Helen Martin: Is your councillor qualified for the job?

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IS there any point in holding council elections? That’s not questioning local democracy, merely suggesting how distorted the election process has become over the last few decades.

Every election TV broadcast is based on national political party manifestos. The same can be said for much of the literature some local council candidates thrust through our letter boxes.

Independence, Better Together, Brexit and national division have nothing to do with the council, let alone each individual ward.

In some cases that may be because the wanna-be councillor doesn’t have anything to do with the ward either. They don’t necessarily live there or work there and have simply been parachuted in by the party they represent. It didn’t used to work that way.

One candidate in our ward describes herself as a ‘local’ teacher. I asked a canvasser which of the schools in the area she taught in, and he admitted it was none of them. By ‘local’ she meant Edinburgh.

Several candidates appear to completely discount the importance of local credentials, knowledge and commitment – even if they have them. I wrote to one who was happy to tell me he lived locally, worked for a locally-based charity for over a decade and filled me in on his life experience, none of which had been included in his campaign material.

Candidates who don’t belong to the area they hope to represent have to put themselves through a crash course on local geography and issues – but no way can that equal the commitment to do the best for their own neighbourhood or fully understand the attitudes of fellow locals.

So that’s what it comes down to. Do councillors exist to represent the voters in their ward or are they there to further the aims of their political party?

And do they have the freedom to support members of the local electorate, especially if they have an issue with council services or are negatively affected by council policy?

The vast range of essential council services have more day-to-day impact on local communities and individuals than national government policies. Ensuring voters in their ward are well served by these services is surely the main job of a councillor . . . and it’s not easy.

Dog poo, street lighting, refuse collection, local schools (not national policy), libraries, refuse collection, vandalism and nuisance behaviour, road and pavement services, litter, community centres, sports facilities, bus services and transport, the survival of local shops and post offices, planning applications and issues, parking zones and charges, social work needs, care needs, social housing, the homeless, council tax and the efficiency of the council itself in responding to queries, requests and complaints on these topics and many more, all add up to what a councillor SHOULD be dealing with.

They should not be influenced by national party policy or even group policy in the council. We elect them to serve us, not each other or political big-wigs in Holyrood or Westminster who have a completely different remit and couldn’t give a hoot about Mrs Mac’s unemptied bins in Acacia Avenue.

If party politics are all-important and trump local understanding, familiarity and loyalty, why bother with the expense of an election? Why not use the results of the Scottish election and divvy-up party-appointed councillors accordingly, rather than make a pretence of local democracy?