ALL eyes are on the Tory seats as the election for the smallest council in Scotland draws closer.

Clackmannanshire, “the wee county”, elects just 18 councillors.

It saw the Scottish Conservatives return a record five representatives in 2017, one in each ward. The party went from winning around 10% of the vote in 2012 to 25% five years later.

The exceptional Tory result put them on an equal footing with Labour, who had historically competed with the SNP for control of the area.

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But with the party languishing in the polls, and local activists struggling to shake off their association with the sleaze and scandals engulfing Boris Johnson’s government, the other parties are seeing a chance to boost their representation.

Ellen Forson, the leader of the SNP group and the council’s current minority administration, said her party fancies its chances of returning nine councillors at the vote on May 5. This would be one more than the party currently has, and would give them exactly 50% of all the seats on the council.

“So much effort and so much work has gone in to improve the standards of living for our local communities and that’s gone down really well, people are listening to that message,” she said.

Forson explained that the job density in Clackmannanshire was “way lower than the Scottish average”, and said a key part of tackling the cost of living crisis would be through ensuring there was enough work for people to earn a decent living.

She pointed to the City Deal, which is projected to deliver 2000 jobs, and community wealth building initiatives which would “shore up local jobs and investment”.

The National: Greenfield House, the former HQ of Clackmannanshire Council, in Alloa. Credit: Alloa AdvertiseRGreenfield House, the former HQ of Clackmannanshire Council, in Alloa. Credit: Alloa AdvertiseR

For Forson, the SNP’s best hope of returning a crucial ninth councillor lies in Clacks Central, where the Tories’ hopes of repeating 2017’s “exceptional” result look slim.

But while the local leader is confident of returning at least a minority administration, the SNP’s hopes of a majority are far from set in stone.

While, as Forson points out, the Unionist vote is split between two main parties, there are, of course, other pro-independence parties also competing for seats.

Bryan Quinn is the Scottish Greens candidate for Clacks South. He came closer than anyone else in his party to winning a seat in the 2017 election, and likes his odds of going the whole way this time around.

“Compared to last time and all the campaigning we did then, people are much more receptive to the Green message,” he says.

“Our party is a lot more visible now. Our party is in government, we’ve got more MSPs, people see us more. But also we’ve done a lot of work locally so I think more people have seen us out and about and like what they’ve seen.

“I know everyone says that, but I actually mean it!”

Quinn says that he thinks his party has a chance to return two or even three councillors, with Clacks East being a good bet for them.

“A lot of people are quite annoyed with the council right now, so they’re more willing to listen to other voices,” he says.

Quinn says that the key issue he keeps hearing on the doorstep is that of the Leisure Bowl, the sports centre in Alloa which the council agreed to close for good early in 2021.

While the council has plans for a £16.9 million wellbeing hub with leisure facilities in the works, a proposition to spend £2.2m on a temporary pool in the car park of Alloa town hall has “everyone really annoyed”, Quinn says.

As it stands, Clacks is the only local authority in Scotland with no swimming pool – an issue Labour also highlighted as key to voters in the area.

Alloa’s iconic Greenfield House, the council’s former HQ, which was sold in 2015 and then re-bought in 2021, is currently sitting empty in a park bearing the same name, another local issue Quinn says voters have raised.

However, Alba’s Eva Comrie told The National that people were more concerned with the wider issues than local ones.

The Tories are explicitly trying to focus their campaign on the local, using the slogan: “Your Local Priorities, not the SNP’s.”

However, Comrie says, “they’ve got to do that” due to their failures in government.

She said the majority of the issues facing people in Clackmannanshire “have to do with all the drivers that come from poverty and inequality, and a lot of those are areas where the council could have a much greater impact”.

The energy crisis is being acutely felt in the area due to the high levels of poverty, Comrie said, listing independence, followed by the cost-of-living crisis, and then women’s rights as the three key issues for voters in the area.

While Comrie’s priorities do not align with Labour, that party’s candidate for Clacks Central, Huw Sherrard, agreed that the dominating factors for voters were likely to be larger than local.

Sherrard said: “I have been out most days, speaking to voters about the issues that matter to them.

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“With rising bills, escalating petrol prices and the weekly shop only getting more expensive, people are looking for a political party with a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis,” she added.

“This is a cost of living election.”

The SNP’s Forson said that while the national issues and scandals will “play out”, the SNP were trying to deliver the message that “local people are electing local people to deliver the services that are important to them”.

No Scottish Conservative candidates responded to The National’s requests for comment.

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.