THERE can’t be many more obvious demonstrations of what is wrong with Scottish local government than the current messy political dogfights.

Take Argyll and Bute where the SNP, the Tories and the LibDems stood in every ward. The SNP got a member in all 11 of them, and two in Oban South, emerging as the largest party. In contrast, the LibDems failed in more than half, securing only five councillors.

The public preference was clear and should at least have been tested with a period set aside to allow the SNP to try to form an administration. If that had failed, then the next largest party – the Tories with 10 councillors – should have been given a chance to do the same, openly and above board.

Yet following the first meeting of the new council last Thursday, it – by dint of the slimmest of majorities cobbled together behind closed doors – is actually to be led by a LibDem councillor. Moreover one who only held onto his own seat by a hair’s breadth.

On the day of the count, that visibly shaken LibDem leader seemed more than willing to talk about working with the SNP. Yet by Monday he was at the council HQ in Lochgilphead, busy doing a deal with the party of Brexit, austerity and the cost-of-living crisis. It was a deal that, of course, kept him in the leader’s chair, with the leader’s allowances.

But it gave the Tories much of the power, including the appointment as provost of the former right-wing Tory MSP Maurice Corry (below). Someone who is less representative of Argyll and Bute as it actually is, it would be hard to imagine.

The LibDems maintain that despite reports to the contrary, they never ruled out supporting the Tories. But equally they never said they would refuse even to sit down and talk to the largest party elected.

The same type of sneaky politicking can be seen in other places, with Anas Sarwar clearly discomfited at Holyrood on Thursday when the First Minister pointed out how keen Labour has been to freeze out the SNP even where it is the largest party. And how they have been more than willing to do deals with the Tories in order to achieve that aim.

Politics is a rough old trade, as Thatcher once observed, but it does not have to be underhand too. Of course, the binary nature of the constitutional question – and its dominance of Scottish politics – is partly to blame, for it makes the Tories, Labour and the LibDems vie with each other to prove how “anti-nat” they are, given that they are largely fishing in the same electoral pool.

But at some stage – and sooner rather than later – the constitutional question is going to be settled (in favour of independence, I anticipate, as does now the former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins).

And we will have to address issues that have gone unresolved, one of which is the type of local democracy we want and need in a new Scotland I am one of those who thinks that local councils should be much more local. The cities as single units have both logic and practically behind them, but areas like the Highlands need decision making closer to the people. Another place that would benefit greatly from such change is the Inner Hebrides which, in some configuration or other, should become our fourth islands council.

Alongside review of size should go a review of functions. There are lots of local planning issues, for example, that would be best served with very local decision-making, as is done by communes in some other places. The conclusions of the Montgomery Report of 1985 would be a useful place to start, given the sense it talked about the islands councils.

How local electoral choice is honoured also needs to be on the agenda.

Proportionality is about more than just electing individuals – it is also about what form governance should take. Yet at present after the results are known, councillors swing back to the crudest of attempts to create majoritarian groupings in which winner takes all.

In the Scottish Parliament, of course, a government does not take control of every committee. The D’Hondt system is used to determine not just balance of membership but also how many convenors and deputy convenors come from each party. That should, at the very least, be the norm in local government too.

It would be possible to go further, of course, and ensure that council administrations were always exercises in power-sharing, based on proportion of electoral support, in which all parties participated and learnt to work together. That would be tougher to sell to old-style politicians (who are still around in Glasgow I see, with a bloody coup d’etat in the Labour leadership within hours of the polls closing) but it might start to create a new type of consensual decision-making in Scotland that, post independence, would do us no harm.

Post-independence, we also need to enshrine in our constitution the rights and responsibilities of local government as general principles and we should at last resolve how best to ensure local funding is the basis for local democracy. Which would require us to rethink many of our wider approaches to taxation.

I would neither expect nor advise that this type of root-and-branch local government reform take place during the current process of constitutional polarisation. But once we have the opportunity to, as the second US president John Adams put it, “begin government anew from the foundations and build as we choose” then we should put our local systems on new firm foundations, just as we will renew our national systems.

Until then we have the right to insist on fair dealing and honesty. Alas, we aren’t getting either from Labour and the LibDems at present, and it shows.