FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon thinks the SNP have a “good chance” of turning Perth and Kinross Council yellow. Locally however, the party is less confident.

The 40-seat council is currently run by a Conservative minority, having flipped from SNP control after the 2017 elections.

While the Tories are expected to lose seats across Scotland in the upcoming council vote amid the shambles in Westminster, Mike Williamson, an SNP councillor for the Highland ward, thinks the public mess in Downing Street may paradoxically end up helping the party in his area.

Despite the impact of Brexit being acutely felt in his ward amid staffing shortages hitting the tourism and hospitality industries, “I wouldn’t take my seat for granted,” Williamson says.

“People are disillusioned with politics and politicians at the moment because of what’s going on down in Westminster. The Tories have lowered the moral standards beyond anything many of us have experienced and sadly quite a lot of people don’t want to come out to vote because of it.”

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However, Williamson says this disillusionment may not see a dip in Tory votes, as the party is traditionally good at getting their supporters out to the polls.

And while the party nationally is making headlines for Boris Johnson’s criminal behaviour, it’s not only on such a large scale that the Conservatives have issues.

“They’re a mess locally too,” says Sheila McCole, an SNP councillor and candidate for Perth City South. “They’ve not come up with one single new idea in the whole five years they’ve been in council. Not one.”

McCole points to multimillion-pound projects such as a new high school building in Perth, a replacement leisure pool, and the Tay City Link Road, all of which were first proposed by the SNP administration which ran the council before 2017.

“It’s taken five years for the Tory administration to move any of it forward,” she says. “These things aren’t necessarily simple or easy but nevertheless, these are big ticket items that the current administration will probably point to, but actually none of them were their ideas.”

But despite the Conservatives having “no vision”, McCole is also not confident they will lose control of Perth and Kinross Council (PKC).

“People tend to vote the way they’ve always voted,” she says. “We’ve had two by-elections in my ward [since 2017] and the change in voting pattern has been miniscule.”

The Greens – who currently don’t have a seat on the council – are a little more optimistic that there may be a drop in the Tory vote, allowing them to return a representative.

“Quite a few people have wanted to bend my ear about what’s going on with the Conservative party so I’m hoping it will be a bit of a swing in favour of us,” says Jill Belch, a Scottish Greens candidate for the Strathmore ward.

Belch says that her party won the most second preference votes in 2017, but failed to translate that into a returned candidate – something she hopes won’t happen this time.

“With Boris Johnson’s hijinks, I think the Tory vote will drop off,” she says. “Historically we’ve always returned two Conservatives [in Strathmore] and I think we have a chance to get one of those places, but it’s very much up in the air.

I’m not sure how much Westminster’s bad behaviour will resonate up here. I hope it does, but we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Belch also suggests that the Tories and SNP share the blame for a lack of new ideas from the council.

“The two major parties have taken to biting at each other rather than putting forward great proposals, which is a real shame,” she says.

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The Green candidate says that there is one key issue for voters in the council’s eastern wards: traffic.

Plans for the £118 million Cross Tay Link Road – which will create a third crossing over the Tay and connect the A9 to the A93 and A94 north of Scone – are aimed at reducing congestion in and around Perth, but Belch says the knock-on effect will be increased traffic elsewhere.

“The villages on the A94 are absolutely petrified about the increase in traffic that will happen because of the Cross Tay Link Road,” she says.

“If all of the villages on the A94 had 20mph limits – which they should – the fastest route would be down the A90.

“I’ve been in every single village and town on the A94 and all of them want [a 20mph limit]. It’s one of the things I’m hearing from people, it’s always one of the first things people mention.”

Another issue for voters across Perth and Kinross Council’s varied communities is the devolution of power down to the more local level.

In early 2021 the Tory administration put forward a pilot scheme to devolve powers to Kinross-shire, something both the SNP and Greens suggest they would like to see more of.

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“We immediately asked if we could have that,” Belch says. “What they’ve done is they’ve devolved power down to some of the community councils. We in Scone immediately asked if we could have that, but they said it was just an experiment.

“Quite a few community councils have disbanded because they felt they were getting nowhere. Our community council, despite any comments it made, was consistently ignored.”

The SNP’s Williamson says that despite the Kinross-shire pilot, the council has actually been moving to defund community empowerment programmes.

“Action partnerships were set up across Perth and Kinross, and over the last few years they’ve had their core funding removed by the administration of the council.

“We need to invest more in community empowerment, and the Conservatives took all the funding away. That was a real setback,” he says.

With failings both national and local, the current Tory administration should be wary of losing its hold on power in Perth and Kinross after May 5.

But like so much in local elections, the result for now remains impossible to predict.

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.