AFTER seizing back control of Renfrewshire Council from a Labour majority in 2017, SNP candidates are looking to continue their ambitious vision for the area and ensure it keeps “punching above its weight”.

The party came close to securing an overall majority at the last poll – winning 19 seats out of 43 – but fell just short and have had to work largely with an Independent and Liberal Democrat councillor to get initiatives over the line.

But council leader Iain Nicolson insists it hasn’t stopped them from achieving great progress in the area.

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One of the biggest projects the council has overseen since 2017 is the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland (AMIDS), which will be home to the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland and the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, with the former nearing completion.

The National: Renfrewshire council leader Iain NicolsonRenfrewshire council leader Iain Nicolson

Located next to Glasgow Airport, it is set to become an internationally-recognised centre attracting advanced manufacturing companies to locate and invest in Scotland.

On top of this, the council is now developing the AMIDS South project after securing UK Government Levelling Up Funding, which includes proposals for a new route between the site and Paisley town centre.

As well as making strides in closing the attainment gap and developing community empowerment opportunities, Councillor Nicolson says his group have shown Renfrewshire can think big.

He told The National: “Renfrewshire Council delivered the AMIDS site, which is a national project of an immense scale.

“We’ve always been really ambitious with recognising our place in Scotland’s manufacturing sector.

“Paisley 2021 [City of Culture bid] was a massive learning curve for council officers to understand you can go big on things and you can think big. When that Levelling Up fund came out, we thought ‘right where’s that plan we’ve got for AMIDS South?’ and we pulled in £40 million off the back of that.

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“We’re quite prepared to go for stuff that is quite ambitious and on a national scale. I think Renfrewshire punches above its weight with these projects.”

Depute council leader Jim Paterson added: “I think we’ve done a good job in the last five years as a minority. We’ve passed five budgets unamended.

“I’m also proud of the strides we’ve made in closing the attainment gap. We’re one of only two councils rated as excellent in doing so, and also we went from 28th to joint fourth in positive destinations for our school leavers, so there’s been a lot of good work in education, but it’s not something you ever stop working on. We’ll continue to work hard on it.”

Renfrewshire covers the old industrial towns of Paisley, Johnstone and Linwood alongside Renfrew, Erskine, and villages such as Kilbarchan, Bridge of Weir, Lochwinnoch, Howwood, Bishopton and Elderslie.

The SNP are the only party in the area this time that has put out enough candidates to win an overall majority and they feel it is within their grasp.

But Councillor Nicolson believes the key to their successes in the last five years has been approaching issues with a cross-party mindset and he insists this is not something that would stop if they did achieve overall power in the chamber.

He added: “The aim is to win it and we feel pretty confident, but no one is resting on their laurels.

“Even though we’ve been in administration for five years, it’s great there’s still a level of energy to do better. If we are in a position where we are the largest party though, I would still keep up engagement with other parties.

“We re-established the cross-party sounding board which was abolished by the previous Labour administration. If there’s issues where we can find common agreement, we could go to the board and that worked quite well.

“We’ve always insisted everywhere we can, it’s cross-party, and when you present rational thinking party politicians with cross-party talks, it puts them in a difficult place to say no. Hopefully, the new councillors that come in understand there’s a level of consensus that can be reached and not everything has to be a bunfight about independence.”

Councillor Paterson added: “We weren’t that far away from a majority in 2017 and in a number of seats it was very close and those same candidates that missed out last time are coming back like Graeme Stockton out in Lochwinnoch and Robert Innes in Linwood and Houston.

“Hopefully they will be returned and put us in a position to get a majority.”

The main opposition to the SNP over the past five years has been the Labour group who lost a whopping nine seats in 2017 leaving them with just 13 councillors.

The Conservatives meanwhile enjoyed a surge in popularity in the wake of the Brexit referendum and scooped eight seats after previously having just one representative at Renfrewshire House. Independent Andy Doig has been one of the councillors who has held the balance of power in the chamber over the last term and while he thinks there will be small shifts in the political landscape in the area, there will be no major changes.

He said: “Compared to 2017, there may be a downturn in Tory fortunes I think. I think the Ruth Davidson surge has passed and I think their current eight councillors may go down to something more like four. The question is, where will those four seats go? And that’s difficult to say.

“I think Tory voters are prepared to hold their nose and vote Labour to keep the SNP out but I think Labour voters find it much harder to vote Tory to keep the SNP out.

“It’s always been a very tight contest between Labour and the SNP in Renfrewshire, but Labour haven’t got enough candidates to secure a majority this time and Anas Sarwar has said they won’t work with other parties.

“I do not see there being any fundamental differences in numbers and I think we may be heading for another hung council.”

Councillor Doig – who is running again in Johnstone North, Kilbarchan, Howwood and Lochwinnoch – added his colleagues would need to seriously look at pushing MSPs to make changes to local government funding and consider developing an industrial strategy to bring more jobs to the area.

“I think all councils are going to have to push Holyrood on a sensible, realistic system of local finance because the council tax does not work for local councils and I’m not convinced it works for communities either.

“Another big issue is I do think we need to recover the manufacturing capacity Renfrewshire used to have. There’s been progress on that with AMIDS but I think we need a proper industrial strategy to reindustrialise Renfrewshire to create jobs and tackle poverty.”