On the face of it, the Scottish local government election campaign has failed to excite the electorate.

No individual like Boris, Ken or even Gorgeous George has emerged to grab the limelight. There has been no single moment to ignite the campaign. No symbolic issue has dominated the news coverage.

We may well see the lowest ever turnout for local council elections this year .. but far from being seen as a sign of electoral apathy it should more properly be interpreted as a collectively calculated and individually considered challenge to the political status quo.

Whether it has been with the help of proportional voting, or in spite of the old system, a clever Scottish electorate has been reshaping local democracy in its own image year after year. In statutory elections and by-elections, successive results have demonstrated the electorate's determination to ensure electoral outcomes reflect the mood of local communities, mostly resulting in no single party being given overall control of a council. The face of local government has changed.

At the 1995 elections, after local government reorganisation more than ably assisted by the distorting effect of the old winner takes all first-past-the-post voting system, Labour took outright control of two- thirds of Scotland's 32 councils. By the time that proportional voting was introduced just over 10 years later, the electorate had already rebalanced the scales, with other parties and independents sharing power in more than half of those councils which began life with Labour majorities.

At the 2007 elections, coalition councils of every possible political hue were formed in direct response to the desire of local electorates to put the local back into government. Despite the clarion calls from central HQ's to behave in a puerile partisan fashion, no possible political partnership was out of bounds at the local level and coalitions of all colours emerged from that election.

Local leaders, of all political persuasions, deserve great credit for driving this democratic advance, changing the nature of local government and the language which now describes it. Terminology being consigned to the dustbin of electoral history includes the exclusive "my ward", now that multi-member wards are the norm, and the excluding "party political control of the council", given that power is mostly shared between parties and in some cases with independents in coalitions.

And so to 2012 and the likely outcome, or rather outcomes. The second lesson which we are likely to learn this year is that this is a series of local elections, with local issues playing a much more prominent part than previously, rather than a uniform test of national public opinion. Whereas all previous elections to the unitary councils have accompanied national polls, this year there is no such cross-contamination which was often characterised by uniform swings from one party to another.

So where are the key battlegrounds and what interesting features may emerge? Let's look at the cities as they neatly represent what is likely to happen across the country as a whole. Firstly, for a variety of reasons, much of the media attention has focused on Glasgow. Principal among these is the political significance of the possibility of Labour losing control of the second city of the Empire, or as some prefer to see it, the chosen capital of an independent Scotland.

The loss of power in Glasgow would truly be a shattering blow to Scottish Labour and it has been apparent for a while that the mood in favour of an anti-Labour coalition has been stalking the corridors of the City Chambers. This mood may well gather momentum after the electorate have had their say later this week, even if Labour return as the largest party group.

Change of a different hue is likely in Edinburgh, with the SNP and Labour vying to hoover up the expected collapse in the LibDem vote, left trailing in the tracks of the trams. For many the most exciting political possibility of all is edging closer here, where the two main protagonists of Scottish politics may actually hear what the electorate has been trying to tell them for years – settle what small policy differences you have and work together for the greater good of our capital city.

In Dundee, political change is less likely. As the city's cultural, social and economic transformation continues apace, symbolised by an array of exciting projects on the waterfront, the electorate aren't in the mood for great change. In Stirling, where the 400-year anniversary of Bannockburn will soon be celebrated under the watchful eye of William Wallace, the gains made by the SNP last year are likely to propel the party to a position of greater power than they already enjoy at the local level.

In Inverness, home to Highland Council, significant change is already afoot before a vote has even been cast, with a number of experienced and highly regarded councillors stepping aside. This leaves the fields around Culloden open to the marauding hordes of a rampant SNP, who believe they can position themselves as the largest party and share power with whichever party group, or independent grouping, emerges as the next in line.

Aberdeen looks set for another kind of change with a further rebalancing of the ruling coalition.

So, ironically, there is indeed a coherent national picture emerging as the election approaches. All across the country, people will be voting for change as we enter a new era for Scottish local government. It will certainly be more local, but only if the Government votes for that too.

Ross Martin, Policy Director, Centre for Scottish Public Policy – Scotland's independent Think Tank