The Scottish Local Elections are happening on Thursday May 4th, and while for many they might be the most unglamorous elections, they are quite important.
I live in the Dingwall and Seaforth ward of Highland Council, so I’ll be able to elect four councillors to represent the interests of the ward in the council chambers of Inverness for the next five years. This is the first time I’ve been able to “re-vote” on someone, as my first trip to the ballot box was to vote for some of these candidates in 2012, so this means I can re-evaluate my decisions from last time around.
Here I’ll look over all of the candidates and try to sum up what they’ve done in the past and the platform on which they’re standing for this election. My aim was to do this in a way that seemed natural to me, researching the candidates online and throught what I’ve learned about them in the past or through election leaflets.
Sadly, this will be the first name on the ballot paper but the less said about this “candidate” the better. A cursory search of his website, which I’ll save you the trouble of reading, shows a penchant for the far-right and little more political positioning than wild accusations against fellow candidates.
I want to say he’s standing as an anti-Islam candidate, with the headline “Fighting Sharia Law” in his page’s title, but I can’t really see what he would be able to do about it from the Highland Council, if by some miracle he was elected.
Among the more mad writings I could see on his site, referring to the Highland Council (to which he is standing for election) as “CANCER”, saying that “teaching children Gaelic is CHILD ABUSE”, calling the SNP the “Scottish Nazional Party” and numerous anti-feminist slurs against our First Minister and our current MSP Kate Forbes.
He was also recently in court, where he admitted “posting an abusive personal message about local councillor [and election competitor] Angela MacLean”. His sentencing was deferred until September.
A waste of ink on the ballot paper, I truly hope he is soundly defeated. In words he most likely won’t understand: “Mach a seo leibh amadan.”
David Jardine, Labour
|2007 High||Green||Dingwall & Seaforth||207||4.4||7/8|
|2005 UK||Green||Ross, Skye & Lochaber||1,097||3.4||5/8|
This candidate has been a bit harder to research, with comparatively little available about his platform or his history.
Assuming there is no other local politician called David Jardine, he stood for the Green Party in 2005’s UK General Election and in the 2007 local elections, although did not contest the 2012 local elections.
He also wrote to the Ross-Shire Journal in 2013 to complain about the SNP and Liberal Democrats standing candidates in a Black Isle by-election, claiming that winning a further seat would be “against the principles of proportional representation” completely.
Other than that though I’ve seen nothing of David Jardine – which means I have no compelling evidence to say he’s worth voting for or otherwise.
Reiner Luyken, Conservative
Reiner Luyken is an award-winning German journalist who has spent over 40 years living here in the Highlands, who hit the headlines in late 2014 by claiming that his Achiltiebuie neighbours “dislike foreigners” and “use racist methods to suppress dissent”.
Luyken later denied the published story’s accuracy in the quotes attributed to him, but his IPSO complaint against them was rejected.
Luyken’s campaign for councillor centres around a plan for innovate apprenticeships, while aiming to cut through Highland Council bureaucracy. Coming from Achiltiebuie, he also has a keen interest in land management, and has taken what I find a rather interesting approach in a recent article that focusses on funding for rural estates being better spent in some of the Highlands’ most deprived communities. These campaign pledges are certainly worth taking seriously, and perhaps a little surprising from a Tory.
However, the focal point of his campaign, and that of all Conservatives in this election, is being against another independence referendum, which might not hold too much weight in a ward that was reported to have voted Yes in 2014. Not only do I disagree with that, but I feel it entirely undermines the Tories’ point of making the elections about devolving power locally. If you can’t even be bothered to devolve your campaign message then why should we believe you’ll do the same with political power?
On the whole the Tories are expected to gain seats in this election, but despite having a relatively solid campaign the support for Conservatives in this part of the Highlands is starting from a very low baseline. I’m not sure whether Luyken will have enough to nab the fourth seat, although it may be close with extra preferences taken into account.
View Reiner Luyken’s election leaflet.
Graham Mackenzie, SNP
Incumbent, Councillor since 2012
|2012 High||SNP||Dingwall & Seaforth||435||12.2%||3/12|
Mackenzie was formerly Rector of Dingwall Academy from 1997 to 2011, overseeing the transition from the old school to the new building and seeing improved educational attainment in his time in charge.
As a councillor, he has been involved in lots of investment and management of local facilities – which is obviously a continuation of his time in charge of the Academy. These projects have helped modernise parts of the ward and this is exactly the sort of thing that many local people want to see.
As an SNP candidate, he stands for a party that has seen numerous cuts to local government over the ten-year term of this Scottish Government. This has left many councils, including Highland, to make drastic spending cuts to make ends meet. While the SNP look to gain powers from independence, their record in terms of handing that power back to local communities so far doesn’t bode well – and that makes it difficult to support their party’s candidates in these elections, when the party doesn’t seem to believe in the work they do.
Mackenzie has suited the councillor role well, and is more than likely to be elected based on his record and the SNP’s general national popularity at the moment. He is also the sole SNP candidate in the ward, whereas last time he was running along with incumbent Peter Cairns. This may help solidify his vote and perhaps take second spot.
Alister Mackinnon, Independent
Incumbent, Councillor since 2012
|2012 High||Ind||Dingwall & Seaforth||270||7.57%||7/12|
Mackinnon was elected in 2012 as the fourth seat in the ward, despite coming 7th in first preferences, as he received support from other independents that dropped out of the race.
Having the name recognition may help MacKinnon this time around, as well as having only one other Independent to go up against, who more than likely will be elected in the first round and have significant transfers thereafter.
