer the Nationalists another platform from where to campaign against UK government imposed austerity.

However, they also warn that victory today will be a double edged sword. With massive cutbacks coming the way of all local authorities over the next few years, councils could bear the brunt of a voter backlash if and when services are cut back.

Across Scotland a total of 2,490 people are standing for election and, under STV, voters number the candidates in order of preference.

The only place in Scotland where voting did not take place yesterday was Dunoon. It goes to the polls next Thursday, 10 May, because the election there was postponed due to the death of a candidate.