LOOKING BACK to 2007, when the local government elections were conducted contemporaneously with the elections for the Scottish Parliament, the outcome then of the local government votes failed to attract anything like the media coverage that they have this year. The big stories of 2007 revolved around the clear marching orders given to the Jack McConnell–Nicol Stephen coalition, the collapse of the Greens and the complete rejection of the lunatic left. (Nicol who? I hear you say. Can any of us even remember him?)
In 2007 the local government outcomes barely raised a headline except perhaps in the free sheet Locals, who usually have to rely on making news out of a local gossip.
However this April / May for the media and the political parties alike, the biggest game in town has been the local elections albeit as a sub plot to the referendum. Not for a generation have they attracted so much heavy weight activity from party leaders anxious to parade their own, if not their party’s, virility to a far from enthusiastic electorate.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the level of spin and counter spin before, during and after has reached epic proportions. Aside the Labour /SNP war of words – “It was us what won it – nae it wisnae, we did” It is perhaps the efforts of Conservative Ruth Davidson’s small band of spinners who should get the Oscar for ‘best efforts to mask the truth’.
Right from the off Davidson set herself the inauspicious target of becoming the third party of local government (as opposed to the fourth). Considering the state of the Lib Dems, truthfully just by taking part in the local elections, that prediction was a given. Nonetheless we should not lose sight of the fact that if the Independents up and down the country were of one grouping, it is they who would be third not the Conservatives with almost twice as many Councillors!
Tables produced by both the Guardian website which and the BBC, chose to compare the number of seats won or lost with the position immediately prior to the election.
This has allowed spinners of all parties to put their own gloss on the results. Comparing the 2007 Conservative compliment of Councillors of 143 with the 2012 result, the net loss is 28 or 19.5%
Put another way because the STV voting system disadvantages the Conservatives as they fare badly in acquiring second and other preferences it is very difficult for them to win by-elections. However all things being equal, seats lost in this way should be retaken at a full council election. Manifestly this has not been achieved. Seats lots in by-elections have largely remained in other hands.
As someone who has been a Conservative campaigner for more than 40 years I view the results considering the share of the vote with a mixture of despair and incredulity.
In every council area except two – Inverclyde and Aberdeenshire – the Conservative vote has fallen compared to 2007 and what strikes me immediately is there are now seven where the share is now in single numbers, and then a further five in the low teens.
In only 7 out of 32 Councils is the Conservative share of the vote over 20% and for the first time in many years their ability to stand candidates has been restricted to the Scottish mainland.
Significantly in Glasgow, the regional home constituency of Ruth Davidson, despite lone Kremlin Tory David Meikle improving his personal vote, the overall vote has declined by a further 1.7% to an all time low of 5.9%. Critically this is potentially below the generally accepted 6% level required to secure a list candidate’s election to the Scottish Parliament. (Davidson actually only just achieved election to the Scottish Parliament in 2011 on a 6.1% regional share of the vote)
In some areas where the Conservatives were already in coalition with others no succour has been given by the electorate. The vote share in areas such as East Dunbartonshire has plummeted by 8.8%: in Dumfries and Galloway down 5.6%: in East Renfrewshire down 4.6%: in South Ayrshire down 5.4%: in North Ayrshire down 4.1%: in the Scottish Borders down 3.6%: and in East Ayrshire down 1.5%: Even in Moray where a collapse of the Independent vote of 8.2% gave the Conservatives a net gain of 1 Seat their share of the vote dropped by 1.7%. Similarly in Argyll where a collapse in the Lib Dem vote arguably gave the Conservatives 2 additional seats, the SNP trumped that by gaining three seats and added 7.4% to their vote whilst the Tories vote actually fell by 0.2%
There is simply no comfort to be found.
There is further irony when you examine some of the potentially toxic coalition deals consummated thus far.
In Stirling for instance where the Conservatives suffered the second largest fall in their share of vote in the whole of Scotland (5.4%) they have ignored the electorate’s verdict and entered into an unholy alliance with Labour, despite the SNP being the largest party and adding 7.9% to its share.
Yet in Edinburgh where the Tory share of the vote fell by only 0.9% and the Conservatives retained all their seats with enough to offer a deal to either Labour or the SNP, both eschewed romance and the idea of working with Jeremy Balfour’s group to form an anti-Tory coalition.
Likewise in the Borders a coalition of SNP, Independents and Lib Dems slammed the door closed on the Tory group to form another anti-Tory alliance. Meanwhile in Midlothian lifetime Conservative but now excommunicated, Peter de Vink has teamed up with the SNP to deprive Labour of power for the first time in almost 80 years.
Perhaps worst of all I am told that In Argyll the only Council to clock up 2 Tory gains, having got himself re-elected on the Tory ticket Cllr Donald Kelly refused to join the Tory group and instead lined himself up with the SNP in coalition leaving his team mates in opposition.
Overall there has been net loss of 28 seats or 19.5% of Councillors over 2007, although by sleight of hand Davidson’s spinners constantly try to pass this off as the immediately pre election loss of 15.
A total of 14 Councils are showing net losses of Conservative Councillors and only 4 show net gains.
Just to round off Davidson’s miserable week the Prime Minister then tells assembled media at a Dover House reception he is relaxed about Salmond 2014 referendum date.
Ruth Davidson now knows Mrs Thatcher’s old maxim ‘Just when you think things can’t get worse – they do’ can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
All political parties seek to play down their bad results, but the recent Tory spin simply cannot hide the facts. Under Ruth Davidson we have seen the worst local government results that I can remember in my lifetime.