Following Scottish Labour’s obliteration in the tsunami election of 2015, Scottish politics entered an interminable period of inertia. The initial buoyancy around an influx of new and untested personalities quickly wore off. Nearer to home at Holyrood, political agitators and outliers – like Dennis Canavan, Margo MacDonald, Tommy Sheridan or, more recently, Neil Findlay, Adam Tomkins and Andy Wightman – who breathed life into the lungs of our politics with new ideas or sheer pragmatism have evaporated. The margins have merged with the mainstream and those inhabitants are now the managers and maintainers of modern Scotland.
Local elections, by mild contrast, represent an opportunity to elect local champions. Last Friday in Dundee, jubilation followed the appointment of long-term campaigner Dorothy McHugh for Scottish Labour and clear-headed as well as young Daniel Coleman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The return of seasoned politicians with increased majorities, like Craig Duncan, Fraser Macpherson and Charlie Malone, also presents good news for the city. Less positive is an outright SNP majority in Dundee, limiting the potential for political cooperation or restraint.
Now, some things are clear and others less so. What is clear is the Scottish Conservatives still suffer from courtship with their UK counterparts and lost 62 Scottish seats as a result. I also predicted here some months ago, contrary to Alex Salmond’s more recent claims at their manifesto launch in Dundee, that Alba would return no councillors and lose their 16 defectors. With zero councillors, zero MSPs and, by the next General Election, zero MPs with a 74-year-old leader going into the next Holyrood election if he remains in post , Alba is a busted flush.
What is less apparent but rises with the tide of these minor shifts in the sands of local politics, and which no political commentator in Dundee either appears to have noticed nor reported, is voter turnout was down in all eight political wards on five years ago. A paltry 33.9% of eligible voters turned out in my patch – Maryfield – and that was not even the lowest. The palpable disillusionment I encountered on doorsteps and in Stobbie cafés was high. Lord McConnell summed up the feeling emanating from these communities with the words: “Scotland is stuck.”
Bottom line? It is business as usual. Having been at the count on Friday, I headed to my local on Saturday for some working-class analysis from my cohort of pals, all of whom are aged over 70. One said: “It’s Groundhog Day”. Elsewhere, the incisive Bonnie Prince Bob, said: “The most significant feature of this election was the evident loss of online and on-the-street support for the Scottish Neoliberal (sic) Party. Postal votes and partisan myopia will get them over the line but public opinion of these New Labour frauds is plummeting.”
At First Minister’s Questions last week, Nicola Sturgeon celebrated her record in government. She beamed, for instance, about lower council tax levels than other parts of the United Kingdom. What she did not disclose was her government also lifted the progressive council tax freeze last December, which her predecessor put in place 15 years earlier, just as we entered the biggest cost-of-living crisis in a generation. Dundee City Council took only two months to implement a 2.9% increase yet your bins are collected less frequently than five years ago.
But we are paying a much higher price than more council tax for poorer services. With a big drop in independent councillors across Scotland, recent coverage lauding the introduction of new black and minority ethnic councillors fails to specify that diversity has, in fact, decreased. If diversity rests upon how we look rather than how we serve, the increasing hegemony of our one-party state offers little aspiration for a healthier democracy when, at all levels of governance, there has been a reassertion of the status quo.