IT'S the local elections tomorrow, and there is little doubt that the SNP will retain their dominance as Scotland's largest party, with the biggest share of first-preference votes and most councillors elected.

The real drama is the contest between Labour and the Conservatives for second place. The Tories were comfortably in second position in the last council elections in 2017 but now find themselves defending the gains they made in that election.

Recent polls suggest that Labour are set to overtake the Conservatives – not because Labour are forecast to make huge gains, but because the Scottish Conservatives are doing so badly.

In 2017, the Conservatives won 25.3% of first-preference votes, up from just 13.3% in the previous council elections. In last year's Holyrood election, the Scottish Conservatives won 21.9% of the constituency vote compared to 21.6% for Labour. However, the most recent poll puts the Conservatives on a mere 18% in the Holyrood constituency vote, which is far behind Labour on 25%. This is the second poll in recent weeks to put the Conservatives behind Labour in Scotland.

This week's Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman appears to suggest that the Conservatives are falling ever further behind Labour, giving Labour their biggest lead over the Conservatives in Scotland since 2015.

This does not augur well for Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tories at tomorrow's council election – despite Ross's confident assertion this morning that he fully expects his party to retain second place ahead of Labour. Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Ross said: "I'm really confident that we will maintain second place and we will have a really good result."

The Scottish Tory leader is hoping that voters will not punish his party too severely for Boris Johnson's lies and law-breaking, or for his humiliating U-turn after initially calling for Johnson to resign but then announcing that Johnson had his full confidence despite his being fined by the police for breaking lockdown rules and facing a further investigation for lying to Parliament.

Ross hopes that voter anger about the scandals and sleaze in which his party is mired and disquiet about the cost of living crisis will not spill over into the council contests. The evidence from recent polls would appear to suggest that he is in for a big disappointment.

At First Minister's Questions today, Ross once again attacked the First Minister about the Scottish media's favourite ferry story: the delays to the roll-out of much-needed new ferries for Calmac. Ross insisted that the public were angry about the ferry issue, to which the First Minister retorted: "I know there's a lot of anger across Scotland right now. I'm not sure it's for the reason Douglas Ross has raised today and I expect he'll feel that tomorrow."

The problem for Ross is that the ferry issue, while a serious inconvenience for those who rely on it, does not directly affect an enormous number of voters, and so is unlikely to be regarded by most people as being a more serious and pressing matter than topics like the Conservative decision to raise National Insurance on low-paid workers while millions are impacted by the cost of living crisis and the Conservative Government refuses to impose a windfall tax on energy companies who are reporting record profits.

The bottom line here is that an issue can be very serious for those it has an effect on, but if it does not affect a large percentage of the electorate, it is likely to have only a limited electoral impact. The cost of living crisis affects many times more people than a delayed ferry, as the Conservatives will discover tomorrow.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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