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Local government elections May 2022

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Local elections were held in Scotland on 5 May 2022. Voters elected councillors for individual wards who then represent the ward on their local authority’s council. Find out more about who was eligible to vote, and what voting system was used.  

Election results by council and ward are published by the Electoral Management Board for Scotland. Throughout Friday, and over the weekend, the results and their implications were covered extensively by many media outlets. Nevertheless, the following issues may still be of interest to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee as well as individual MSPs. 

Summary of key results 

  • The Scottish National Party was able to secure the largest share of council seats, 37%, an increase of 22 seats. They received 34% of first-preference votes.  
  • The second largest number of seats, 23%, was taken by the Scottish Labour Party, an increase of 20 seats with 22% of first-preference votes.  
  • The Scottish Conservatives lost 63 seats and received 20% of first-preference votes.  
  • The Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Green Party both had good results, increasing their seat numbers by 20 and 16 respectively.  
  • The number of seats held by independent councillors decreased by 15 seats to a share of 12%.  
  • The Alba Party did not win any seats.  

The chart below shows number of seats won by party for each local election since 2007 (the first year of the single transferable vote system being used): 

The SNP gained overall control of Dundee City Council and Labour of West Dunbartonshire Council. Independent councillors retained overall control of three councils: Shetland, Orkney, and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles), the last of which also elected two female councillors for the first time in five years. The remaining 27 councils currently remain without overall control.  

The SNP is the largest party (in terms of councillors elected) in 22 councils, up by five from 2017, which includes winning overall control of Dundee City Council. The Conservatives are the largest party in four councils, down by two. Labour is the largest party in three councils (as in 2017) which includes winning an overall majority in West Dunbartonshire Council last week. Discussions will be held between parties over the next few weeks to determine how they may work together through formal or informal coalitions in most local authority areas. 

Turnout and community empowerment 

A total of 1,892,215 votes were cast in last week’s elections. With an electorate of 4,222,332, turnout stood at 44.8%, lower than May 2017’s 46.9% but considerably higher than May 2012’s 39.6%. The chart below shows turnout for the last four local elections in Scotland. The high turnout in 2007 may be partly due to local elections and Scottish Parliament elections taking place on the same day. Between 1974 and 2003 average turnout in Scottish local elections was around 45%. 

The Scotland-wide average masks a wide range of turnout figures across the 32 local authorities. For example, both East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire saw turnouts of 53.3% and 53.4% last week whilst Glasgow and Dundee City had much lower turnout rates of 38.4% and 40.4% respectively.  

Looking at turnout at individual ward level, an even wider gap is evident between the most and least engaged areas of Scotland. In the Glasgow City Council ward of Anderston, City and Yorkhill only 28.1% of the electorate turned out to vote. This compares to 60.4% in Stirling Council’s Dunblane and Bridge of Allan ward.  

The Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee has an interest in community empowerment, and clearly the relationship between communities and their local authorities is central to this. With Scottish Household Surveys showing that only a small proportion of the population feel they can influence decisions affecting their local areas, the Scottish Government and COSLA’s local governance review and future local democracy legislation may focus on addressing the clear disparity in engagement between different parts of Scotland. 

Uncontested wards 

Voter apathy is hardly a new phenomenon, however the BBC’s Philip Sim points out: “there was even apathy from candidates in some areas, with eight wards where there wasn’t even a vote because not enough people came forward” (emphasis added). Three of these uncontested wards were in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, two in the Shetland Islands and one in each of Inverclyde, Highland and Moray council areas: 

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar 
Ward 1 Barraigh agus Bhatarsaigh 
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar 
Ward 11 Sgìre an Rubha 
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar 
Ward 6 Sgìr’ Ùige agus Carlabhagh 
Inverclyde Council 
Ward 1 – Inverclyde East 
Shetland Islands Council 
Ward 1 -North Isles 
Shetland Islands Council 
Ward 2- Shetland North 
Highland Council 
Caol and Mallaig 
Moray Council 
Ward 3 – Buckie 

Proportional Representation – except for Arran  

Arran is famously known as “Scotland in miniature” and its population now has a miniature level of political representation compared to elsewhere in Scotland. It is the only one-member, first-past-the-post council ward in the country, a recent change resulting from a recommendation by Boundaries Scotland and approval by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee .  

Arran saw the second highest turnout rate of all Scottish wards, with 60.3% of the electorate voting. It is now represented by one councillor elected on 32% of the vote. Previously, Arran was part of the larger Ardrossan and Arran ward, with islanders being represented by three councillors, albeit shared with a fair-sized mainland community. 

Diversity of representation 

Over the last year, the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee has focussed on understanding barriers to elected office and encouraging more diversity in local representation. Lack of diversity is clearly an issue for many councils, with an Improvement Service survey of the 2017-22 councillor cohort finding that 67% of councillors were aged 50 or above, 66% were male and 98% were white. 

It is too early to say whether last week’s election has resulted in a more diverse cohort of councillors being elected. However, the Scottish Government has committed to improving data collection on this issue. Since March, Scottish Government officials have been collecting data through a non-mandatory survey of candidates and they hope to publish their main findings in autumn. So far, the response rate to the survey has been low and all candidates, whether successful or not, still have time to complete the online survey

Conclusion 

Outside of the NHS, local government is probably the one part of the public sector which has the most profound impact on all our lives. Decisions on how vital services like education, social care, environmental services and roads are delivered and funded are clearly important to communities and individuals across the country, and so are the elections which decide who the decision-makers are. The next few weeks will see formal and informal coalition deals between the various political parties in most of Scotland’s councils. SPICe will set-out information on the political control of each council, as well as a range of other issues, in a longer briefing to be published over the summer. 

Greig Liddell and Annie Bosse, SPICe, May 2022