Council elections are too important to be the focus of cynical political games, says Alison Johnstone.
The council elections on 4 May are fast approaching, with some people getting their postal votes in only eleven days’ time. Everyone registered to vote – and if you’re not, please do so before 17 April – gets the chance to decide who represents their community and decides on planning and local services.
Some parties in the Scottish Parliament are trying to tell voters how to choose their councillors based on matters outside the council’s remit – like Brexit or Scotland’s position within the UK.
These ploys are a blatant attempt to “game” the council elections for selfish party interest. Never mind that the council organises care for your elderly relative, or teaches your children, or looks after your park. Put all of these aside, those other parties say. And is the local candidate up to the job? Ignore that too, they say. If, over the next five years, the people of Edinburgh find that the 63 councillors they elect are out of their depth, well, that’s just the price you pay. Or so the argument of those other parties goes.
As a former Meadows & Morningside councillor, and as someone who passionately believes in strong and capable local government, I take a different view. Council elections are about selecting the people who can best do the job locally and from parties who have a clear and positive view about how we can improve our communities using the powers which councils have.
The recent People’s Survey reminds us what needs to be improved.
Overall, people love Edinburgh. 94 per cent are satisfied with city; 89 per cent with their neighbourhood. 89 per cent are satisfied with public transport, a key priority for Green councillors. 81 per cent are satisfied with parks and green space, a huge asset to our city which we lose at our peril. That is why Green councillors have campaigned so hard against loss of greenbelt land and so dismayed at decisions like Craighouse, which all 3 Tories on the planning committee voted in favour of.
However, less than half of people feel informed about council spending decisions. Green councillors have spearheaded initiatives such as Leith Decides but it’s still less than one per cent of council spending. Cycling is a success story in the capital with ten per cent of budget now assigned but as the Evening News has reported, we’re still to see the full benefits of that on the ground with many cyclists still feeling unsafe on our roads.
And there’s real work needed on the basics of our city. Satisfaction with waste services is falling. My colleague Chas Booth has proposed a ten-point plan to bring things up to scratch, with action to reduce waste, improve bin locations and collection routes, and give householders more support.
But let’s hold in our mind that 94 per cent satisfaction figure. People here agree that Edinburgh is a great city. And a great city needs a green future.