In three weeks’ time, Scots will go to the polls to elect their local councils. Aside from the various political agendas, there is a more fundamental issue at stake which is trust in the political process.
Trust is a vital commodity in politics that is easily lost and hard to recover.
In Ipsos MORI’s Veracity Index last year, people were asked to rate who they trusted to tell the truth. Those working in occupations such as medicine and the judiciary came out highly at 90% and 70%, respectively.
The average person on the street was trusted by 52% of respondents to tell the truth but languishing at the bottom of the table were politicians at 15%.
More recently I came across the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey reporting on political engagement.
This annual study found that in the last year, two-thirds of people in Scotland participated in at least one form of political activity, such as signing a petition or corresponding with an elected official.
Among young people aged 16-24, nearly 75% had engaged in the political process as opposed to 58% of those aged 65 and over.
With a derisory national turnout of 39% at the last local election, clearly we need to understand why people are seemingly engaging in politics and yet are disengaged from voting for the people who will make important decisions on their local environment, schools, transport, housing and leisure facilities.
Part of the reason might be to do with trust.
In the same Social Attitudes Survey, a fifth of Scots were said to have little trust in their local council to make fair decisions.
Coupled with that, we often hear that public confidence in the planning system is at an all-time low.
For example, last week I attended a public meeting on the future of the India Buildings site on the Cowgate which is under threat from the large scale development of a hotel.
Through public activism, locals have petitioned the Court of Session for a judicial review of the planning decision.
The local elections are an opportunity for you to vote and to engage over the next five years in what matters to you.
Despite political differences, local democracy needs to re-establish trust in the political process.
On May 4, you have the power in your hands to elect councillors you trust to run this great city.
n Andy Wightman is Green MSP for Lothian