Where do you stand on dog turds?” The question was asked in all seriousness at a local hustings. The candidate shuffled, composed himself and answered. It summarises the public perception of local politics. At the Global Teach In in Edinburgh last week Lesley Riddoch captured the extent to which local politics is sidelined and undermined. She put it well in the Scotsman: “How can marginally different people heading the same broken system create different outcomes? That fond, naïve hope is the epitome of “the British way”. We tinker with trimmings but never seriously consider structural change. Problems on the High Street – call in Mary of the Shops. Problems in the school canteen – call in Jamie Oliver. Problems with the Common Fisheries Policy – call in Hugh of the Fish. With no disrespect intended to these valiant souls, celebrity voluntarism is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In fact, Scottish councils are already too large, too distant and too dependent on Holyrood cash. That’s why they aren’t taken seriously enough by Scottish voters.”
One paper wrote: “While the turnout in Glasgow was at a historic low at just 32.42%, Labour claimed the result, if reflected in a Holyrood poll, would have seen Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, lose her seat.” But poor old tired Labour are hopelessly missing the point. The best tweet of the night goes to whoever it was wrote “A great win for Labour. Can you imagine what they could have done if they had a leader and some policies?”
The reality is that whilst the spin room on twitter is in over-drive the real winners were the Apathy Party, by a long way. In England they were asked do you want a Mayor? Waves of disinterest broke over the body politic.
This is about power and powerlesness. Rather than politicos rail against the apathetic mob, we should think about what real independence, autonomy and self-determination would look like, and respect the non-voting, disinterested public.
Riddoch again: “Remoteness and loss of power have prompted low turnout – not reversed by the advent of PR in Scottish council elections. As Paddy Bort, of Edinburgh’s Centre for Governance, argues in Scottish Left Review, looking round Europe, there’s a pattern. Councils in Scotland raise 20 per cent of their budgets and have turnouts of 30-50 per cent. French councils raise half their budgets, and have turnouts of 50-60 per cent. In Switzerland 85 per cent of revenue is raised locally and turnout is 90 per cent.”
Wings over Scotland and James Kelly (‘So not only did the SNP secure the most seats, they also enjoyed the biggest gains. Not a repeat of last year’s landslide, but unambiguously a victory’) – are quite right to point to real confusion and manipulation by a Scottish media bored and frustrated by SNP dominance. That the new metric for Scottish Labour’s “huge success” is not getting annihilated from your heartland, is astonishing, and frankly, embarrassing. As Severin Carrell writes in the Guardian: “The SNP met Salmond’s pre-election goal of remaining the largest party by the number of councillors elected and of overtaking Labour as the largest party by share of the vote, as the SNP consolidated its hold on many councils along the east coast. With 1,223 seats up for grabs in all 32 councils, the number of SNP councillors jumped by 57 to 424, reaffirming the party’s dominance of Scottish politics.” For this to be portrayed as a bad day is, well, odd. But the truth is the SNP probably could have taken Glasgow, and it should reflect on why it didn’t, and dalliance with Murdoch is one aspect. Progressive Beacons don’t do that.
But never mind the SNP / Labour feuding and spin cycle. The real media fail is it’s lack of coverage of what was a great day for the Scottish Greens. The truth is that the Scottish Greens represent conviction politics, with a fraction of the resources of the other parties. If Lesley Riddoch points to the structural problem: too little democracy in too big areas. This is the second part of the answer to mass apathy, political activists who actually believe in meaningful change. With the collapse of the Scottish left into internecine fighting, the Scottish Greens are the inheritors of a radical tradition.
Most of the media failed to report that Professor Pongoo was Mike Ferrigan, a clever and highly dedicated climate change activist. As Jennie Macfie tweeted: “In Scotland, Greens more than doubled seats (from 6 to 14). If any other party, would be headline news. As it is, silence.”
This was a Green Day. The tally included:
- A doubling to 6 of Edinburgh Green councillors – twice as many as the Liberal Democrats.
- 5 Greens in Glasgow, more than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined.
- Breakthroughs on Stirling and Midlothian councils.
- A return of anti-Trump campaigner Martin Ford in Aberdeenshire.
Good luck to them, we need them all.