I've been having a belated look at the full candidate list for my own ward in the May local elections. One thing I'd forgotten about until I checked is that the ward is being expanded from three seats to four, which will make the STV process more interesting, and in theory should produce a slightly more proportional result. The SNP are putting up three candidates and Labour are putting up two, which would often be a sign that both parties think the SNP are certain of winning two seats and Labour are locked in for one, leaving the final seat up for grabs. However, given the political history of this area (it was a mini-stronghold for the SNP even in the days when the party was hardly winning anywhere else in the central belt) and bearing in mind the current circumstances, I struggle to imagine Labour coming out of this one with 2-2 parity. It's probably more a case of Labour thinking their single seat is safe enough, and that there's no great harm in putting up a no-hoper second candidate for the sheer hell of it.
Two notable absences from the candidate list have made my life as a voter considerably easier - there are no independent candidates, which means I don't have to fight a losing battle against a search engine trying to work out the stance taken on the constitutional question by relatively obscure individuals, and there's also no UKIP candidate, which means I'm not faced with the nasty dilemma of whether I can bear to rank the Conservatives higher than one other party. However, the SSP are making an intervention, having seemingly abandoned the RISE brand for the time being (I can't say I'm sorry to have a little rest from it), meaning I'm going to have to make a straight choice between two pro-independence parties for my highest non-SNP ranking. In past years, I would have been strongly inclined to rank the SSP one place higher than the Greens, simply because the Greens have always been known to have a sizeable anti-independence minority faction. However, at least for now, the Greens seem to have collectively reinvented themselves as the new indy fundamentalists (almost as the true heirs of Jim Sillars' former self!) so it's not quite such a clear-cut decision anymore.
Here's how I provisionally think I might fill in my ballot paper...
1 - SNP
2 - SNP
3 - SNP
4 - Greens
5 - SSP
6 - Labour
7 - Labour
8 - Conservatives
Any party putting up more than one candidate will generally have a 'vote management strategy', meaning they will put out leaflets setting out the desired order in which their own candidates should be ranked, with a view to maximising their tally of elected councillors. I'll be following the advice in the SNP leaflet, but I'm not going to be too bothered about Labour's preferred order, because it won't make any practical difference on such low rankings anyway. (I originally had a tongue-in-cheek comment here about messing with Labour's heads by doing the complete opposite of what they want, but I thought I'd better remove it in case it's taken too seriously!)
When I first thought about all this a few months ago, I was leaning towards the theory that it might be tactically wiser to rank Labour at the absolute bottom, just below the Tories, simply because Labour are the SNP's main rivals for power in North Lanarkshire. But I've completely changed my mind since Theresa May framed these elections as a chance to send a message about an independence referendum, which has ensured that any Tory councillor elected anywhere in Scotland will be viewed as an outright endorsement of her stance. Even in places like North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, if there's a straight fight between Labour and the Tories for a seat, I now think a Labour win would be the lesser of the two evils.