It seems like no time at all since Scots were last at the polls, but in less than two months’ time, voters in the Lothians will be invited to vote in the local government election on May 4. Across Edinburgh, 63 council seats will be up for grabs in the city’s 17 wards.
The instinct of many people to such change is often cynicism but Scotland is actually very under-represented compared to the rest of Europe. In Germany, for example, there is one councillor for every 400 citizens, in Spain one for every 700. In Scotland, each councillor represents 4270 electors.
While we have 32 local authorities, across this same scale of governance, the Netherlands have 408 councils, Belgium has 589, and Germany has an astounding 11,000 elected local councils.
Despite some mergers taking place in these countries, the pace and degree of change has been incomparable to the level of hollowing out and stripping back that has happened in Scotland. To those who may be sceptical of local government, I would say we need more local representation, more local councils and more local decision-making, not less.
Regardless of who takes control of the City Chambers in May, we know from an Accounts Commission report published this week that there are vast challenges ahead. Education, housing, transport are significant issues for the city and demand significant effort.
But delivering effective local government is a two-way process. In recent elections, the turnout figures have been derisory.
At the last local election in 2012, just 39 per cent of Scots turned out to vote. The national picture was only marginally bettered by 42.6 per cent of Edinburgh residents casting a vote but even this was down by almost 16 per cent from the previous poll.
We clearly have a democratic deficit in our hands, and its trajectory is worrying. Although it may be a long time before we match our European counterparts, ’ impressive abilities to engage in local democracy, from my perspective as a Lothian MSP, people in Edinburgh do have views on the future of the city but they must take the opportunity to vote, to engage and to stay engaged in the political process.
So, remember to register to vote by April 17 and vote on May 4.
Andy Wightman is a Green MSP for Lothian