Keeping it local
There is, decidedly, more to life than shopping. However, on occasion, one must indulge. In pursuit of same, I chanced to be meandering around a little block of local emporia in one of Scotland's suburbs.
My eye was caught by a rather large billboard, helpfully supplied by the local authority. It informed shoppers and other itinerants of plans in place to upgrade the area. There was, as far as I could discern, much bold talk of renovation.
This optimistic picture was slightly despoiled by two factors. One, the poster was covered in graffiti. Two, the billboard was placed, defiantly, in front of a public toilet - closed by the self-same local authority.
Now, I can well imagine that the council would argue that it had its priorities right - strategic renewal ahead of public convenience. Equally, however, it is feasible that certain thwarted citizens might dissent from this choice. Perhaps the graffiti "artist" was one of them - even although alternative provision is on offer.
This narrative from nowhere is a reminder that local politics and local elections are just that - local. The outcome will be heavily influenced by council and ward factors - in addition to Scotland-wide perceptions.
To be fair to the political parties, they are reflecting that in their campaigning - for example, by launching local manifesto pledges, underpinned by national priorities.
Local politics is, overwhelmingly, about delivery on the ground, often literally. Grand strategies will not content the voters if they believe that they are being sold short on road sweeping and bin collection.
Again, to be fair, the parties are alert to this, peppering their pledge lists with references to the basics of council service provision.
The STV voting system for local elections means that parties - and pundits - face a game of multi-dimensional chess. If Party A declines, will that vote transfer uniformly to one principal rival - or be dispersed, with unforeseeable consequences?
There is a further element which subsumes the rest. Finance - or the lack of it. The blame game is relevant - and enthralls party activists. But voters will want to hear how potential councillors plan to cope with reduced budgets.
Further, the maintenance of a council tax freeze means a diminution of scope for alternative offers - and consequently a squeezing of the gap between party pitches. Again, there may be a legitimate blame game - but the voters may not pay much attention to that.
For all that, these elections remain highly significant. They will offer pointers to national progress by the various parties, particularly in the key battlegrounds. PR means all the big parties have at least shared power in Scottish local authorities. They have much to gain and lose.
Further and more immediately, we are electing the women and men who will take the choices on the ground. The planning decisions - perhaps the most important but lowest profile council function. The choices on your school, your road. And, yes, your public toilets.