Cllr Dave Dempsey is Leader of the Conservative Group on Fife Council.
The Fife Conservatives didn’t have a good 2012 election, which saw Labour do surprisingly well – given events before and especially since. We stayed in last place with three councillors out of 78. Disappointing, but not altogether surprising, as our efforts were concentrated on a small number of wards across what is the third biggest council in Scotland.
Since then, we’ve had a string of by-elections – I think we’re up to 13 at various levels – and we’ve moved to finishing a comfortable third behind Labour and the SNP in the recent ones. However, up till a year or so ago, we wouldn’t have given much for our chances of meaningful progress when the whole council is re-elected this May.
It’s hard to overplay the change since the start of 2015. There was a buzz to our campaign for the Holyrood election and its success was astonishing. Off the back of that came a level of belief not seen in living memory, plus a raft of new candidates who want to be elected, who are already working to be elected, and who will make excellent councillors if and when elected.
There are a number of factors in our favour. The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system means that our supporters don’t need to anguish over “wasting” their vote. The message is “Make your Conservative candidate your first choice and then pick whoever you’d like next”. As we’re only running one candidate per ward, we know that two or three of our opponents will get in too and that we don’t have to finish first to be successful.
The idea that voting Conservative in Scotland is somehow not allowed has gone. We’re winning by-elections elsewhere in Scotland, out polling all the other parties even in supposed SNP heartlands. Locally, when we hold street stalls promoting our “No 2nd Referendum” campaign, folk queue up to sign in full public view. That wouldn’t have happened just a few years ago.
And the SNP veneer is beginning to crack, not least because the new Conservative opposition in Holyrood is rattling them.
I’m not inclined to give a prediction of how we’ll do this time round as the transfer process of STV means places can hang on very small numbers of votes. Even less predictable is the makeup of the next Fife Council. Currently we have a minority Labour administration which operates comfortably with the general support of the Independents. It’s to be expected that Labour will suffer a reverse, that we’ll improve on our result of five years ago, that the SNP will make some gains, and that the Lib Dems won’t. However, within that, there’s a host of different overall outcomes including majority and minority administrations and coalitions. And a week in politics is still a long time.
That said, the Fife Conservative & Unionists, to give us our full title, are going into these elections better prepared and more confident than most of us can remember. We have much to play for.