We’ve not done a wee poll in a while. Initially I thought to do one on the F1 race in Bahrain, but as nearly everyone I know thinks it is a bad idea (an appalling one actually) I’m not sure it would have been very interesting nor representative.
So let’s see what we all think of the idea of elected mayors.
These council elections haven’t exactly set the heather alight. It’s all been a bit dull, the odd reprehensible candidate aside. Which doesn’t mean they don’t matter.
Despite its lowly status, in terms of day to day impact, the most important level of government is local. Decisions made here have the power to make the greatest difference on local populations. And yet, the turnout is likely to be risible.
One of the few innovations in these elections has been the involvement of national parties. There is a thread running from national party policies to local party ones in manifestoes all over the country. For the SNP, this is particularly important. As the government of the day, it does not want colourful deviation from its flagship policies and a better link between national and local can only be a good thing. Too often, one of the brakes on government under devolution has been the failure, incompetence or unwillingness of local authorities (despite being charged with statutory obligations) to deliver on key areas. It is one reason for disillusionment among voters about how nothing seems to happen.
If we had elected mayoral positions in Scotland, certainly the contests would be much more interesting. Look at London. They have had televised debates, lots of newspaper coverage, plenty of chat. Will they get a hugely increased turnout as a result? Hmmm.
But there is no doubt that everyone knows “who runs London”. On 3 May, there are referenda on extending mayors to other major cities in England, as well as creating positions of elected police commissioners. The number of Labour MPs lining themselves up for a tilt at these positions (they all come with big salaries as well as responsibilities) is remarkable.
If we were also going to the polls on 3 May to elect city mayors for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness and now Perth, would we all be a little more excited? Depends on who stands.
Both the leading London mayor candidates are colourful characters, in the parlance. Mavericks, on a long leash from headquarters control. Their capacity for an individualised style of politics carried with a small splash of their party colours is what makes this contest interesting. Throw in the Liberal Democrat, Brian Paddick, who offers something different from the main two protagonists, Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone – and, this time round, add in an intriguing independent challenge from Siobhan Benita and another woman candidate in the form of the Greens’ Jenny Jones. With a BNP craitur standing, it all looks intriguing.
Here in Scotland, if you asked your average punter who the leading lights were in any of the parties standing in Edinburgh or Glasgow, they’d be struggling. Voters are being asked to choose the parties they want to lead their local councils; we are not to be trusted with actually electing the people to lead our cities. That is a matter to be carved up behind closed doors, either as a choice from that group’s members, or possibly as a result of negotiations to form a coalition administration. On 4 May, we could have people being in key positions in our main cities as a result of horse-trading – people few will have heard of, have had the chance to scrutinise, or would have chosen if they had been given a direct vote.
But that’s democracy Scottish-style. One of the criticisms of the London mayoral contest is that it might make for great media coverage but it is all a little policy lite. It’s all about the personalities and peccadilloes. And whoever gets elected gets to bring his or her people with them.
They appoint their own people to key positions to run the city – they have not been voted for at all, in many cases. So actually, there is more of a democratic deficit.
Moreover, once in, they can do what they like. There is even less accountability for delivering on their manifestoes. And no one really to hold them to account – yes, there is an elected Assembly which can probe but it cannot (or does not seem able to) do very much to keep a check on the mayor.
Yet, does our system enable that? Groups tend to close ranks if there is trouble (unless it is sufficiently heinous to enable that person to be cast out from the fold). And it is down to the media, and just occasionally, an opposition group to scrutinise and lay bare wrongdoings or poor delivery once in power.
Would having a mayor change any of that? Would having elected city mayors as part of our council elections add anything to local democracy? Would we get better or worse local government? It’s your chance to have your say.
If you want to make a comment, put it on the blog thread rather than the poll one. And if you do tick other, you might want to explain what the other is in a comment?