FOR the past week, South Lanarkshire council leader John Ross has been clocking up at least 20,000 steps a day delivering leaflets.

“That’s not bad at the age of 75,” he jokes. The SNP group leader has been at work on the campaign trail in a bid to make sure his party wins enough votes to take control of the council after May 5.

He acknowledges that under the single transferable voting system it is a tough task to win a majority – and another minority administration may be on the cards.

The SNP’s main challengers, Labour, have ruled out a coalition with the Tories in this local authority and aren’t standing enough candidates to secure a majority.

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So Labour also has the target of forming a minority administration in its sights.

However, Ross is confident that next month the council will once again be led by the SNP.

He says: “We are hoping this time round we get a majority, but with a single transferable voting system it is incredibly difficult to do that. We have got a 64-seat administration so you need to take 32 seats.

“We are standing 37 candidates – no other party is standing enough to take the council.

“Labour are only standing 30, so even if every one of their candidates was to win, they still wouldn’t have enough to take control of the administration.

“I am sure we will form the administration next time round –whether that is a majority administration or still a minority administration is still to be seen at the election.”

When it comes to the issues affecting South Lanarkshire, Ross says like everywhere else, high energy prices and the cost of living are having an impact.

Demand for crisis grants, for example, has risen at least 10% compared to last year.

The SNP’s manifesto for South Lanarkshire pledges to focus on the recovery from the impact of Covid and Brexit.

One idea is to improve community halls with kitchen facilities and heating to provide a place for people to go during the day – not only to reduce isolation, but to help those struggling to afford to energy costs in their own homes.

Ross says while some people mention independence, the focus of this election is on local issues.

“When I am on the doorstep and talking to people, I am going on the record of what we have achieved in the past five years, which I think is pretty considerable even taking into account we were a minority administration,” he says.

“From that point of view, local politics is what it is all about and I will continue that argument on the doorstep right up until the 5 May.”

Joe Fagan, leader of the Labour group in South Lanarkshire, says the cost of living crisis has become more of a prominent issue on the doorsteps since he began campaigning back in January.

“What you have to remember about South Lanarkshire is it runs from Shawfield – almost in Glasgow Green– all the way down to the Scottish Borders; it is a huge, geographically diverse authority,” he says.

“So you will get different issues which come up on the doorsteps depending on where you are.”

The range of issues include transport, housing and anti-social behaviour, Fagan says.

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But he adds: “The common issue that comes up, and it is quite stark, is that just about everywhere I go, there is a real sense of decline. And a real sense in communities their best days are behind them.

“I think that has been driven by the economy and the cost of living issues that people face, but also I think people are seeing for themselves the impact over a decade of underfunding of councils.

“People now can look around their communities and visibly see there is less maintenance of roads, footpaths, green spaces. They see that jobs have gone and nothing has really come about to replace them.

“My message is, let’s do something about that – how can we use the spending power of the council to turn this around?”

Labour’s manifesto promises a rebuilding of essential services and prioritising frontline jobs and services.

Fagan argues this time round, there is space to talk about local issues as unlike in 2017, Brexit and the constitution isn’t “sucking up lots of political bandwidth”.

“My frustration with being a councillor during that period in which Brexit happened and Parliament was prorogued and all these unprecedented events were taking place is actually there wasn’t a lot of focus on what we could see,” he says.

“That was communities feeling a sense of decline and public services stretched to breaking point.

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“It feels like in this election, because those issues aren’t coming up to the same extent they were, that we might actually have an election in May which is about domestic politics and what is happening in people’s communities.

“I think that is what probably makes it a hard one to predict.”

He says he is feeling more confident about Labour’s prospects than a year ago – although the party does not have enough candidates standing to form a majority administration.

“I think, of our 30 candidates, we could end up towards the upper end of that – my intention would be to put Labour forward if we have got the numbers,” he says.

“We don’t need a majority to get things done, but what we need is a bit of leadership. My intention would be to put Labour forward but really take it issue by issue, vote by vote as a minority administration.

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“I am ruling out a coalition with the Tories and also with the SNP.

“I think we can work practically with parties across the council, issue by issue, vote by vote.”

But the SNP’s Ross is not only determined to win another five years for his party – he hopes to once again become leader of South Lanarkshire.

“I am still going strong just now, and even at 75, I have another term in me,” he says.

“I will be putting myself forward again for leader of the council.

“Whether the group accept that or not is a different story – that is another election which will take place after May 5.”

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.