We’re into the Final Countdown for the council elections, with voters across Scotland heading to the polls on Thursday. Manifestos from the five main parties are out, each setting a framework of how each would approach local government in broad brush strokes (each have brought out more tailored manifestos for individual councils). We set some time aside to compare and contrast each of the parties’ commitments…
The SNP, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a heavy focus on local authorities working with central government and, as a result, includes less information on what SNP councils would seek to deliver themselves. Similarly, large sections of the Conservative and Labour manifestos are dedicated to pushing the Scottish Government on areas such as budgets and taxation – again, something that would not be specifically within the remit of newly elected councillors.
The Conservative manifesto also places significant emphasis on the need to use economic levers at council level to boost local economies. Meanwhile, Labour has taken the decision to highlight the track record of its current councillors. Alongside its criticism of the SNP Government, this leaves little room for a detailed list of pledges despite the fact that, at 32 pages, it is the longest of the manifestos. The Greens and Liberal Democrats, for their part, do fairly well in avoiding the trap of national politics and successfully focus on more local issues.
Across the manifestos, all five parties cover the areas of: early learning and childcare; schools; health and social care; community empowerment; housing; infrastructure and transport; the environment (including waste management); and tax. On the other end of the spectrum, only two refer to services for asylum seekers and refugees (the SNP and Greens), three to policing (Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats) and three to culture and leisure (SNP, Conservatives and Greens).
There are several similarities between the parties on early learning and childcare. All call for more flexibility and seek to deliver the rollout of the extension in a smooth manner. Further to this, the SNP and Greens agree on providing more qualified staff in nurseries, while the Liberal Democrats want to introduce a play and communication strategy.
On schools, the SNP, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all propose empowering individual schools and school leaders. While the SNP suggest this can to be done through better resourcing, the Conservatives argue in favour of Government-funded autonomous schools. On teachers, the SNP commits to maintaining teacher-pupil ratios, while both Labour and the Greens call for more teachers and classroom assistants.
The Greens have included a lengthy list of pledges on health and social care, most of which pertain to improving employment conditions for carers (both paid and unpaid). This is also covered to varying extents in the other manifestos. The Conservatives spend a few paragraphs on ensuring Integrated Joint Boards can be held to account.
The SNP, Conservatives and Labour pledge to increase the numbers of houses built, though this is one of the areas which also requires input from central government. The Conservatives argue that reforming planning powers at council level would be an important driver for this, however. Bringing empty property back into use is also a common theme across all five.
Boosting community empowerment is an aim shared across the parties, but the paths to get there differ slightly. The SNP, Labour and Greens support more participatory budgeting and community involvement in budget decisions, and the Greens and Liberal Democrats agree proposals should be published to allow for public scrutiny. The Conservatives believe directly-elected Provosts could bolster communities, while the Liberal Democrats are in favour of allowing the public to question council leaders (CLQs on Thursday at noon, anyone?).
Improving the conditions of roads and paths is considered a priority when discussing transport infrastructure, and all parties also promote investment in active travel. Ideas for bus services vary; the SNP will work with operators to increase passenger numbers ahead of the introduction of the Transport Bill, which will empower councils to build networks. The Conservatives will call for an enabling power of bus franchises for local authorities in the passage of the Bill. Labour and the Greens promote municipal ownership.
Only the Liberal Democrats do not cover waste minimisation in their national manifesto. The SNP and Labour pledge to reduce waste and increase recycling generally, while the Conservatives include a commitment to a 75% recycling rate by 2035 and the Greens to have zero-waste policies in place by 2025. Looking more broadly at the environment, the Greens have the largest number of commitments on the matter by far (shocker!), covering flooding, green spaces, fly-tipping and low-emission zones.
Strangely, Labour’s manifesto included no reference to growing the economy and the only jobs referred to are those with the council itself. The SNP and Greens believe altering procurement procedures to favour local businesses will bolster local economies, while the Liberal Democrats talk about discussing partnership priorities with businesses and supporting local produce, without making a specific commitment on procurement. The Conservatives prefer the creation of Local Growth Partnerships, Business Improvement Districts and Growth Accelerators.
All in all...
The similar focus of each of the national manifestos suggests parties agree on areas for improvement – though they may disagree on how to go about improving them. However, on the ground the battle includes much debate on a second independence referendum and Brexit – meaning all these issues may take a back seat for voters on Thursday.
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