THE last time the voters of West Lothian went to the polls, this paper predicted a two-horse race between Labour and the SNP.

Only one, we foretold, would come out on top, and the other parties could effectively be discounted.

We were wrong. The Tories increased their standing from one councillor to eight and became the kingmakers, propping up a minority Labour administration while the SNP, despite having the most councillors, remained in opposition.

On May 5, voters will cast their verdict on the current administration – which critics call unimaginative and distant from the communities it serves. Historically a Labour stronghold and the home to some of its biggest players in recent history, like much of the rest of Scotland, the area ditched the party and moved towards the SNP.

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But Labour has managed to cling on at the local level, with the support of the Conservatives since 2012. Robert de Bold, a long-standing SNP councillor, hopes his party’s agenda focused on the cost-of-living crisis, building homes to ease the area’s enormous council house waiting list, and the environment will help them oust the current administration.

But his secret weapon may be the dissatisfaction of Labour voters in the area. “The pretence is it’s a minority Labour administration, but mathematically that doesn’t work out, because they need the Conservatives to vote with them on virtually every issue,” he said.

“And the Conservatives do vote with them on virtually every issue and vice versa. I don’t have anything against parties going into coalitions with each other, I just wish there was a degree of honesty about it.

“Because I think the Labour Party, a number of their supporters probably wouldn’t be too pleased at the knowledge that they were in coalition with the Conservatives. Thus they try to pretend that they’re not.”

The National: Houses under construction on a new housing development near Kempston in Bedfordshire..

The SNP in West Lothian have pledged to make building more council housing a ‘priority’ if elected, promising to build 1000 new council homes over the next four year

Hoping to break new ground at this election are the Greens – who have never held a seat in the area before. They are buoyed up by the recent election of Lorna Slater and Alison Johnstone in the region and Cameron Glasgow, the local party’s co-convenor, thinks West Lothian “played a massive part” in those victories.

The party are standing nine candidates – one for each ward – which puts it well short of the numbers needed to hold a majority. But as the Tories have shown here, small can be mighty when the results come down to the wire. Voters want a more open council that listens to the communities it represents, said Glasgow.

“The engagement from the council is very poor and in some places, lacking completely,” he said. “Trying to engage with council procedure is often extremely difficult.”

De Bold said: “They’ve not been very imaginative.” He accused them of “taking a back seat” and pointed to local groups popping up to solve problems he said the council had failed to tackle, such as litter.

West Lothian Litter Pickers’ dedicated team of loosely-organised volunteers co-ordinate their efforts through Facebook and travel around the county to collect rubbish in bin bags left for the council to collect.

Housing will prove a challenge for the next administration. The council’s website advises there are 11,000 people on the waiting list for a council house – 6% of the total population.

De Bold said half of his casework relates to housing problems or homelessness – a “slow-motion disaster” that has unfolded over the last decade. “There is just not enough [council housing] being built,” he said.

“Our homelessness problem has escalated and we’ve got vast numbers of people in temporary accommodation waiting on permanent locations. It’s a slow-motion disaster that I’ve seen unfold over the ten years of this administration and its previous guise.”

The SNP in West Lothian have pledged to make building more council housing a “priority” if elected, promising to build 1000 new council homes over the next four years. West Lothian Council have built 2249 new council houses since 2012, which makes the SNP’s plans slightly more ambitious than the current administration.

With much of the industries formerly associated with West Lothian now closed, Livingston, Bathgate and Linlithgow serve a large population of commuters who work in Edinburgh.

Its transport links are therefore key and Glasgow has criticised the council for what he sees is a lack of action in improving bus services in the area. Getting from his hometown of Livingston to Linlithgow takes under 20 minutes by car but up to an hour by bus, with no direct train.

Glasgow said: “It’s obvious that we need to shift away from car use and there is money coming into West Lothian for better buses.

“There’s nothing there. It’s causing a lot of problems for young people in Linlithgow who want to come to West Lothian College, which is based in Livingston.

“A lot of them are finding it easier to move out completely – which is exactly not what we want to happen – or go to Edinburgh College, which is in Granton.”

A council spokesperson said 80% of West Lothian’s public transport was controlled by the private sector, over which the local authority has no control.

READ MORE: East Lothian council election: Labour's decline could hand power to Yes parties

They added: “Our Passenger Transport Strategy ensures that 90% of residents have access to an hourly bus service within 800 metres of their home address.” But despite optimism from both the Greens and the SNP, there are vast challenges facing the parties if they want to take the reigns in West Lothian.

While the SNP group are the largest sitting in the Livingston council HQ, they lost two seats in the 2017 election, putting them on a downward trajectory despite taking 37.3% of the vote.

But they remain dominant in the region’s national politics – all the area’s constituencies are represented by SNP politicians, all with substantial majorities. With 17 candidates, they just have enough to win an outright majority.

In 2017, the smaller parties managed to cling onto power. Yes parties need to hope support for Labour continues its decline and the sudden surge of Tory votes is an anomaly, not a pattern.

Scotland’s ballots will be cast in the local elections on May 5. Between now and polling day, The National will profile EVERY ONE of the country’s 32 local authorities. Click HERE to see all of those published so far.