In 2022, the Scottish electorate may well be getting tired of elections. For nearly every year in recent memory, Scots have been asked to turn out to the polls for elections of all kinds, with two major referendums thrown in for good measure. In fact, Scotland has seen no fewer than ten major polls since 2014.
And sure enough, this May we will be asked to vote once again. But despite having faced at least one election in all but three of the last 10 years, it will still be just as important as ever to make sure our voices are heard. Because this year is our collective opportunity to determine how our local councils are run, by casting our vote in the Scottish Local Elections.
Our councils are responsible for all manner of day-to-day services that we all depend on – often without even thinking about it. From bin collections, recycling services, local public transport links, parks, leisure facilities, and road maintenance, council services affect many aspects of our day-to-day lives.
But even major services such as education, social care and social services are all the responsibility of our councils. Clearly then, a badly run council is something that everyone notices.
Local government is a fundamentally important tier of our democratic system, and I am therefore proud that the Scottish Conservatives are the party of localism. I believe that our local councils are there to do more than just administer decisions taken by central government. They are there to decide upon, and deliver, policy choices made to suit local priorities – all while ensuring good value for money for taxpayers.
Unfortunately, however, decisions taken by the current SNP Government in Holyrood have prevented local government from fulfilling its potential role in our lives. Councils depend heavily on government grant to fund the services they provide, yet for years they have had to watch their budgets be slashed – all while the SNP Government’s own budget has increased.
And despite the fact that councils will no doubt play an even more important role in our lives as we recover from the Covid pandemic, they have been dealt a further £250 million real-terms cut in 2022-23.
This is why my party will soon be introducing a new Bill, the Local Government Powers & Protections Bill, which will seek to re-empower local government by guaranteeing that councils receive at least a fixed percentage of the Scottish Government budget; ensuring that the SNP can no longer refuse to pass on increases in their own budget. Without the financial security that this Bill would provide, Scottish local government will continue to fall short of its true potential under this SNP Government.
But this would just be the start of restoring the ability of local government to enrich our day-to-day lives. Scottish Conservative councillors will fight to protect communities’ interests by ensuring decisions are taken in line with local priorities. All the while, they will ensure local services are protected wherever possible in the face of continuing revenue cuts from the Scottish Government. And – crucially this year - they will oppose the introduction of the SNP’s dreaded new Car Park Tax in all circumstances.
Local elections are the closest level of democracy to communities of voters up and down the country. While some of us may be starting to experience voter fatigue, it is nevertheless important that this May, we carry out our electoral duties and decide how best we want our communities to be governed.