Keeping it local

Our national manager in Scotland, Katherine Sangster offers some thoughts on her first experience as a candidate.

As a candidate in the upcoming council elections, over the last few months or so I have been delivering leaflets, knocking on doors and phoning voters. So much so that I dream of delivering leaflets in my sleep!

I’m fortunate to have been joined every evening by a core group of party members who come out to support me time after time. However, there is always more to do and I would thoroughly recommend that everyone who is involved in politics spends some time campaigning in the next few weeks. Most branches will go out to their members asking for help and you will find details on your candidates Facebook page, they will be delighted to hear from you.

Last week, as part of The Parliament Project, an initiative to help more women into politics I was joined by Colette Walker an activist for disabled rights and partially sighted herself. Colette was surprised by how many people we spoke to didn’t have an opinion, we were met with “sorry I’m not interested” or “oh I don’t talk about politics”.

Politics has become increasingly discredited over the last few years, with politicians seen as out of touch, an elite to be at best ignored or worse mistrusted. The rebuilding of trust and engagement must begin at a local level.

Most of all people want you to listen, a “no I’m not interested” or “I don’t vote Labour” can quickly turn into a conversation when you ask, “what concerns do have at the moment” or “anything you would like to talk to me about”. So far many issues have been raised with myself and colleague, sitting councilor Andrew Forrest who has been able to deal with most of them – a vandalised bus stop, an additional police patrol in a neighbourhood blighted by break ins and the need for a disabled parking space. Not to mention some overgrown trees blocking sunlight into people’s houses! People are also very concerned about the lack of funds directed at their local services, the issue of elderly care comes up time and time again. These are issues that affect people day in day out but somehow the connection to these issues and what politics can do and how politicians can help has been lost.

Returning from another night of canvassing and settling down to catch up on the events of the day via Twitter is a disconcerting experience. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the concerns of the professional commentators on Twitter and that of our communities. Many commentators would do well to step away from their phones and visit the communities they claim to speak for. I have experienced no appetite for debate on Brexit or a second referendum just a desire from people that we as politicians and aspiring politicians listen to their concerns and respond to those concerns.

Professor John Curtice says that Labour faces the loss of every council it currently runs in Scotland. Professor Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, warned Scottish Labour that it was on course to suffer a string of losses around the country in the local authority elections next month.

He said: “It looks like Labour is going to do very badly and may end up losing control of the councils it is currently in overall control of. It looks like the SNP will gain, the Conservatives will gain, but Labour will crash.”

Only time will tell if Labour’s terrible showing in the national polls will translate to defeat at the local elections. One thing is for certain, the road back to electoral success for Labour is a long one, it will be hard won and won vote by vote, door by door, street by street. It will be won by living and breathing the concerns of our communities and being of that community. It will be won by getting the job done