Voters from the Borders to the Highlands will elect the 29 new single- tier authorities which will provide local services until 2000. The results will set the tone for the local elections in England and Wales next month and provide the best indication yet of the Tories' electoral prospects in the Perth and Kinross by-election.
Although political leaders have attempted to focus attention on local matters, the elections have become a referendum on the Government's record. National issues - in particular VAT on domestic fuel and rail privatisation, which raise strong emotions among Scots - have dominated the campaign.
The latest opinion polls show the Tories being wiped off the local government map. A survey for the Herald in Glasgow on Tuesday put the party on 11 per cent for a second successive month. The Conservatives are expected to lose five out of six councils they control.
Labour, on 53 per cent, is expected to win more than half of the new councils, including its key targets of Stirling and South Ayrshire from the Tories. The Scottish National Party, on 25 per cent, is confident it will win control of Perthshire and Kinross, Angus and Moray.
For the nationalists, all eyes are on the Perthshire and Kinross council, where the Tories have a slender majority. Party leaders believe that victory there tonight will pave the way for a similar result in the Perth and Kinross by-election, which is likely to take place next month.
The party's by-election candidate, Roseanna Cunningham, joined local campaigners on the streets of Perth yesterday. She said she was "very confident" that the SNP would gain control of the council. "Our soundings show that the voters are fed up with the Tories locally and nationally and they want them out. For most people, Mr Major's `middle-England' vision of a country of warm-beer drinking cricketers holds no appeal."
For the SNP, the by-election is a critical test. After defeat in the Monklands by-election last June, the nationalists have to win if they are to confirm their standing as the official opposition to Scotland's Labour establishment.Reuse content