DEMOCRACY is wasted on the democratic, or so those living under less enlightened regimes could be forgiven for thinking.
Today is polling day in Scotland's local elections – the first since the poll was decoupled with Holyrood election day – and the signs are that there will be one of the lowest turnouts in recent history, of 30%.
Local elections may lack the drama of general elections, but that does not make them any less important. It is crucial that all voting aged adults who can get out to vote today, do so, because how Scots vote, or fail to, will determine how schools, social work and many other services are funded and run for the next five years.
Not only that, but since the Single Transferable Vote system was introduced in 2007, every vote in local elections counts. Gone are the days when a single party dominated a ward or a council so completely that voting for any other party was felt by electors to be futile. Today, the system represents the will of the people more accurately than ever before - but only if voters make the trip to the polling station.
The expected low turnout is likely to be linked partly to low awareness about the election. News, both local and national, is consumed in a more fragmented, less systematic ways than it once was. The decision to ban election posters in some areas can't have helped.
There may also be a sense among voters that local authority elections don't much matter because Holyrood pulls the strings - not surprising, perhaps, given that the Scottish Government has effectively dictated local authorities' financial arrangements for the past five years by threatening a bigger budget cut to any local authority that did not agree to maintain the council tax freeze.
Certainly, the pool of cash any council has to spend depends heavily on the Finance Secretary.
However, as academic Richard Kerley pointed out in yesterday's Herald, councillors still exercise very significant power over how that cash is spent. With the worst of the spending cuts still to come, how our local elected representatives exercise this power will matter all the more over the coming council term.
This is an opportunity for local people to have their say on issues that affect their daily lives. Edinburgh's trams, Glasgow's roads, support for the arts, pre-school education, planning, recycling facilities – the list goes on and on. A low turnout would not only represent a missed opportunity for voters, but could also call into question the legitimacy of the new local administrations, which in turn would likely result in calls for changes to the way local government in Scotland is run. While full-scale restructuring is unlikely, there could be demands for the introduction of elected provosts, following the success of elected mayors in some English cities in reinvigorating local politics. Interesting as that proposition may be, an electorate voting for personalities is no substitute for one voting on local issues.
No democratic government at any level can operate effectively without the support and participation of citizens. This is likely to be the most important set of local elections of recent memory; it would be best for councils, and for local services, if there were a turnout to match.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.