Although I was not at Annual Conference this year, I did enjoy watching much of it from home and I am delighted in one way to see the back of it.
Away back in the Spring of this year when we thought there was some political certainty, SNP Government, place in Europe etc we were looking forward to building our Local Government campaigns from the Autumn with candidates selected before Conference and campaign strategies in place. Such fond memories.
Then came what Macmillan called “events dear boy, events”.
First an unexpected contest for Deputy Leader and although it turned into a fascinating and enlightening contest in many ways it was a major distraction for our planning. It also blew away the planning for the summer Independence conversation since the Deputy Leader was to be the leading light.
Then we had the total upheaval caused by Brexit and, although it has demonstrated beyond dispute that we have the only political Leader on these Islands in Nicola, it meant that so much time and attention was, rightly, given to establishing Scotland’s right to be heard. Once more it blew away our timeframe for Local Government elections.
In between with the historic election of a third SNP Government a new Local Government minister had to get his head around the complexities of the new Ward Boundaries, indeed new Wards in many areas, being proposed by the Boundaries Commission. This meant huge changes in many Council Areas, some with large numbers of extra Councillors to plan for and some with reductions to plan for. This meant trying to prepare not just a plan to meet the existing political arrangements but another to deal with the proposed changes.
Anyone who has ever been involved in that process knows how hard it is to get one plan agreed!
It also meant that we could not move ahead with candidate selections because we did not know what the boundaries would be. This matters because only members within a ward area can take part in and vote for the candidate to represent the party in their area. If we do not know what the area is we cannot say who can vote!
Now that the Boundaries have been selected we have to await the new electoral roll being produced to know in which Ward each member will be and consequently able to vote in our selection contest.
This has been a nightmare summer for the hard pressed staff at Headquarters to deal with all these areas not to mention the huge number of applications for people to be placed on the list of Potential Candidates. Fortunately that final piece of the jigsaw can now be addressed and hopefully we can get candidates in place as soon as possible. Gone are the days when we were trying to persuade folk to stand in Local Council elections, we now have contests as the norm and are much healthier for it.
But these contests take time and we are running out of that precious commodity.
With the current backlogs in processing applications even to get on to the list of approved persons, enabling Branches to have meetings to discuss their options, holding Hustings meetings and perhaps going to a postal ballot we will not have candidates in place this year in many areas and that leaves us short of the time to get individual ward campaigns and strategies finalised.
While my heart goes out to the poor folk in Headquarters who have had to deal with all of these extra issues and have no doubt seen their own plans and timescales kicked into touch endlessly, my plea is to get things moving forward with all the means at their disposal.
Winning control of our Local Council is important for every one of us. While the next few years in Local Government will be very difficult, we did not come into politics just for the easy decisions.
There will be major funding challenges ahead and we will have a better idea of the scale after the Autumn Statement on November 23 but we can be sure that the Tories will not be scrapping their Austerity programme. No matter that the language might change with the change of Chancellor. The Prime Minister has made it clear that she embodies the spirit of Thatcher and that means trouble ahead.
We need to get ourselves organised to face those troubles and that starts with getting our candidates in place.