In May this year, there will be elections in all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities, to decide who runs our councils for the next 5 years. 

Councils have responsibility for, amongst other things: road maintenance for non-trunk roads; schools; parking; planning; licensing; refuse collection; care of the elderly; parks, leisure centres, and swimming pools; libraries; environmental health. They also collect non-domestic rates and the council tax.  They set the rate for the latter, though it only makes up about 18% of their income.

Therefore, the average voter is probably more directly affected by council decisions than by those of any other tier of government.  So it is a shame that turn-out for council elections tends to be the lowest. At the last elections in 2017, turn-out in East Ayrshire was 44%.

Council elections use the Single Transferable Vote electoral system.  Unlike other elections in Scotland, voters may vote for multiple candidates, on a single ballot paper. This leads to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, and some very dodgy advice (usually unintentionally so).

We hope that the guide below will make things clearer.

All council wards in Scotland are multi-member.  East Ayrshire has 9 wards, returning a total of 32 councillors.  If you live in Kilmarnock North, Kilmarnock South, Irvine Valley or Doon Valley, you will have 3 councillors in your ward.  If you live anywhere else in East Ayrshire, you will have 4.

Your ballot paper (whether you vote in person at a polling station, or by post) will list all the candidates in alphabetical order of surname, with party affiliation if applicable. There may well be some independent candidates. You will be asked to put these candidates in order of preference.


mark the box next to the candidate’s name with a number – 1 for your first preference, 2 for your second preference, and so on.


mark the box with a cross or any other mark – only numbers are valid.

You CAN, but don’t have to

rank all the candidates. This is where most of the confusion comes in.  

It is not true that you can only vote for one candidate from a particular party; you are electing individuals who may or may not represent a party

It is not true that your lower preferences affect your higher preferences.

It is not true that ranking candidates from more than one party “splits the vote”.

Why it makes sense to “vote till ye boak”

You can vote for as many or as few candidates as you like. It is unlikely, however, that your favourite party will have as many candidates in your ward as there are seats up for grabs.  Therefore, even if all your party’s candidates are successful, some other party is going to win each of the remaining seats.

If you only vote for your party’s candidates, you are deciding not to express an opinion about who gets the other seats.  That may be what you want to do, and that’s fine.  You don’t have to carry on ranking the candidates if you’d rather not.

But if you do mind who gets those seats, you can have an influence without undermining your favoured party’s chances at all. So you can rank all the candidates, or stop when you reach one you just can’t bring yourself to assign a preference to (ie, they make you boak).

How this works [simplified to avert boredom]

When the votes are counted, candidates with enough votes to satisfy the calculated quota are elected, and nothing can un-elect them. During the process, candidates without enough support may be eliminated – nothing can reverse that, either.

Your vote is transferable – it stays with your first preference until that person is either elected (yay!) or eliminated (boo!).  Then it transfers to your second preference, until that candidate is elected or eliminated.  And so on, until all the seats are filled, or you’ve stopped ranking candidates, whichever happens sooner.

Your lower preferences won’t even be looked at till the fate of your higher ranked candidates has been determined, so they can’t damage those candidates’ chances.

Not splitting the vote

Voting for more candidates doesn’t “split the vote”, either.  Your preferences are considered in turn; your vote isn’t distributed between the candidates you rank and your higher preferences are not diluted by your lower ones.

So if you want the maximum possible pro-independence representation on East Ayrshire Council…

It makes sense to rank all candidates from pro-indy parties, and to express a preference between the other candidates if you wish.