Could more independents stand and be elected in council elections?

The majority of councils in Northern Ireland have at least one independent elected councillor. Around half have two or more. Independents received just over 5% of first preference votes in the May 2011 elections, less than Alliance’s 7.4%, but more than the TUV, Green, PUP and UKIP combined.

In the last Scottish council elections, independents picked up 10.9% of the votes and over 15% of the seats.

Many independent councillors seem to align to parties – often having left them or not quite yet joined – and since the May 2011 election there has been some redesignation. Many independents are independent nationalists or independent unionists.

Watching the recent series of Bob Servant Independent – as Broughty Ferry’s cheeseburger tycoon sought electoral success in a Westminster by-election – has made me wonder again about the potential and the practicality for more people to stand as independent council candidates in their communities. Bob wasn’t standing for council … though that didn’t stop him commenting on council issues!

It wouldn’t be easy. You’d need to already have a local reputation, or be able to build one quickly.

You’d need to put in a lot of hours for a year or two before the next election pounding the pavements, surveying residents, turning up at community events, getting articles into your local weekly paper, leafleting households about local issues.

And you’d need spare cash – though no deposit is required to stand at local government elections – and even more spare time. And yet more time to serve if you were successfully elected.

But if every district electoral area had an independent candidate, if every council had 3 or more truly independent councillors, perhaps holding the balance of power in the council and voting not along tribal lines but by grappling with the issue at hand, it would surely change the nature of local council politics?

Qualification: many people don’t want NI politics to change. But some do.

Is it so far fetched to imagine a hundred or so extra independents stepping forward? Who would encourage and mentor them? Could they build a quota of support?

Of course they’d need committed helpers at election time to help canvass and to put up posters. Bob Servant learned from experience about delegating poster design …

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