I DIDN’T vote in last week’s local authority election. There, I admitted it! It puts me in the majority (less than half of us showed up at the polling station), but perhaps more to the point it is the only election in which I have failed to vote since my first opportunity, the inaugural elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

During that 23 years, I have voted for four of the five parties currently represented in the Scottish Parliament, however on this occasion I could not bring myself to vote for any of them.

I am aware, of course, of all the perfectly sound reasons why my abstention was complacent and, if enough people copied me, rather dangerous, but I simply felt that by voting for any of them I would have played a part in enabling and encouraging the poor behaviour that they all exhibited during the campaign.

Earlier this week, it was reported that 85% of people cast their vote in last week’s election based on their position for or against independence. This is a dismal state. Moreover, it is a dismal state with a dismal impact.

Take the position of the major parties on the prospect of coalitions, for instance. Now, we should remember that Scottish local authority elections are fought using the Single Transferable Vote (STV). This is a proportional electoral system which is very specifically designed to prevent majority government, and to create coalitions.

Yet, because of their national squabbles over the overbearing national question, we now find ourselves in a situation where, if the parties stick to their pre-election promises, forming local administrations will range from being tricky to being nigh on impossible.

The Tories refuse to work with the SNP or the Greens, and the feeling is mutual. They will, however, work with Labour or the Lib Dems (can anyone guess why?), but the feeling is not mutual. Labour will not work with the SNP or the Greens because they are nationalists, and they will not work with the Tories because they are Tories. They might work with the Lib Dems but in almost all cases the Lib Dems are too small to be worth working with.

The SNP will work with the Greens because they are nationalists, and the Greens will work with the SNP because they are nationalists. If you, reader, are keeping up – and frankly who could blame you if you are not – then you will observe that the only viable coalitions are those between the SNP and the Greens, with the unionist parties successfully locking themselves out of power at local authority level.

What a shower.

If local government were not important, then this would matter little. But local government is important. It is local government, not Scottish or UK-level government, which is responsible for the day-to-day issues which profoundly and tangibly affect people’s lives. Public transport. Schools. Waste. Leisure. Public spaces. Real, raw, meaningful policy areas, which are playing second fiddle to the national political discourse.

The national political parties, by framing the election as a vote on independence, are the prime suspects in the continued defenestration of local government as a meaningful entity.

It could be different. Imagine if we banned national political parties from participating in local government elections. Imagine if we persuaded the offenders to repent, and pass legislation in the Scottish Parliament which legally prevented the political parties with representation at Holyrood from standing candidates in local authority elections.

The local authorities in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands give us a glimpse of the possible. My professional life has me working with them, and, I must say, it is most refreshing. Because they are dominated by Independent councillors with no political party affiliation, their focus is, utterly and entirely, on their area. Whilst they will, inevitably, have a view on national issues such as independence, I have never experienced them bringing it to their local authority work. They are able to embed themselves much more deeply into the local economy and local society because they do not come with strings attached.

Consequently, they get a lot done.

That is not to say that local authorities should only function with independent councillors. The political party structure, as a concept, is a sound one. Political parties are an important vehicle in which to corral like-minded opinion which can be applied consistently and cohesively across the full spectrum of policy issues. Voters can understand that, as well as voting for an individual representative to be there for them, they are voting for a team with a platform which they think can improve their local area.

Indeed, there is a perfectly good argument that the most stable and successful governments are those based around a strong, united political party with a strong, clear agenda.

However, it is almost inevitable that the party best placed to move a local authority forward will be a party formed in that local authority, for that local authority, without any alliance with, or allegiance to, national politicians.

Indeed, it has been the clear experience of the last 15 years that SNP councils have, for the most part, clearly prioritised loyalty to the centre over loyalty to those they represent (and, before anyone sends in a letter, the same would undoubtedly be true of Labour and Tory councils were their national bosses running the show in Edinburgh.)

We needn’t stop there. Scottish Tory Leader Douglas Ross’s troubles are, almost exclusively, a result of his required loyalty to the UK Tory party. The same has been true, in the past, of Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem leaders.

If parties standing at Holyrood were legally required to be different from those standing at Westminster we would, at a stroke, reinvigorate that struggling, stammering building at the foot of the Royal Mile.

Different political parties, for different tiers of government, focussing on the issues for which that tier is responsible.

We have a terrible habit, in this country, of whining about that which does not work. So let us, for once, follow through.

Local government does not work. Local authority elections do not work. We have in our power the ability to make them work. So, let’s.

• Andy Maciver is Founder Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters