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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK

Elections in the shadow of Holyrood

An high turnout is expected at the local government elections

BBC Scotland Home Affairs Correspondent Reevel Alderson reports

They have been called the forgotten elections.

But on 6 May, when Scots vote for the new Holyrood Parliament, they will get a third ballot paper - for the local council elections.

While campaigning for the Scottish Parliament is best described as "low-key", coverage of the local authority poll has been almost non-existent.

Yet it remains deeply significant, as Scottish councils annually spend around 5.5bn on services:

  • Education gets 2.349bn

  • Social work 1bn

  • Cleansing 210m

  • Museums and art galleries 28m.

    Only 19% of the cash comes from council taxes, a further 20% from non-domestic rates, while central government currently provides about 60%. The Scottish Parliament will take over the block grant responsibilities.

    Traditionally, local council elections have been surrounded by voter apathy - with a turnout of 40% on the high side of expectations.

    [ image: Glasgow City Council is one of the biggest in the UK]
    Glasgow City Council is one of the biggest in the UK
    This year, as they coincide with the parliamentary elections, it is expected polling will be heavier than usual.

    Certainly the parties are taking the local council elections seriously. A total of 3,895 candidates are competing for 1,222 seats. This compares with a total of 3,513 candidates in 1995 - a rise of 6.8%.

    Individually, the parties have increased the number of their candidates as follows: Labour up 2.8%; Scottish National Party 4.5%; Liberal Democrats 11.8%, Conservatives 22.9%. Independents and others have declined by 2.8%.

    The Tories' biggest push appears to be in Aberdeenshire where there is an increase in the number of their candidates from 18 in 1995 to 47 this year.

    Largest number

    The SNP are fielding the largest number of candidates, and are fighting 90% of all seats on the mainland.

    This election sees the continuing reduction in the number of independent and minor party candidates. Discounting the island councils (Shetland, Orkney and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar - the Western Isles) the number of independent candidates has fallen by 13 to 456.

    The Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and Aberdeenshire were previously strongholds of the independent tradition in local government, but they are becoming increasingly politicised. Only in the Highlands and the Islands are they a significant electoral force.

    But even in the islands, party politics are coming to the fore. Labour and the SNP are fielding record numbers of candidates for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Lib-Dems are putting forward five candidates in Shetland.

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