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KEZIA DUGDALE: My Scottish council election advice? Vote till you boak

The single transferable vote system means every Scottish council election vote counts.
The single transferable vote system means every Scottish council election vote counts.

Oh the years I’ve spent preparing for polling day. Sitting in dank campaign rooms surrounded by leaflets, rubber bands and fermenting old coffee cups in the name of democracy.

It was fun. And when it wasn’t fun, when the door slammed or the rain fell, it was still addictive.

My political activist days might be over. But my admiration for those who stomp the streets for what they believe in has never been higher.

Scotland’s 32 local authorities and the 1,226 councillors within them are up for election.

And you have the power to shape who runs your council chambers and, therefore, your local services for the coming years.

In fact you have even more power than you usually do.

That’s because the local government elections use the electoral system STV or Single Transferable Vote.

This means you get to cast preferences, using numbers, for the candidates standing in your local area.

Since 2007 councils have been split into multi-member wards. Usually of around 15,000 to 20,000 electors in each ward.

These wards will return either three or four councillors, meaning each candidate needs around 20 to 25% of the vote to get elected.

That’s where your preferences matter.

There’s no such thing as a wasted vote in this system

Your first choice candidate might have as much chance of winning as I do of making the kick line of the Moulin Rouge.

But you get to express it. and your vote will then be redistributed to your second preference candidate, if your first choice comes last when the votes are counted.

There’s no such thing as a wasted vote.

After the second count, if your second preference is last, it too will be redistributed on to your third preference (if you’ve cast one) and so on.

The advice is, therefore, in pejorative terms to “vote till you boak”.

Use as many preferences as you like for the parties you have sympathy for, in order of preference, and then stop voting.

That means when your candidates run out, nothing you’ve done will favour candidates you don’t support.

Kezia on the Scottish Parliament election campaign trail when she was Scottish Labour leader in 2016. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire.

All these votes will be counted and verified and the results announced most probably by early afternoon on Friday.

And then the negotiations will begin.

When parties work together we all win

The nature of the voting system makes it unlikely but not impossible, for one single political party to win enough seats to form an administration in its own right.

The very nature of STV encourages coalitions, or confidence and supply deals between political parties.

And it generally makes for much better politics.

That’s because it forces political parties to not only work together but to be very clear about what they want to achieve from the outset, negotiate an agreement and then spend their time delivering it.

It also means that when parties work together, more of us get a local council that we actually voted for.

So when your vote counts for so much more in a local government election – and is more likely to lead to administration that fairly reflects what people want – why is turnout so much lower for council elections?

The First Minister isn’t above drumming up a bit of excitement ahead of the Scottish council elections. Nicola Sturgeon showed her colours on a visit to Arbroath. Photo: Paul Reid.

Particularly when all the academic evidence shows citizens are more likely to trust their councillors than they are their MPs.

These are the people who will take key decisions over many of the public services we interact with every single day. Arguably more so than any MP.

Think of all the things councils are responsible for.

Street lighting, road maintenance, refuse collection. School buildings and catchments, care for the elderly, vulnerable and disabled. The extent to which communities have access to affordable facilities like sports centres and libraries. The public realm, including parks.

Scottish council election is a long way from Westminster

I completely understand why so many people would look at the current state of national politics and think the old adage “don’t vote, it only encourages them”.

But that does a huge disservice to the vast majority of local councillors and candidates who just want to serve their community and the greater good.

Issues like partygate, porngate and the second jobs scandal look likely to affect all parties equally.

The evidence suggest the public see the stories and think “a plague on all your houses.”

But should the buildings that house our councillors pay the heavy price of low turnout and apathy because of behaviours and practices 600 miles away?

It doesn’t seem right to me.

So please do go out and vote tomorrow, even if you don’t have a polling card.

If you voted in the last Scottish Parliament or UK Election, and you still live at the same address, your name will be on the register.

Equally, if that postal vote has been sat in the hall for too long, you can still drop it in to any polling station. It doesn’t have to be your local one.

The vast majority of people standing for election in your community are doing so for all the right reasons.

And that’s reason enough for you to make your way to the polls.


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