LOWLANDS, Highlands, lochs and islands. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Robert the Bruce, Faslane nuclear base and fairytale coastal villages.

Sprawling from Tiree to Helensburgh, from Campbeltown to Bridge of Orchy, there’s enough in Argyll and Bute to fill a book. That all of it falls under the jurisdiction of a single local authority leaves little wonder that the council’s make-up is just a bit complicated.

The current leader is Robin Currie (below) – a LibDem who heads up a truly rainbow coalition. Despite being from the smallest party – the LibDems returned six councillors in the 2017 elections to the Tories nine and the SNP’s 11 – Currie leads a group known as Talig (The Argyll, Lomond and the Islands Group).

The National: It was Robin Currie's first budget as council leader

Talig counts Tories, LibDems, Independents, and even an Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) councillor, among its number.

The group finally formed an administration in 2013 after a messy post-election period saw the SNP’s central body block local attempts to form a coalition with the LibDems and Tories. But despite the disparate communities and councillors spread along a sprawling coastline (more than 4000km), “everything seems centralised here in Argyll and Bute”, says Roddy McCuish, the ISP councillor.

McCuish, who briefly led the council as an SNP representative and again as an independent in the confusion that followed the 2012 elections, will be stepping down ahead of this one. “It’s just been so frustrating trying to get the most simple things done,” he says.

“I think I know what our communities need or want, but my goodness is it difficult.

“It’s like a Yes Minister saga. Our local guys here, who are fantastic, have got to phone up headquarters to find out if they can put milk in their tea.”

The frustration with a centralised model in Argyll and Bute isn’t limited to McCuish, but is a foundation upon which the SNP group are building their campaign.

“It’s time for a cultural change in the council. We need to revert back to local decisions being made locally by the area committees. That hasn’t been happening for the past five years,”, Jim Lynch, the SNP group leader, told The National.

“A lot of issues that have come about locally [voters] feel they’ve put their case forward to get something happening and nothing’s been happening.

“Especially on the islands … people feel completely left out.”

Argyll and Bute Council has four area committees, breaking up its vast landmass into more localised chunks. These are Mid-Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands; Oban, Lorn and the Isles; Bute and Cowal; and Helensburgh and Lomond.

The National: A huge saltire flies from McCaig's Folly in ObanA huge saltire flies from McCaig's Folly in Oban

However, SNP councillor Julie McKenzie says: “We now tend to note more papers at the area committees than make decisions.”

She added: “We’ve seen the power taken away from the area committees. There’s been a real press by the current administration to do that. They’ve taken decision making into the centre and the power of the area committees has been decimated.

“The SNP would like to see more power devolved to the area committees so that we see more and better decision making playing a part at a more local level.”

The centralisation has gone hand in hand with a lack of consultation with local communities, something Green candidate Luna Martin also highlighted. “Most people don’t even know who their councillor is, let alone what they’ve been up to,” she says.

Martin says the current administration is “outdated”, with the councillors standing again having wasted the best part of 10 years without attempting to get local communities more engaged.

The biggest issue for voters in Argyll and Bute this election can be seen as a microcosm of that centralisation and lack of local input.

READ MORE: Have we covered your local area in our council election profiles?

The current administration, with Tory councillor Yvonne McNeilly as education policy lead, has put forward a plan to slash the number of headteachers and instead manage schools in “clusters”.

Teaching unions have expressed concerns about the plans which they say will cut the number of heads from 84 to just 14. One EIS members’ ballot was responded to by 385 people – and just 19 supported the Talig-led council’s plans.

While the council argues that school “clusters” will help address staffing issues at small rural primaries, the staunch opposition to the proposals has been echoed on the doorsteps.

“The main problem that I’m hearing, not just in my ward but everywhere, is the grouping of schools under one headteacher. That is the biggest issue,” says Kyle Renton, an independent candidate for Oban North and Lorn.

Renton, a pro-independence candidate, could be one of the people who holds the keys the SNP need to form an administration after May 5. The odds of the SNP being able to take control in Argyll and Bute look good, but with only 13 candidates standing for a council of 36, any SNP-led administration would have to be a coalition.

“If we want to get change in Argyll and Bute it would be good if we could be in coalition with like-minded people to make those changes,” Lynch says.

The party will consider a coalition with anyone but the Tories, Lynch says. It is at that party’s feet that the SNP lays the blame for the other key issue people are talking about in Argyll and Bute: the cost-of-living crisis.

The spiralling cost of energy and skyrocketing inflation have impacted every part of the country, hitting rural areas and island communities especially hard. That will be felt nowhere more acutely than Argyll and Bute, which has 23 inhabited islands, more than any other local authority in Scotland.

Other local issues often draw national headlines: the ferries and the problem of depopulation. But if the issues affecting communities across Argyll and Bute are the same, the solutions to those problems may not be.

“We’ve got to be very, very aware that no two islands are the same,” the SNP’s Lynch says. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

That is a message that any Argyll and Bute administration coming out of the May elections should bear in mind. For a local authority which covers such disparate regions, disparate approaches will be needed with one common thread: working closely with the local communities.