Head to head – the battle to run Fife

Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes
Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

Voters go to the polls in just two weeks to decide who runs Fife – and for Labour and SNP, the stakes are high.

The old adversaries continue to dominate politics in the Kingdom, with every decision analysed and debated to the nth degree, and supporters of each quick to blame the other when things go wrong.

The SNP candidates for the Kirkcaldy area

The SNP candidates for the Kirkcaldy area

The poll comes at a fascinating time in Scottish politics.

It may be a local vote with local issues at its heart, but the bigger picture will undoubtedly play a part when people go to the polling stations.

The days when Fife was Labour’s fiefdom are over. The old adage about weighing rather than counting the votes belong to the history books.

Politics, and people, have changed, possibly forever.

Labour's Fife candidates

Labour's Fife candidates

The system has also changed. Gone are the old days of a single councillor representing a ward – now there are three, sometimes four, and they are selected through a form of proportional representation.

Across Kirkcaldy, Burntisland, Kinghorn and and Aberdour, the two parties are looking for maximum returns from each ward – in some cases a knockout one-two to give them enough councillors to gain overall control.

Labour are standing on their record of the past five years as a minority administration.

The SNP are fielding a record number of candidates in a bid to regain control of the council they ran up until 2012.

And there are some fascinating contests ahead.

In Kirkcaldy East, the SNP has two candidates up against, amongst others, Marie Penman who began her career representing the party, but the former Yes Kirkcaldy campaigner is now part of a growing band of independents.

How will her personal vote, and her tenure as a councillor, hold up against the party machine?

In Kirkcaldy North, Labour has two big guns on the ticket – Neil Crooks, area committee chairman, and David Ross, council leader, so it has to deliver the numbers necessary to get both back to Fife House.

For the SNP, it will be anxious to see established councillors such as Stuart McPhail - who has switched from Kirkcaldy Central to Burntisland - and Carol Lindsay returned, along with some new names featuring on the ballot papers for the first time.

Education looks like being a key debate.

Labour says it has made £26m of additional investment in schools to raise attainment as well as building three new secondary schools - the new Viewforth campus is among the.

Meanwhile, the SNP insists there have been £3m of cuts which it has pledged to reverse, and underlined its commitment to delivering the long-delayed Madras College in north-east Fife.

Whether the balance of power shifts next month is in the hands of the voters.

Both parties need to get their supporters out to ensure they turn candidates into councillors in sufficient number.

Labour has run the council for the past five years as a minority administration after a deal with the independents and Tories.

Before that the SNP held power backed by the Lib Dems.

Nationalists will tell you the response on the doorsteps has been very positive, and they see a real return to power in the Kingdom.

But, Labour say its ultra local message – based around its record in office – IS getting through and it’s that it should be judged on rather than the party’s bleak national ratings.

Both parties are playing to win come May 4, but if the numbers don’t add up then Fife may again be governed by a minority administration or coalition.

Or what price a Labour-SNP administration come May 5?

Unthinkable to many on both sides of the chamber, and perhaps an unlikely outcome here, but the parties HAVE collaborated to run local authorities across Scotland,including Edinburgh in 2012.

In a time of political turmoil and shock results, the voters may yet deliver another curve ball...?

The SNP are fielding 45 candidates across all 22 Fife Council wards, the largest number of candidates it has put forward. This includes 21 female candidates – the highest proportion of any party.

The SNP says it is the only party with enough candidates to form a majority administration – but Neale Hanvey, group leader, says he is taking nothing for granted.

“I’m convinced that an SNP-led council will make Fife stronger,” he said.

“The only way that is possible is if our supporters get out on the day and vote for us.”

Mr Hanvey – who is standing in Halbeath and Crossford in Dunfermline – says the SNP has a record of delivery which he believes will chime with voters.

“To strengthen Fife we need investment, jobs and opportunities for all our communities. I am determined we will strengthen the Fife economy by delivering key infrastructure projects like the Levenmouth rail link and working with the Scottish Government on A92 improvements.

“This will deliver jobs across Fife and will help us further build the growing tourism sector.

“I hope that people will see through Labour and Tory rhetoric and vote for a party with a track record of delivery, and a real commitment to better local services,’’ he added.

The SNP is also putting education at the heart of its agenda – and it is pointing a finger at Labour for budget cuts.

Fay Sinclair, who was the party’s education spokesman in Fife, said; “Labour’s £3m cut from school budgets will seriously undermine the efforts of our headteachers to improve educational attainment, so I’m delighted that an SNP led Fife Council fully intends to reverse this short-sighted cut.

“We will invest in education and in Fife’s future. It’s why we’re fully committed to delivering the much-delayed new Madras College for North East Fife.”

A track record to be proud of – that is Labour’s stance as it seeks to retain control at Fife House.

Its’ manifesto highlights a range of projects and commitments which the party says demonstrates it has delivered – and protected vital services.

David Ross, who was leader of the local authority, and is leader of Labour in Fife said he was proud of what the party had achieved.

“Over the past five years, despite significant cuts to council funding by the SNP Government in Holyrood and the austerity policies of the Tory Government in Westminster, we have succeeded in protecting our vital local services and invested in things that really matter to people in their everyday lives,” said Mr Ross.

Education was highlighted as a key issue, with Labour underlining its record of delivery.

Mr Ross said: “Education has been a priority with over £26m additional investment in our schools, helping us to raise attainment, close the attainment gap and improve literacy and numeracy, unlike most of the rest of Scotland, as well as building three new secondary schools. We put 50 classroom assistants cut by the SNP, back into schools.

“We have built three new care homes with care villages and removed care charges.

“Additionally, We have hit our ambitious target of building 2700 new affordable homes, reducing the waiting list and reducing homelessness in Fife.

“Over 1,000 apprenticeships and training opportunities have been created, and cut the number of young people leaving school without a positive destination and this will continue.’’

Mr Ross said Labour would double investment in repairing and renewing Fife’s roads and it remains committed to building another 3,500 new affordable homes over the next five years and renewing three more care homes.

He added: “We have an ambitious action plan to continue tackling the scandal of poverty in Fife and for supporting voluntary carers in our communities.

“Other parties are obsessed with referendums or independence.

“Only Labour is 100 per cent committed to protecting and improving Fife’s vital local services.”