BY EFFIE DEANS
There is a tower near where I live. It was built in honour of some now forgotten landowner. The tower itself is almost forgotten and must attract few if any visitors. Yet when I turned up for the first time in many years, I discovered that it was locked by a chain and padlock. At the beginning of the pandemic, I imagine someone in the local council decided that it was unsafe to allow people to climb the tower as they might catch Covid from the steps. Now the chain itself has been forgotten. Who do I vote for in the local council elections so that when I go there again in ten years’ time, I will be able to get a view?
Every now and again I fill my car with clippings from the garden and take it to the skip. Before I learned the word “Covid” it was a matter of simply driving there. But my local council decided that it was unsafe to allow people just to turn up and so it became necessary to go online and book a time slot. Sometimes there was a man sitting in a little hut checking number plates sometimes there wasn’t. There are all sorts of officious rules about where rubbish must be put and what must not be included in that rubbish. Who do I vote for to get the local skip back to how it was?
My experience of what the local council does is mainly connected with bins. We have three bins. One wheelie bin for paper and another for general waste and a little one for food waste. Oddly glass bottles and jars are not recycled. We are supposed to drive to the bottle bank on the grounds that this will save energy. Who do I vote for so that all of my rubbish goes into one bin so that the council can then sort it themselves?
It isn’t that I think that what the council does is unimportant. It’s important to me that I pay a fairly large amount to fund these activities. But I have concluded that I will have to pay more or less the same amount no matter who I vote for. I have also concluded that the local services available to me will be more or less the same too.
I would like to have more faith in the efficiency of the council except I can’t help failing to notice the man in the yellow hi viz clothing whose life involves picking up cigarette butts one by one with a long pair of tongs. He can be seen every day in whatever weather performing this task. Perhaps he will one day have a tower built in his memory noting his long service to the community.
The men responsible for digging up the roads have minimal concern for the disruption they cause. I would vote for a party that made them do what they do at night. Everything is done as slowly as possible with as many breaks involving sitting in the cabs of their council vehicles. But the people you have to phone when you need something are usually sitting in their cabs too.
I emailed my fully completed form only to be told that I hadn’t sent it. On sending it again it must have been lost as I never heard from that section of the council again. It’s an excellent way of reducing costs.
The people I contact are usually quite pleasant, but they have jobs that are not judged by performance and which they cannot lose unless they fail to go on the latest woke awareness course. But who do I vote for in order to get a council that actually performs just a little better than it does now?
The council funds education, but what the children learn has nothing to do with the council. The council doesn’t decide who teaches the children nor how well they do it. So, it matters not one little bit who I vote for in the local elections the schools will remain the same.
Most of us would not want to end up in a council old people’s home and will do our best to keep our relatives out of one, but there is no one I can vote for to make social care more inviting.
Local elections matter in Scotland only insofar as they reflect our opinions on national issues. Some people will vote for independence as if that will make a difference to local services. They will be encouraged to vote SNP to show that Scotland disapproves of Boris Johnson having parties in Downing Street as if that issue will change local services. Pro UK people will vote on the usual lines, but almost no one will vote for a specific local politician or a specific local policy. We will nearly all vote according to how we would vote in a General Election.
It should be the easiest thing of all to change issues at a local level. It is only necessary to get the support of a small section of the community to make a political difference locally. But this would only work if there were a genuine choice between the candidates offering different solutions and different funding models.
We are at fault. I have no idea who runs the council. I could not name a single candidate or how they differ on a local issue. I know that this one supports independence and that one doesn’t, but this will not change how the schools are run or how often the bins are emptied.
It should be easy to change where we each live, but local councillors are more anonymous than any MP in London and the local council is a tiresome bureaucracy that we avoid dealing with if at all possible. I would phone it up to unlock my tower, but I would have to fill in forms that would then be lost. It is easier to wait for the chain to rust.
Yes of course we should all vote in the local elections, they might even matter nationally, but don’t expect them to change anything locally. In that sense they are not local elections at all.
Who do I vote for to get one bin emptied weekly?
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.