A view from the Bridge

BY the time this goes to press, I presume, Aberdeenshire will have a new coalition administration for the next four years. At the moment, it looks likely that the Conservatives will combine with the Liberals and a grouping of Independent councillors.

Just how coherent a group incorporating a significant Independent element can be remains to be seen. I wish Cllrs Gifford and Kitts-Hayes luck in what looks set to be a cat-herding exercise.

The new administration will also be kept on its toes by an SNP opposition, which is far larger than any single element inside the administration. It’s going to be interesting times in the shire - for political animals like me, that is. Most people find politics in all its incarnations profoundly boring. I don’t have a problem with people finding politics boring. I’ve nodded off in Formartine Area Committee meetings along with everyone else who has ever had to sit through one. But what annoys me is when people cynically mutter (usually while justifying their refusal to vote) ‘politicians are all the same’.

Usually, I ascribe this position to the laziness which goes with not bothering to find out what people stand for. Suggesting that all politicians are general variations on a theme of Francis Urquhart is simplistic and - in the long run - dangerous, as apathy is democracy’s mortal enemy.

Nonetheless, the election on May 3 saw roughly two thirds of the eligible population simply refuse to turn out. Partially, that might be down to the fact that many will simply follow and participate in politics at the national level. And, indeed, consistent poor turnout at EU elections would seem to bear this out, I’d suggest. People are game for Holyrood or Westminster, but ask them to elect MEPs and councillors and they’ll turn up their noses.

What can be done? I’m drawn to the idea of more direct democracy, Swiss style, which places an onus on active participation. The problem with representative democracy is that vigour and passion for particular policies are lost when they’re translated through the medium of politicians.

It’s one of the reasons I thought that the Union Terrace Gardens vote in the city was a smashing idea - and it certainly engaged the population, if only on a single issue basis. Labour plans to discontinue the project notwithstanding.

How one incorporates referenda into everyday governance on anything other than major, contentious issues, I don’t know.

But 30% turnout leaves the system as is with a legitimacy gap at the local level it needs to start seeking to fill.