Local elections for all the authorities in Scotland and Wales (which are all unitary authorities) will see many interesting contests, especially in Scotland where the Single Transferable Vote system is used in elections (however, the fact that all wards have to have 3 or 4 members means it is often not too proportional when it comes to smaller parties being represented). Most Scottish councils have also experienced significant local boundary changes for this year's elections. Labour's loss of support in rock-solid heartlands of Wales gives Plaid Cymru one of its best chances against Labour in local elections, and needless to say the Conservatives have their chances as well in Wales, particularly in Clwyd (read: Conwy, Flintshire & Denbighshire).
The SNP are set to make large numbers of council gains in Scotland, especially in the Glasgow commuter belt (old Lanarkshire, basically) and of course the city of Glasgow itself. However, at the same time, the Conservatives are set to make strong advances in southern Scotland and the city of Edinburgh, which will be the most hotly contested council area in Scotland this year. The SNP could suffer a few losses of their own as a result, in addition to Liberal Democrat revivals in more rural areas of Scotland, particularly Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh.
Which are the Scottish and Welsh councils to watch this election?
Edinburgh. All five major parties in Scotland have councillors there, and all five have good chances to make a real impact; indeed Edinburgh could be the scene of some of the only Labour council seat gains in the whole of Scotland this year. The Conservatives have become popular in Edinburgh once again (a point made clear by Ruth Davidson's win of the Scottish Parliament seat of Edinburgh Central last year) and despite the competitiveness of this city, the Conservatives have the best chances due to the overall prosperity of Edinburgh and anti-nationalist vote transfers. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party.
Glasgow. An SNP gain overall control from Labour result seems bolted on given the magnificent swings the SNP have achieved in recent years, but with STV and the increasing rise of the Scottish Green Party, it is not as clear-cut as it seems. However, Glasgow is the most nationalist of the Scottish cities and even a substantial number of Green gains in the north are very unlikely to prevent an SNP landslide (in relative terms) as neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have any traction in Glasgow anymore. Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.
Aberdeenshire: This is the council most likely to see the SNP losing their largest party status; Nicola Sturgeon's swing towards social-democratic nationalism may pay dividends in Glasgow and the outlying commuter belt but they will pay a heavy price in many of their rural heartlands in such counties as Aberdeenshire and Perthshire. Although the SNP may have fielded 12 more candidates than the Conservatives, this could in fact prove costly due to crucial 1st/2nd preference votes being more splintered and due to the fact that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will work strongly against the SNP. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party.
Aberdeen City. Like Edinburgh, this could see a unionist claw-back from the SNP, although in Aberdeen's case this is likely to be limited to the outer suburbs; the traditionally Labour inner city will almost certainly fall to the SNP. Any Conservative and Liberal Democrat gains will on balance cause more damage to Labour than the SNP, and with the Greens having limited support there the SNP are well on course to become the largest party, although gaining overall control is nearly impossible as only 25 SNP candidates were nominated. Prediction: SNP become largest party.
Dumfries & Galloway: The only genuinely three way contest between Labour, the Conservatives, and the SNP in Scottish council terms. Whilst none of those three parties have nominated enough candidates to achieve single-party control of Dumfries & Galloway, it will be a tight race to see which of them becomes the largest party. The Conservatives' gain of Dumfriesshire from Labour (in fact Labour were pushed into third place by the SNP) and their hold of Galloway & West Dumfries despite the SNP's best efforts last year should bode well for them, but Labour and Conservative voters are less willing to transfer to each other than in Edinburgh just to stop the SNP. Other parties will be out of sight here in practice. Prediction: Too close to call (council will be in NOC in any event).
Of the other Scottish councils, I predict that: the SNP will retain overall control of Angus and Dundee City, gain overall control of North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, Midlothian, Inverclyde, Stirling, Clackmannanshire, Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Fife, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian. All of these are overall strictly SNP vs. Labour contests where other parties, irrespective of performance, will not be able to affect the overall result much. Argyll & Bute, Highland, Na h-Eileanan Siar (outer Hebrides, basically), Orkney and Shetland will again return a majority of Independents, the SNP will remain the largest party in Moray and Perth & Kinross, the Conservatives will remain the largest party in the Scottish Borders and South Ayrshire, and Labour will (just) remain the largest party in East Dunbartonshire and East Lothian.
