WITH apologies to John Donne, no election is an island, entire of itself.
Ideally, this week's local government vote would be a stand-alone affair, with residents tailoring their support to the mixture of candidates best able to represent their wards and contribute to the governance of their councils.
But national politics and old habits always intrude on polling day, whatever the election.
Some people will vote according to their feelings – positive or negative – about the Coalition at Westminster, others based on events at Holyrood and the SNP's record in government.
Another group will vote according to party allegiance, irrespective of candidate quality.
Others still will vote in protest at whatever gets their goat – high fuel costs, the eurozone, bankers, you name it.
Some of this turbulence is inevitable. Democracy is a messy business, after all.
But if ever there was a time for a break with the old habits then this election is it.
The next five years promise to be some of the grimmest in a generation for Scotland's councils.
The UK government's austerity measures mean funding for Holyrood will be hacked back, and Scottish ministers will transmit the cuts to local authorities from Shetland to the Borders.
Education, social work, care for the elderly, road repairs, community regeneration, museums, libraries, the state of the public realm, all will take a hit.
No party can guarantee they will be able to completely protect voters from the difficult times ahead.
So it is vital that as many people as possible engage in this election and play it smart.
The STV system used to elect either three or four councillors per ward offers the scope for a more nuanced decision at the ballot box, as voters can rank individual candidates in order of preference and spread their support across parties.
It is an opportunity to be relished.
There is no escaping that the overall result will be interpreted as a verdict on Labour and the SNP, on Johann Lamont and Alex Salmond, and as a straw in the wind for the 2014 independence referendum.
But people needn't vote on that basis.
Local government doesn't need to be a glorified opinion poll, it needs talent and ideas.
It needs good people from all parties and none, working together to protect services.
So people should vote for the best, not a badge.
It would be inappropriate for this paper to offer any party an endorsement in an election which should be influenced by many local factors in individual areas.
The composition of our councils is best left to those best placed to do it – our readers.
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