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How to Become a Councillor

Scottish local government is comprised of 1,222 elected members across 32 local authorities. These local authorities are responsible for managing and delivering a wide range of services, from education and social work to leisure and recreation.

West Lothian is made up of nine multi-member wards, returning 33 elected members.

Why become a councillor?

You may be motivated by a sense of civic duty and desire to serve your local community, a single issue or a number of different issues. Above all you must believe that you are the person to be a voice for the concerns of the community and to help solve them.  However, you must be aware of the workload involved.

The role of a councillor 

Councillors play a role in important policy making - identifying the needs of the community, setting objectives to meet those needs, prioritising between differing demands and allocating resources.

The primary role, however, is to represent the interests of local residents. As such they must provide community guidance and leadership, aiding communication between residents and the local authority. The role includes:

Attending full council meetings (in West Lothian these take place approximately every six weeks, on Tuesdays at 10 am) where they vote on specific issues. Get a full breakdown of the pdf icon council's decision making structure [17kb].

Holding surgeries on a regular basis (usually in the local town hall/ community centre) to meet face-to-face with constituents. The frequency and variety of locations within the ward is up to each individual councillor to decide.

The Council Executive holds the universal decision-making power within the local authority and is made up of a selection of councillors (along the same lines as the Cabinet in the UK Parliament) If selected it is expected that councillors will attend the executive meetings and vote on policy.

Within this framework there are executive posts such as policy and resources, culture and leisure, development and transport, education, environment, health and care, services for the community, social policy and voluntary organisations. Holders of these executive posts are known as executive portfolio holders (along the same lines as Ministers within the UK Parliament), and as such have an increased workload.

Serving on policy development and scrutiny panels (PDSPs)

These are small groups of councillors who develop new policies for the council, or review existing policies to see if changes are needed. They do not have the power to actually make decisions, but they make recommendations to the Council or Education Executive for them to make decisions which are binding on the council.

Serving on special committees to scrutinise strategic policy and performance

Attending, where appropriate, Community Council meetings. Community councils ascertain and express the views of the community.

Serving on the ward local area committees (LACs)

These act as a forum through which local issues can be discussed between elected members, council officers and the wider community. They facilitate community engagement and allow scrutiny of council policy at local level. Attending local events such as opening ceremonies, gala days, fairs, fundraisers etc. Also councillors attend events run in support of certain interest groups and represent the council on the committees of various outside bodies and voluntary groups. Being available at all times, by phone or email, to address and resolve the individual concerns of their constituents.

Eligibility

If you feel that you are the type of person detailed above then you must check your eligibility. To become a candidate in a local election you must be:

  •  At least 18 years of age on the day you are nominated. 
  •  A UK citizen, a citizen of a Commonwealth country or a citizen of an EU member state 

You must also meet one of the four following criteria:

  • You are a registered elector within the local authority area in which you wish to stand. 
  •  For the year prior to the date of nomination you must have owned, or been a tenant in, premises within the local authority area in which you wish to stand. 
  •  For the year prior to the date of nomination your main or only place of employment must be within the local authority area in which you wish to stand.
  •  For the year prior to the date of nomination you have lived in the local authority area in which you wish to stand.

You are not eligible if: 

  • You are employed by the local authority.
  • You are the subject of bankruptcy proceedings.
  • During the five years prior to the date of nomination you have been sentenced to a custodial sentence longer than three months.
  • You have been disqualified under part II of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (relating to donations).
  • You have been disqualified under Part II of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (relating to donations) 

This is not a comprehensive list and you should seek independent legal advice before standing if in doubt.

Official steps 

If you are eligible, then the next step is to decide if you wish to stand as an independent or as a member of a political party. If you do wish to stand as a member of a party then you must first join your local party and then be nominated by them. The steps are then the same for both party candidates and independents.

Nomination

A nomination paper must be submitted to the returning officer. In West Lothian the returning officer is the council's Chief Executive.

The candidate must agree to the nomination in writing for it to be valid.  The candidate must declare that they are not disqualified from standing (the returning officer is not required to determine if the candidate is eligible).

The nomination paper will include a description and it is this description, which will appear on the ballot paper, along with the candidate's full name and home address.

A registered emblem of a party can appear on the ballot paper if a request is submitted in writing.  Full details of how nominations are handled are available form the Returning Officer for your Local Authority.

Election agents

Each candidate must appoint an election agent (candidates can serve as their own election agents) who is responsible for the proper management of the campaign.

Campaign material is subject to restrictions under electoral and publishing law, but all posters, placards and bills that refer to the election must include: the name and address of each of the printer, publisher and promoter of the material.

Elections

Having been officially nominated you can then campaign for votes within your ward and await the result on Election Day.