Caerphilly: With almost every ward featuring at least one Labour and one Plaid Cymru candidate apiece (and not many others besides), this is a key test for this year's Welsh local elections as to whether Plaid will be able to make a strong advance in Labour's former heartlands; in the Welsh Assembly they achieved many large swings in some safe Labour seats (capturing Rhondda in the process) and whether this can be repeated remains to be seen. Plaid have always been relatively strong in Caerphilly compared to much of the Welsh Valleys, and given Labour's woes and declining support in Wales, and other parties having little support in Caerphilly, Plaid should have no problems here. Prediction: Plaid Cymru gain from Labour.
Cardiff: Any Liberal Democrat revival in Welsh elections locally is likely to be limited to here and Swansea, but what makes Cardiff more interesting is Plaid's recent surge in the western part of Cardiff. Much of it has been down to Neil McEvoy, a somewhat controversial figure who was suspended from the Plaid Cymru Senedd group last month. Another important factor is that for reasons unknown to me, the Green Party has actually put up fewer candidates in Cardiff than in 2012, even in student-dominated Cathays, and this will likely benefit the Liberal Democrats considerably (then again, with memories of the Lib Dems' broken promises on student fees to come to the fore, it may not). The Conservatives meanwhile will consolidate their holds in the prosperous northern wards. Prediction: Labour lose to NOC.
Vale of Glamorgan: Back in 2007, this Welsh council was one of only two under Conservative control (the other being of course Monmouthshire); the Conservatives lost overall control of both in 2012. A Conservative recapture of Monmouthshire is almost certain, but the contest will be considerably tougher in the Vale of Glamorgan especially with Plaid Cymru making a strong challenge in Penarth in particular, and the Green Party fielding the most candidates it ever has done in the Vale of Glamorgan. Being the closest Welsh equivalent of a swing commuter belt due to its links to Cardiff, the result here will really matter. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party (possible Conservative gain from NOC-watch this space).
Carmarthenshire: Like Caerphilly, this is a key battleground between Labour and Plaid Cymru, albeit one where Plaid's chances are much better. This is an area where Plaid must finally be able to break through in order to capture Llanelli at any point in the near future, and make sure they hold Carmarthen when it is recreated through the upcoming boundary changes to parliamentary constituencies. In contests which are just Plaid Cymru vs. Labour, Plaid will likely hold out. However, the large number of Independent councillors (and candidates, some credible and some not) could possibly forestall Plaid Cymru's attempts to win overall control. Prediction: Plaid Cymru gain from NOC.
Wrexham: Wrexham as a whole is trending away from Labour as its image and demographics change. Although only the Labour Party and Independents of various types have put up enough candidates to have a chance of gaining overall control of the council, increasing dissatisfaction with Labour in northeastern Wales in particular is likely to lead to many Independent gains. Many Independent councillors in Wales are small 'c' conservative in practice, especially in rural areas, so this is a must-watch for this year. Prediction: Independents gain from NOC (Labour lose largest party status).
Conwy: In practice, Conwy County Borough will be fought perhaps more tightly than the city of Cardiff, because like Cardiff, the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Independents, and Plaid Cymru all have areas of strength there (but unlike Cardiff, there are no Green Party candidates standing). Most of the Independent incumbents are restanding but there is no guarantee they will all hold on given Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives consolidating their strength here more than ever before. Either could become the largest party depending on their performance against Labour, but if personal votes hold up, Independent councillors could remain the largest group once again. Prediction: Too close to call.
Denbighshire: Like the Vale of Glamorgan, this is a traditional contest between Labour and the Conservatives, but because of considerably stronger support for Independent councillors, gaining overall control is generally not a possibility for either of those parties. However, whichever party or group becomes the largest is a critical factor, and the Conservatives are gaining considerable ground here, as demonstrated in 2015 when they won the Vale of Clwyd constituency from Labour. Prediction: Conservatives become largest party.
Of the other councils, Labour will retain control of Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Swansea and Torfaen; Plaid Cymru will win Gwynedd from NOC and Rhondda Cynon Taf from Labour, the Conservatives will gain Monmouthshire from NOC, Ceredigion, Flintshire and Ynys Mon will remain under NOC, and Pembrokeshire and Powys will remain under Independent control (however, the Greens are not without chances in Powys with 17 candidates, the most in a Welsh council area this year for them).