Local elections or dry-run for independence referendum?

Tory attempts to turn council elections into a vote on Scotland’s future relationship to UK are desperate and patronising, argues Gavin Corbett

Councils provide many of the services we treasure. They fund nurseries and run our schools. They ensure there is social care for our older people. They look after our parks, streets, waste collections and libraries. Planning controls shape how our cities and towns look and feel.

Now, of course, people will argue about how well councils do these things. But few would dispute that they are vital services.

So local councillors need to have a sound understanding of all of these services and how to improve them. Good local councillors should also act as champions for their wards. In my own area of Fountainbridge-Craiglockhart I have campaigned successfully with residents for traffic calming and against house demolition; organised or taken part in countless community clean-ups; and stood with community campaigns to put people before profit when development is planned.

It is the same for Green councillors across Edinburgh. My colleague Melanie Main in Meadows-Morningside has led on a community shop in Bruntsfield and tackling road safety in Braidburn and Greenbank. In Southside-Newington Steve Burgess has won backing for a local bike track for young people. Chas Booth has doubled the budget for £eith Decides, the ground-breaking scheme where local people choose spending priorities. In Inverleith, Nigel Bagshaw has supported local communities in fighting destructive developments at Edinburgh Academicals and Canonmills Bridge.

However, the Conservatives are arguing you should set all that aside. The Tories want to see council elections on 4 May as a dry run for something that is not in the remit of councils: whether or not Scotland should be independent.

So out of the window go questions on whether your prospective councillor knows anything about what councils do; or if they have the skills, energy and focus to do the job.

Why are the Tories doing this? There are three possible explanations.

The first is that the Tories are daft and don’t understand what the election on 4 May is about. Maybe, but let’s leave that aside for now.

The second is that the Tories believe that voters are daft. This is a more damning charge and, reeks of an utterly patronising attitude towards the people of Edinburgh.

However, the real reason, I believe, is classic diversion. Having made a horlicks of Brexit (which 75% of people in Edinburgh rejected) the Tories are desperately trying to turn attention away from that.

Meanwhile, in Morningside and Craiglockhart and across south Edinburgh, residents remember that all three Tories on planning committee backed the ransacking of outstanding green space at Craighouse on Easter Craiglockhart Hill, while, two and a half years later, not a single stone or slate of the A-listed buildings there have been safeguarded. No wonder they are so desperate to skip past such embarrassments.

So too city-wide. In the midst of a city housing crisis where our young people struggle to get a home and families wrestle with housing costs, the Tories decided it was a priority to allocate £1.45m over the budget period to give owners of second homes a council tax discount. Yes, really.

Unlike the Tories, I trust the good judgement of voters. I and my Green colleagues will contest the upcoming council elections with a track record of positive achievement, with a stack of ideas to improve council services and with a real appetite to work tirelessly on the local priorities which people want us to focus on for the next five years.

Irrespective of your view on Scotland’s future, we will all get a say in due course. To subvert vital council elections meantime is as desperate as it is patronising.