RUTH Davidson’s Tories could not have hoped for a better boost to their ambitions for a meaningful foothold in Scotland’s town halls had they planned it themselves.
In the coming weeks tens of thousands of households with no school-age children, care needs and in the “better end” of the property market will be told that, for the first time in a decade, they will be charged an extra few hundred pounds for this privilege.
More than any “kids not cuts” campaign or austerity blame-game, the rise in council tax will bring into focus just what it is that local government does and, crucially, whether those paying for it are getting value for money.
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The constitutional question around a second independence referendum has revived Tory fortunes and it’s widely accepted it will loom heavily over polling day on May 4.
But, for the first time in a generation, the national question has injected a left/right dynamic into local politics. The broad ideological consensus in local government is on the cusp.
Perhaps more so than any other major party, the Tories have a convergence of national and local priorities.
The Tories believe their campaigning line that Scotland is becoming the highest-taxed part of the UK is picking up traction, that on the doorsteps questions of value in the daily experiences of education, roads, rates and refuse collections are being asked.
A reminder to those in higher-band properties that they will be several hundred pounds worse off to pay for services they rarely if ever engage with will probably result in Ms Davidson’s party making hay from that convergence of taxation and the constitution.
And in a public sector landscape expected to change rapidly after the May council elections, there will be few surprises if, like Stirling’s aborted plans of last week, Tory-led or supported administrations put entire front-facing services out to the marketplace.
The independence referendum of 2014 may have revolutionised Scottish politics but a Thatcherite one at local level was not anticipated. Where does this leave the Labour party? Once again, the losers.
Intellectually and morally, Kezia Dugdale’s party might well have a robust case in its position on the impact of budget cuts on the neediest.
However, I’m not sure anyone is listening.
Local authorities will be in the line of fire for council tax rises.
Labour’s domination at a local level for decades will again see the party on the wrong side of history.
In the odd world of Scottish politics, the SNP can still present itself as the change candidate at council level.
Truly, this is Labour’s last stand.
It is polling third and, when voters mark their preferences on May 4, it will be the first real battle between the new ideological opponents.
We had better all get used to it.