Local Council Elections 101

Illustration by Ludovica Credendino 

‘Since when do elections happen every year?’, you might be wondering. Or even twice in the space of two months? Oh, how glorious democracy is. I’m only kidding, being able to cast your vote, have your voice heard and try to change things for the better is a right that we should cherish, and most importantly, use. Yet with the general election taking place in June, after the referendums that people are still tired of, the council elections on the 4th of May have a good chance to be overlooked. The next few hundred words will be an outline of why the council is important – yes, for students too! – how voting works, what the various parties are running on, and why you should vote – brought to you by a complete ignoramus turned expert (that’s me).

I was completely unaware of what the council does, and that I can vote in these elections. Yet my dear EU students, you can vote! That is, if you are registered to vote. If you aren’t, that’s a shame, and you’re too late. However, now that you’ve realised how silly you are, take this moment to register this vote right now, so you’re able to vote in any forthcoming elections (unfortunately, not the general election this summer, as the voice of EU citizens is apparently not important when it comes to national decisions). The same goes for UK students. If you’re registered to vote, you can vote on the 4th of May. You can register at home and university, and in council elections, providing your home isn’t Glasgow City Council, you can vote in both! And while it could seem like a time consuming activity to research what each party is promising, please do take this time, and don’t forget to actually go to a polling station to cast your vote.

What exactly does the council do, Aike, if you’re so eager for us to vote? Councillors, about three or four per ward, which is the small areas that make up each council, represent the views and opinion of the local community. That’s you. The councillors are responsible for deciding how the council spends its money and provides local services, including education, social care, roads and public transport, the environment, housing and cultural, leisure and library services. Sounds pretty relevant, right?

Housing especially is an issue that is very important to students. In Hillhead ward, the one that the University of Glasgow is situated in, two current councillors are re-running: Ken Andrews from the SNP and Martha Wardrop from the Scottish Greens. When I contacted Andrews, he said the SNP was concerned with the amount of high cost student flats that have sprung up recently. “We are concerned at the cost of renting this type of accommodation which is used mainly by foreign students which impacts on the affordability of studying in Glasgow Universities. SNP Councillors have started conversations with Council Officials to look at alternative ideas for student accommodation including the idea of student co-operative models which would be developed as a not for profit business.” Similarly, Wardrop said that the Greens “will help students by continuing to campaign for greater rent controls and against benefit changes that severely restrict housing benefit for many single people and vulnerable groups.”

Similar to the elections at uni, like those for the rector and student unions, the council elections use the single transferrable vote system. Meaning that you vote using numbers, putting a one next to your first choice, a two next to your second choice and so on. You can vote for as few and as many candidates as you’d like.

While the council should focus on local issues, with the process of leaving the EU happening right now and the SNP pushing for a new referendum, these national issues are creeping into the council election manifestos. Martha Wardrop of the Scottish Greens, for example, stated that the Greens are calling on Holyrood Parliament to examine and exhaust every option for continuing Scotland’s close ties with Europe, and that “Glasgow can play an active, powerful and compassionate role as European city, promoting sustainable solutions, human rights, peace and democracy.” Similarly, the manifesto of the Scottish Lib Dems underlines the party’s backing for a “continued membership of the European Union”. Yet whatever your opinion is on the Brexit-vote or the notion of a second independence referendum, consider what each party is promising to do for the local council instead of voting based on their stance regarding these national issues.

At the latest council elections in 2012, the turnout in Hillhead was only 28 per cent. Whether you’re prioritising mental health (Scottish Lib Dems), the NHS and social care (Scottish Labour), “a vote against Tory austerity” (SNP), a more flexible, democratic local government structure (Scottish Conservatives) or protection of public services such as schools and social care (Scottish Greens), let’s make sure to at least double the numbers of 2012 on the fourth of May by showing a high student turn-out.

You can register to vote here – https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote – by the 22nd May to guarantee your vote in the General Election.

[Aike Jansen]

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