Three weeks from today residents throughout the area will go the polls and elect councillors to represent their communities for the next five years.
Both West Dunbartonshire and Glasgow City councils are on a knife edge, with strong oppositions pushing to oust the sitting administrations on either side of the Clydebank boundary. Rarely has a local election in our area mattered more, yet the likelihood is most of the electorate will choose to stay at home on May 3.
Local government has traditionally been regarded with mild disdain in Britain. Councillors are largely anonymous figures seen to have little legal power or political clout. Where other countries, including those with political systems and traditions similar to ours, see their town and city halls as corridors of power – we tend to view them as talking-shops for opinionated busy-bodies and retirement homes for ageing party activists.
Elections to our local authorities are often taken as grand opinion polls on the state of national politics. Of the small minority of the population who do turn out to vote, most will cast their ballot on the basis of party loyalty or protest – few will know the name of the candidates, their qualifications for office, or their opinions on anything.
Scotland has 32 councils each theoretically responsible for providing a wide range of services and deciding priorities within its area. However Scottish Ministers have set laws, rules, regulations, guidelines and targets that constrain local councils to the point where they can, to the casual observer, seem almost irrelevant.
Transport, education, health, police, fire and ambulance services would – in most democratic systems – be regarded as local issues best decided by local governments: An elected mayor would make policy decisions, hire and fire department heads, and distribute the community’s resources in response to local demand. In Scotland central government ensures none of our council leaders exercise such influence.
It was not the public who stripped local governments’ of legal power, but our lack of interest ensures they have no political voice. The upcoming elections are about school facilities, the state of our roads, whether land should be allocated for new businesses or housing – so as voters we should consider these things and vote for the person we trust to represent our views.
Neither West Dunbartonshire Council nor Glasgow City Council will have any say in determining a Scottish independence referendum or the course of British foreign policy. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Alex Salmond are not appearing on any ballot this time around – no votes can be cast for or against them.
May 3 is about which candidates, drawn from our communities to speak for their neighbours, we trust with a voice in local decision-making. Over the next three weeks Clydebank Live will do its best to provide a platform for candidates of all parties to speak to the voters, so we can each decide for ourselves who is best placed to lead West Dunbartonshire and Glasgow City.
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