First, on a quick little note of personal news, I have in fact just bought my first ever home (some paperwork still pending)! This is very exciting for me, as it's not something I'd considered likely to happen for a few years yet, but when I went into the local bank to enquire about getting a credit card to start boosting my credit rating for a mortgage, I was told that they'd already be happy to lend to me. Apparently paying off mobile phone contracts counts towards one's credit rating nowadays, and having been on contracts for a good 7-8 years now, apparently I'm considered a solid credit customer, so there you go. If you're considering buying a house yourself, it might be worthwhile going onto a phone contract if you'll still on pay-as-you-go (as long as you'll make the payments, apparently failing to keep up with phone payments is the quickest way to ruin your credit rating!) Anyway, we'll discuss the new home more later, probably after-the-election sort of later...
When I set up this blog, my initial intention was to put something up daily, and clearly that hasn't been happening recently. But, to be fair, I've ended up thrust straight into the local election campaign here in East Kilbride, and most of the time recently when I've not been in work, I've been out leafleting, canvassing, or helping at street stalls for the local SNP campaign. If not for the parents' insistence, I probably would have carried on right through Easter weekend, but sometimes you really just have to set time aside for family.
The election campaign has been quite exciting for me. It's the first election (as opposed to a referendum) I've really directly engaged in since the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011, and at that point in my political life I had still been a Green Party activist, so this has basically been my first time out and about with the SNP. Mostly, the reaction has been very positive, and we're very hopeful of taking control of the council (which has been run by Labour continuously since it came into existence in 1995). The only slightly dispiriting thing I've found thus far is the predominance in the campaign, amongst primarily the unionist parties and unionist-leaning voters, of constitutional issues rather than local issues.
Now, local elections are important. Councils deal with a lot of the nitty-gritty day-to-day stuff that really has the most direct impact on people's lives. It can be a little humbling to come out of a PPE degree with a head full of political theory and economic models to discover that most voters are more interested in refuse collections and car parking, but I suppose that's just a bit of exposure to the world outside of politics. The point is that these issues should be taken seriously, since they matter a lot to people, and so the sidelining of actual local issues to a campaign of 'vote Labour/Tory to stop a second independence referendum' is really doing a great disservice to the electorate.
Now, I can't claim to be unbiased, but when I look at the leaflets I've been delivering for the SNP, they're highlighting local areas of concern, suggesting policy changes we'd implement on the council, demanding greater transparency in council deals, and so forth.
A letter I received from the Conservatives made virtually no mention of the local council, instead basing their entire appeal around a vote for them being able to stop a second independence referendum taking place - not only terribly targeted considering they're paying to mail this to me, but entirely misleading since this is in no way an issue for local councils to decide upon.
A local Labour leaflet did a little better in that they at least tried to set out some local issues to address, but they still ended their leaflet with their standard claim that 'it's a two horse race', and that I ought to vote Labour just to stop the SNP, again with claims that this would somehow stop another independence referendum. Indeed, perhaps the more annoying thing about the Labour leaflet was how vague it was - 'demand better public transport' was an actual listed policy, making me wonder what public transport improvements they're proposing exactly, and why they haven't delivered such demands before now. Don't even go into the silliness of Labour trying to be critical of the running of the council that they've only been in charge of for the past 22 years...
I also have Liberal Democrat, Green and Solidarity candidates in my ward, but I haven't had any election communications from any of them as yet.
I can understand why unionist parties are afraid of another independence referendum so soon, since their victory is no longer anywhere near as assured as it seemed back when the first one was called. One only has to look and see how there is no case even being made for the union anymore by any of the unionist parties, instead there is only opposition to holding the actual referendum at all. I understand that unionist voters may be galvanised by this rhetoric about the independence referendum, but surely all voters must realise (or if not, then we need to be making clear) that councils have no say in national legislative issues. A new independence referendum will be a matter for Holyrood, which of course has a pro-independence majority at present, and will continue to do so after these local elections regardless of which parties perform well.
Meanwhile, important local issues are completely sidelined. The local Labour council here has just presided over the closure of another local library here in East Kilbride - Calderwood Library has closed for good, leaving only the Central Library, St Leonards Library and Greenhills Library left in the town. For me (again, not unbiased), libraries are one of the most essential services that councils run that they are not legally obliged to run (and therefore become an easy target for cutbacks), and I'm never going to accept library closures in any form. I'm still hurting from leaving my last library job down in Walsall where the Labour-Lib Dem coalition running the council opted to close ten out of their sixteen libraries, and now there's even word of some kind of 'for-profit' or self-funding operating model being proposed which seems utterly ludicrous. However, even when I was out running a street stall in Calderwood itself, people don't even seem to be thinking about these issues. Instead, most of the negative responses are all about independence.
I really hope we do get an SNP council here after the elections. I probably won't be posting many more blogs before election day, because I'll be back out campaigning for that victory, but I'll no doubt have a lot to say about the whole thing afterwards. I want an SNP council because I think they're the most likely party to deliver good quality local services, to operate the council efficiently and transparently, and overall to deliver the best value for money on people's council tax contributions. I'm not out spending all this time going out leafleting and canvassing just for independence, though no doubt I'll be doing plenty of that once the referendum proper is announced. For now, voters really need to clear their minds and ask political candidates just what exactly they're offering if they get elected to the council.
Have you had any examples of leaflets from unionist parties trying to make the council elections all about independence?
Have you got local council issues that you feel just aren't getting discussed?
Please leave a comment below...