As a young schoolkid in primary three, David McClemont was given a homework exercise where he had to show he could use various words in a sentence. “One of the words was ‘witch’ and so I wrote ‘Maggie Thatcher is a witch’,” he recalls. “My teacher must have been quite left-wing, because I don’t remember getting in trouble for that.” Decades later, McClemont is trying to channel the same radical spirit as he vies for a seat on South Lanarkshire Council as the first-ever Scottish Green Party candidate in the Blantyre ward.
Originally from nearby Cambuslang, “where I grew up and lived pretty much all of my life”, McClemont moved to Blantyre around five years ago. “I love Blantyre – I’ll stand up for Blantyre,” he says. A common theme in both towns, and many of the other villages that make up South Lanarkshire, is the decline of their main streets. “They’re the centre of a lot of communities, the centre of activity in the town,” McClemont says. “You go into a lot of them and half the shops are boarded up. It gives the whole town a depressing look and feel. A lot of that is because the shops themselves are owned by huge companies that don’t really care if they’re getting rent at the moment – it’s just about keeping up the value of their asset. If I had a magic wand, I’d like the council to take over these unused shops and put the rent down to a level that could attract proper small, local businesses.”
The Greens have adopted ‘Think Global, Act Local’ as their lead slogan for the council elections. “We’re trying to stay focused on local issues, focused on what the council can actually do, as opposed to just telling stories, which is what some of the other parties are doing,” McClemont argues. Though recognising the pressure on councils as a result of cuts made in Westminster and passed down by Holyrood, he says: “We’re getting prepared for another round of cuts, but I don’t think we should accept it. We should resist where we can and stand up against it where we can – but I’m not going to pretend there’s an easy answer to that, at the end of the day.” He adds: “The ‘cost of living crisis’ seems to be the rebranded name for austerity … whatever happens, the answer seems to be to hammer the general public and the ones who can least afford it.”
One of the ways in which McClemont believes more money can be found for local services is by being “tougher” on housing developers. “There are areas where it’s really difficult to get timely GP services because we’ve had massive population growth and the services tend to lag behind,” he points out. “I’d like the council to be tougher on the developers and get them to, as they’re building houses, build some of the infrastructure to go with it. We have seen some of that – they built two new primary schools because they built so many houses, but they never built a secondary school, which they could have done with.” He is critical of the council’s cost-saving instinct to “sell patches of land to developers and let them build” in lieu of building council housing.
Under the co-operation agreement struck by the Scottish Greens and the SNP in Holyrood, the Scottish Government has committed to introducing some form of rent controls by 2025. McClemont, who lets out his flat in Cambuslang to a friend, welcomes the move. “Technically I’m a landlord – but I’d be quite happy to see rent controls come in,” he says. On the whole, however, he finds that few voters in the local elections are taking interest in the Greens’ work in government. “I’ve not really seen anybody bring it up that much,” he admits. “Personally, I wasn’t so keen on doing it. I didn’t even like the idea of having a Green as presiding officer because I was worried about it blunting the radicalism of the party.” Previously a long-standing member of the Scottish Socialist Party, he continues to identify himself as a socialist – in his spare time co-hosting the left-wing podcast Holyrude Ungagged – and believes most Green members, at least in South Lanarkshire, feel the same way.
Though unimpressed with the SNP administration which took control of South Lanarkshire from the Labour Party at the last elections (“I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge difference”), McClemont believes that Green councillors will find a lot of “common ground” with SNP and Labour colleagues. “In a minority administration, even one Green councillor could hypothetically end up holding quite a lot of power, depending on how finely balanced it was,” he says. “Our biggest hope is in East Kilbride East, where Kirsten Robb is running, who’s a fantastic local candidate. If she gets into the council chamber, I think she would really energise things. She works so hard for the community at the minute, doing stuff that the elected councillors probably should be doing. It would be great for her to get recognition for what she’s already doing. I think she would make a big difference.”
At present, there are Green councillors in only five of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, with most of them concentrated in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The party will be hoping that tomorrow’s election provides them with an opportunity to break through into the rest of the country – in Adam Ramsay’s words, “shifting the party from an endless reliance on the national winds being in its sails for Holyrood elections, to being able to build genuine bastions of support in specific local areas”. McClemont is happy to be part of that push. “The Scottish Green Party’s very welcoming and I think is the best vehicle for socialists in Scotland,” he says.
- You can find the rest of our series of council election interviews here.