Mackinnon is a Gaelic speaker, who fully supports Gaelic-medium education, but also spoke out against the continued policy of providing taxi services for primary school students attending Gaelic medium education from outside the schools’ normal catchment areas. Gaelic is also not featured in his campaign leaflet.
Mackinnon voted for the new development of housing in Conon Bridge in an area described as a flood risk, saying that the need for housing made the move “common sense”.
Mackinnon’s aims if re-elected are mostly infrastructure related: with more affordable housing, fixing of local roads and improvements to schools and broadband coverage in the local area. It’s hardly ground-breaking (excuse the pun), but these developments are quite badly needed here and will make a wider impact on the community too – which should be welcomed.
Angela MacLean, Lib Dem
Incumbent, Councillor since 2003
|2016 Scot||Lib Dem||Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch||8,319||22.8||2/5|
|2012 High||Lib Dem||Dingwall & Seaforth||598||16.77||2/10|
|2007 High||Lib Dem||Dingwall & Seaforth||1,015||21.8||2/7|
|2003 High||Lib Dem||Conon & Maryburgh||786||1/2|
Angela MacLean has been a long-serving councillor for the local area.
While perhaps anecdotal, my knowledge of MacLean is as a councillor who takes on individual cases and fixes things as much as possible.
MacLean voted against the new development of housing in Conon Bridge in an area described as a flood risk, but saying that the Council had a “moral obligation” to protect the housing if it was built – despite the Council having no legal requirement to do so.
I’ve not received any leaflets from MacLean as of yet (to my knowledge), and although she has an active Twitter account there seems very little in the way of messages from her regarding her plans if elected again. That makes it rather hard to suggest what her aims would be if re-elected.
MacLean is generally popular in the ward and should be re-elected again. For me, although there’s very little on what she intends to do, I know she’s very active in lots of community groups and has taken forward many individuals’ cases in the Council – which is what an ideal councillor should do.
There’s also the possibility, as I see it at least, for MacLean to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for the area at the General Election in June – where a second-place finish, perhaps closing the gap on Ian Blackford of the SNP, would be likely. This doesn’t really have any bearing on this election, as if she’s the best candidate on the ballot she’s the one to vote for, but it may change the nature of the campaign if she was selected.
Margaret Paterson, Independent
Incumbent, Councillor since 1994
|2012 High||Ind||Dingwall and Seaforth||748||20.98%||1/12|
|2007 High||Ind||Dingwall & Seaforth||1,078||23.1%||1/7|
|2003 High||SNP||Dingwall South||470||1/2|
|1999 High||SNP||Dingwall South||Unopposed||1/1|
|1995 High||SNP||Dingwall South||Unopposed||1/1|
|1994 High||SNP||Dingwall South||?||?||Elected|
Margaret Paterson is perhaps the most ubiquitous politician in Dingwall. She has been the town’s most prominent political representative in the Highland Council for 23 years and has been the town’s unofficial ambassador throughout.
Formerly the SNP group leader in the Highland Council, Paterson has won both of the elections in which she has stood as an Independent, being the first elected in both 2007 and 2012’s STV elections.
She was a strong supporter of the rebuilding of Dingwall Academy, despite strong opposition from the SNP local branch, which led to her being threatened with deselection before quitting the party.
Paterson voted for the new development of housing in Conon Bridge in an area described as a flood risk. She also voted in favour of a 5% council tax increase proposed by the Independents in 2014, which was rejected, to help mitigate cuts to education services. As part of this proposal was a “complete review of Gaelic”, presumably with the aim of cutting costs.
Paterson is also a firm supporter of Gaelic, mentioning it specifically in her election leaflet along with supporting the local Gaelic choir and its successes in the Royal National Mòd.
Paterson’s specific aims in a new term are a bit more limited that fellow Independent Alister Mackinnon, looking for: a new St Clement’s school (along with Mackinnon), retaining free parking in Dingwall and curbing house price rises. That’s all that’s included in her election leaflet, and she has no web presence at all to lend any further policy weight to her campaign.
While Margaret Paterson is a stalwart of Dingwall, I don’t feel it massively encouraging that her campaign is based entirely of past work – with a lack of vision perhaps in what the next five years of local government could bring being disappointing.
With that all considered, my voting preferences will most likely be:
- Angela MacLean
- Graham Mackenzie
- Margaret Paterson
- Alister Mackinnon
While far from an inspired choice, I feel these selections will be the best from what’s available. I don’t really know enough about David Jardine to give him a fifth preference and I can’t bring myself to encourage the Conservative Party’s muddled stance on local government and independence by voting for one of their candidates.
For almost all candidates I’m a little disappointed in their vision for the area. I’m voting for the incumbents essentially because I know they have managed to achieve things for the area of Dingwall & Seaforth, and while that should be rewarded there does need to be an element of outlook to the candidates so that we know what to expect.
It’s also very disappointing that there’s little online material from candidates to go on. Some are active on social media, but there’s little personal policy there. Young people don’t normally turnout to vote in high numbers, especially in local elections, but there’s almost no attempt to encourage them to do so from the candidates – which is a disappointment.
On the whole, Dingwall & Seaforth doesn’t look like it’ll be too competitive this time – but the Conservatives’ national rise may just put Reiner Luyken into some degree of contention with the four incumbents. We shall wait and see what happens when the results unfold a week tomorrow.
All election results and incumbency information courtesy of Wikipedia, which may or not represent complete results up until 2003