Cllr Philip Scott
Dundee has always prided itself in being a radical, working class city, and over the years its politics have been anything but dull.
Winston Churchill came to hate the place after being unceremoniously dumped by the city’s electors (while serving as Liberal home secretary) in 1922, who compounded his misery by replacing him with Britain’s only ever Prohibition Party MP.
After the war, Dundee became a Labour stronghold, and during the 1960s and ’70s received an unwanted reputation for municipal corruption, culminating in two senior councillors being charged with taking bribes to promote building contracts in the city. This was also a time when many of Dundee’s historic buildings were bulldozed to make way for the Stalinist boxes that were to dominate the city’s skyline for the next four decades.
The Labour administration that was elected in 1980 spent more time attacking the Thatcher government than running the city and was widely seen as one of the most left-wing councils in the country, highlighted by its decision to increase the rates by a staggering 150 per cent in its first budget, a UK record. The flying of the PLO flag at the city chambers also raised more than a few eyebrows. This was the era of George Galloway, who although never elected to the council, effectively ran the city as secretary of the Dundee Labour Party.
Fast forward to the 2010s, and Labour was usurped by an SNP surge that saw the party running the council and every city MP and MSP wearing a yellow and black rosette. A large majority in favour of independence at the 2014 referendum also earned Dundee the sobriquet of the “Yes city”.
Against this backdrop, it has always been something of an uphill battle to keep the Tory flag flying here. However, after years of falling support, we reversed the trend at the 2017 council elections, increasing our vote share by more than half to 17 per cent and trebling our representation from a solitary councillor to three members (out of a total of 29). These wins saw the SNP lose its overall majority in the Yes city. That was a good day.
Once known for jute, jam and journalism, Dundee is reinventing itself as a hub of creativity, with a thriving digital media industry; innovative green technology; internationally respected universities; world-renowned biomedicine and biotechnology; and a vibrant design and creative sector, with Dundee becoming the UK’s first (and so far, only) UNESCO City of Design. The arrival of the award-winning V&A museum and the redevelopment of the waterfront has also added to the vibrancy of the city’s cultural offering and seen the worst of its architectural eyesores demolished.
After decades of post-industrial decline, Dundee would appear to be on the way back, with GQ magazine labelling it “Britain’s coolest little city”. Yet Dundee still has some intractable problems to contend with, not least a stubbornly high unemployment rate, a wide attainment gap in its schools and an unwanted reputation as the drugs capital of Europe. Frontline services have also been cut to the bone due to the underfunding of local authorities by the SNP Scottish government over the last decade. Frustratingly, though, none of these glaring failures has done anything, so far, to lessen the nationalists’ standing in the polls.
Looking ahead to next May’s council elections, our first goal will be to consolidate the gains we made in 2017, and then hope to pick up another seat in one of the wards where we came close last time.
The STV system used in Scottish local elections tends not to give any one party an overall majority, as evidenced by the political make-up of Dundee City Council after the last poll in 2017, which saw 14 SNP councillors; nine Labour; three Conservatives; two Lib Dems; and an independent (who went on to back the SNP) returned. So gaining just one extra seat from the nationalists next May could make the Conservative group a major player in determining who runs the city for the next five years.
During this council term, we have tried to be as active in our wards as possible, concentrating on the bread-and-butter issues that really matter to voters: street cleaning, emptying bins, fixing potholes and campaigning to keep any council tax increases to a minimum.
It seems likely that the local elections will be overshadowed by indyref2, with a win for the SNP taken as a green light by Nicola Sturgeon to push on with her plans for a new plebiscite. However, this strategy might work in our favour, since it will likely increase turnout and focus the minds of unionist voters of the importance of voting for the party best placed to beat the SNP: the Scottish Conservatives.
Although Dundee has historically not been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Tories, this has not always been the case. Florence Horsbrugh represented the city in parliament as a Unionist from 1931 to 1945, and Progressives/Conservatives ran the council on a number of occasions, most recently between 1977 and 1980. It seems unlikely that the Dundee Conservatives will be revisiting these halcyon days anytime soon, but we can at least look forward to making a bit of progress down that road next May.