Published: 14/05/2017 07:00 - Updated: 14/05/2017 11:22

OPINION: Tory surge in the Highlands, and Sturgeon set it rolling

Written byColin Campbell

Newsview by Highland News columnist Colin Campbell

Voters were focussed on the bigger picture when they went to the polls in the local elections earlier this month.
Voters were focussed on the bigger picture when they went to the polls in the local elections earlier this month.

IN the run-up to last week’s poll I came across a few people who still argued that it was a local election and had nothing to with national issues.

But the event I dubbed a council election like no other was never going to be just a series of municipal contests with no impact beyond the end of the street. It was always going to be overhung by a huge national issue – the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon and their stance on a second referendum.

Voters last Thursday were focused on the bigger picture across Scotland rather than the electoral machinations as they played out in Inverness central, Inverness west, or Ness-side.

Of course to an extent many people would have voted for a particular candidate, if they happened to have knowledge of them.

But very many others headed for the polling booths without knowing who was involved but determined to make a point, one way or another.

SNP supporters turned out in droves, as they were expected to do.

But by last Thursday night anyone getting involved in election conversations must have been aware of another factor.

I’d already chatted during the day to a dozen people who said they might not have bothered voting normally but had determinedly made a point of turning out this time. And they had relatives – fathers, mothers, wives, husbands who had done the same.

Call it a backlash, call it a protest vote, but it was aimed directly at Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for another referendum.

One result is 10 Conservatives on Highland Council – an astonishing turnaround from the last administration and something that would never have been predicted even a week ago.

And Sturgeon and her arrogance on Indyref2 are entirely the reason for that.

Her demand for another referendum so soon after her "once in a generation" pledge seemed outrageous when she made it and it still seemed outrageous to many last Thursday.

Attempts to use Brexit as an excuse fooled no one, because an "any excuse will do" attempt it transparently was.

And Ruth Davidson and the Tories have spectacularly reaped the benefits as more and more people look at the First Minister and no longer are so enamoured by what they see.

At Highland Council the days when local government was a party politics-free zone seem further away than ever.

There are still plenty of Independents but with the SNP in one corner and the newly-emboldened Tory contingent in the other the potential for political infighting is all too clear. Already the horse-trading has begun in an effort to form alliances and coalitions. All of which will foster the illusion among those involved that Glenurquhart Road is almost a northern version of Westminster, where political allegiances come first.

We saw too much of that in the last administration.

I just hope the new incumbents don’t start forming "cabinets" – as has happened elsewhere – and start mimicking the titles and protocol in London SW1.

Voters made a political point for national consumption last week but that doesn’t mean they want to see gratuitous political squabbling on local issues. Anything but, in fact.

We can only hope that most members are able to keep their feet on the ground and realise that they are there first and foremost to keep the bins being emptied and the schools running smoothly and the elderly looked after and the streets being cleaned. And to do something about the damn traffic.

The excitement of polling day is now over and there are plenty grassroots matters to attend to. They were desperate to be elected and now it’s time to get on with the distinctly non-glamorous daily grind.

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