EAST Renfrewshire’s SNP group are hopeful their achievements in education and early learning will see them continue to boost their influence in the council chambers.

The area, which borders the south of Glasgow, has some of the best schools in the country. Figures published by The Times last year put St Ninian’s High in Giffnock, Mearns Castle High in Newton Mearns and Williamwood High in Clarkston in the top-10 schools in Scotland based on examination results, with around three-quarters of pupils at each school achieving five or more Highers at grades A to C.

The population is continuing to grow all the time, with families flocking to the area to try to ensure their children can get the best learning experience they can.

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And Councillor Tony Buchanan, the current SNP council leader, is hoping his group’s desire to keep improving education and close the attainment gap will stand them in good stead when voters hit the polls.

The future already looks bright as there are plans for a new shared campus for Neilston Primary, St Thomas’ Primary and Madras Family Centre in the pipeline, with the opening scheduled for August 2023.

Buchanan told The National: “Our work in education is probably one of our biggest achievements, I feel, while we’ve been in administration. The figures have been great and we’ve got some great things in the pipeline like a new shared campus for Neilston Primary and St Thomas’ and a new leisure centre in Eastwood which will be state-of-the-art.

“I’m also proud of the fact we delivered 1140 hours of free childcare to the original timescales and with that we have six new-build nurseries. Education is always a big focus for us and continuing to make sure that always improves. We’re also keen to keep narrowing the attainment gap.”

The SNP currently control the council in a coalition with Labour and one Independent, with two other Independents and the Conservatives in opposition.

Since 2007, when they had three elected members, they have managed to increase their representation to five and with seven candidates out chapping the doors, Buchanan is confident of a repeat scenario in a couple of weeks.

“I think we do have a realistic chance of getting all seven in because since 2007, we have gained more councillors every time. We had three then, and now we have five,”

he added. “We have put out seven candidates so we’re not aiming for a majority but no group is. Even the Tories have only put out nine and that would only give them 50%.”

“It’s accepted with the demographic of the area it would be very unlikely anyone would achieve a majority. We have a lot of older people in the area, but also a lot of younger people and families because of we have the best schools in the country, so there’s a real mix of views and voting patterns.

“There’s also a bit of a separate dispute about the fact the number of councillors was reduced from 20 to 18 in an area which is growing all the time. The population is increasing, and yet we have fewer councillors.

“At the moment, we are getting a good response, and we’re hopeful we will be able to increase our number of councillors, that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Buchanan added he felt some national issues such as partygate, the Ukraine war and the UK Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda could impact on how people rank candidates at the polling station.

There is a large Conservative vote in East Renfrewshire, with former Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw currently occupying the Eastwood seat at Holyrood.

Buchanan thinks there’s every chance that could be hit given some decisions at Westminster.

He said: “I think there’s been a lot of failures by the UK Government which are there for everyone to see. They are absolutely appalling and I think these sorts of things can play a part in a local election.”

East Renfrewshire has already hit the headlines in the run-up to the vote after Independent David MacDonald – who is standing for re-election in the Clarkston, Netherlee and Williamwood ward – raised concerns about potential “voter confusion” given SNP candidate David Tam McDonald is also vying for a seat there.

The incumbent councillor, one of four in the ward, which includes the SNP’s Annette Ireland, asked his opponent to stand “using the names we use in everyday life” as he feared voters could become confused leading to spoiled ballots. He asked him to stand as Tam McDonald or Dave Tam McDonald, but McDonald said he would continue to use the name he “has always been known as”.

East Renfrewshire region covers the towns of Barrhead, Newton Mearns, Giffnock, Clarkston alongside villages such as Neilston, Eaglesham and Uplawmoor.

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It is often regarded as an affluent area, with the average house price coming in at an average of £272,600 recently – making it the third-most-expensive district to live in across Scotland, behind Edinburgh and East Lothian.

But as with everywhere in the country, it was hit hard by the pandemic, and Buchanan was quick to admit people are feeling the pinch with the cost-of-living crisis.

Alongside education, he insisted helping the area recover from the pandemic and supporting people financially was a priority.

He added: “I think we need to prioritise our Covid recovery in terms of the economy and I think trying to help people where we can with the cost-of-living crisis as well.

“I think Covid affected East Renfrewshire right across the board, but with schools, we delivered a lot of online work which was absolutely vital, and we provided services for those who were shielding.

“We tried to protect the public as much as we could by delivering food and medicines, but also making phone calls to speak to people. There’s no doubt the pandemic affected businesses a lot as well, and we tried to encourage people to spend locally, and we administered various grants at the start to help them stay afloat.

“We’ve learnt a lot from the pandemic and we want to take that forward.”

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.