IF there was a competition to find Scotland’s most dysfunctional council over the past five years there’s a good chance that Argyll and Bute Council might figure high up the rankings.

Since 2012, the council has been riven with political fallouts, a breakdown in relations between members and between senior staff and some councillors, massive controversy over the sale of Castle Toward school, and then the long-running row over attempts by fellow councillors and senior officials to stop an independent councillor, Mike Breslin, from asking awkward questions.

Add to that the intervention by local government minister Kevin Stewart late last year when he wrote to council leader Dick Walsh to basically ask what was going on at the council, and also a devastating recent report on the council’s education provision – uniquely, the council decided to object to the education inspectors’ damning verdict – and you have a report card which, to put it bluntly, might read “could do better”. That is what Audit Scotland did say after one of its regular reports on the council.

Leader Walsh is standing down after taking severe criticism in particular over the conduct of the sale of Castle Toward to private business people rather than the local community.

The SNP’s Isobel Strong is another standing down, and while two of the independent candidates are said to be in their 80s, the SNP has the youngest candidate, 19-year-old Keir Low in Dunoon.

Mike Breslin is also not standing again and freed from the chains of office he told The National yesterday just what he thought: “I am pleased to be leaving behind the double dealing, hypocrisy, incompetence and stupidity, all hallmarks of Argyll and Bute Council.”

Another councillor standing down is Vivien Dance of Helensburgh who with Breslin and Bruce Marshall – also not standing – made up the Reform Group in opposition to the administration.

Dance told The National: “From close scrutiny of Argyll and Bute Council I believe that from a number of high-profile events in the last few years there is now sufficient evidence to prove that it is the worst-performing council in Scotland.”

She said councillors were being prevented from protecting the public interest and added: “This type of scrutiny is resented in Argyll and Bute as recent events have confirmed in respect of the worst report ever recorded from Education Scotland.

“Only time will tell how the Scottish Government will deal with Argyll and Bute Council, a failing organisation that wastes valuable public resources by prioritising the ‘cover up’ and the deflection of all attempts to restore local democracy.”

Even if all his allies were to be re-elected, with Walsh standing down it is difficult to see how the current administration would function again in his absence as he was the most powerful political figure on the council. In most local authorities, issues such as roads and schools are the main matters for discussion in the run-up to May 4. In Argyll and Bute, however, the main issue seems to be the governance of the council itself.

It is one of only three councils in Scotland with an uncontested ward and Rory Colville (Lib Dem), John Armour (SNP) and Donald Kelly (Conservative) won’t need to learn the council ropes as they are the incumbents in South Kintye ward.

Altogether there are 77 candidates for 36 seats in 11 wards with no party able to secure overall control on its own as they are not putting up sufficient candidates.

The SNP has the largest number of candidates put up by a political party with 16, five more than the Conservatives, six more than the Liberal Democrats and well ahead of Labour’s seven candidates and the Greens three. They are all dwarved, however, by the number of independents who area standing – some 29 in all. That has led to a familiar claim in rural Scotland that is never openly stated by the various political parties – just how independent is an independent?

In Argyll & Bute, the question has actually surfaced at two hustings at least, and the past affiliations and family connections of some candidates have been made public.

Rumours have long circulated about council members, including a claim that one councillor is functionally illiterate, while a very senior member of the council was rapped for his personal involvement in voting on a planning application.

Nevertheless it is the issues and the candidates’ attitudes to them which will ultimately decide the election in Argyll and Bute, and following the damning indictment of the council’s education service, that issue has shot to the top of local priorities, at least judging by questions on the doorstep.

Castle Toward remains a major debating and discussion point in the Dunoon area in particular.

The SNP is going to make much of the community empowerment legislation championed by the First Minister, and the sale to private interests might not have taken place under the new system.

One issue that somehow is not raised very much is the fact that Argyll and Bute plays host to Britain’s nuclear deterrent at Faslane and Coulport which used to be in West Dunbartonshire along with Helensburgh but which were removed from that Labour-controlled, CND and Peace Camp-supporting authority in an outrageous piece of gerrymandering.

The issue was raised, however, when a brochure prepared by the Ministry of Defence to welcome people to the Clyde Submarine Base used a picture of a Trident submarine on the front, with Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Dick Walsh pictured launching the brochure.

Apparently it has become a collector’s item in Argyll and Bute.