YOU may be surprised to hear this, but we are entering election mode again.

I know what you’re thinking. Can we really be that lucky? Just three months after the delights of the Holyrood vote, are our politicians gearing up to spoil us once more?

Yes, dear reader, they are - and hard.

Those looking for evidence need go no further than the plans for the SNP National Conference next month.

The party says its “three big policy themes” will be Independence (naturally), climate change ahead of the COP26 conference (ditto), and the 2022 council elections (woohoo!).

Alex Salmond’s Alba Party has also made the council elections a key part of its conference the same weekend.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens, who hold clashing conferences in October, will be featuring the coming electoral test too.

While Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories, although they may not gather together until the spring, will also be strategising early.

Of course, every politician is always thinking of the next election as soon as the last one ends. It’s in their DNA. Next to the genes for power-hunger and worrying about the mortgage.

But the election of 1220 councillors across 32 local authorities next May is set to be particularly interesting.

The 2017 local election was certainly eventful. The SNP remained the party with the most councillors, adding half a dozen to win 431 seats with 32.3 per cent of first preference votes.

The Liberal Democrats lost four seats to win 67 with 6.8%, while the Scottish Greens added five to end on 19 with 4.1%. But the big action was with the Tories and Scottish Labour.

The former more than doubled their councillor tally to 276 with 25.3% of first preferences, making gains in all 30 councils where they already held seats.

That pushed Labour into third place as it slumped from 394 to 262 seats with 20.2% of first preferences, and failed to make a single gain. Its best result was a standstill. Kezia Dugdale quit as leader a few months later.

Next May could be equally consequential. It is, after all, the last scheduled electoral test of national opinion before Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred date for Indyref2. How the votes break down, and who is seen to have a good result, will therefore have a strong constitutional dimension.

The last local election had that too, although it wasn’t fully appreciated at the time. The Tories made their huge advances by campaigning against a new referendum, which Ms Sturgeon had floated in March that year.

However, as the SNP’s numbers held steady, public unhappiness with the Indyref2 plan was somewhat masked.

Yet it was a straw in the wind. A month later, in Theresa May’s snap general election, the SNP lost 21 of its 56 MPs, while the Unionist parties all made gains, particularly the Tories.

It knocked the stuffing out of the SNP and forced the First Minister to “reset” her plans. She has been far more cautious since. If the SNP took a blow in the 2022 local election, she could not brush off the implications as lightly as she did last time.

The election is especially fascinating because all the parties have things they desperately want to prove, both to their opponents and to themselves.

The SNP leadership want to show the UK Government, and their internal critics, that they still have mandate-momentum, that their claim on Indyref2 hasn’t weakened.

A reversal would make it easier for the other parties to argue the public don’t want it and that Ms Sturgeon personally is on the wane, while more gung-ho Yes campaigners would blame her for letting her chance slip away.

Douglas Ross wants to help bring that about by putting a dent in the SNP’s numbers. But he also wants to consolidate the unprecedented - and possibly unstable - gains of 2017, proving the Scottish Tories can hold their own without Baroness Ruth Davidson front and centre.

Besides the usual appeal to send the FM a message on Indyref2, expect the SNP’s record on education to feature heavily in arguments over who should be running schools day-to-day.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, set to be installed unopposed as Scottish LibDem leader later this month, has to stop the rot. After going nowhere for almost a decade, his party changed tack by going backwards at the Holyrood election. His task will be to hold the line and try to emerge from Willie Rennie’s shadow as something more than a photo-op prop.

After adding MSPs, the Greens will want to show they can make more gains at a local level, although the voting system is far less generous than the one that helped them at Holyrood.

If the Greens and SNP strike a joint government deal later this year, the election could severely strain it, but could also lead to a second layer of cooperation between the two.

Alba wants to survive. However it is arithmetically far harder for it to gain or defend council seats than it is to win MSPs via the Holyrood list, and it came nowhere near to achieving that, so a back-to-back humiliation beckons.

Anas Sarwar needs a Scottish Labour comeback, also known as a miracle. If his party cannot improve on its current pitiful baseline, his future and its will be called into question.

As will Keir Starmer’s. For as Mr Sarwar recently pointed out, a Labour revival in Scotland is a pre-requisite for a Labour government at Westminster.

If Scottish Labour flounders yet again, it will not just damage Mr Starmer’s prospects, it will fuel the SNP argument that only independence offers Scotland a way out of endless Tory misrule from London.

You thought council elections were boring? Not this one.