There are at least three kinds:
- "Official" Independents (with a capital 'I') who sit and almost always vote together as a bloc;
- Unaffiliated independents, the Norman Nomates of local politics;
- Siân Caiach's People First candidates who this year appear on the ballot paper as independents.
It's all a little reminiscent of the
But independents come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, and the Carmarthenshire Independents will emerge from next week's elections as a very different group from the one we have known for so long. There are likely to be fewer of them, for one thing, and gone are Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer who dominated the group for so long.
Pam, who always laughably described herself as non-political, was the group leader, and one of the interesting things will be who takes over. Cneifiwr is putting 50p on Giles Morgan, the Prince Charles of Carmarthenshire's Independents.
A recent piece on this blog which mentioned Edward Thomas, the Independent standing for re-election in Llandeilo, attracted some critical comments from Edward's supporters, but the very mild criticism of the Independents which produced that response stands.
All councillors, whether they are backbenchers or members of the Executive Board (i.e. cabinet), have two principal roles. The first is to represent their wards and tackle all of the local issues which people want action on, from dog poo to blocked drains and planning applications. The second is to be a member of the wider council and to participate in decisions on matters which affect the whole of the county, such as education, the environment, social care, housing, regeneration and the Local Development Plan.
It is that second role that Independents struggle to fulfil because they do not have an agreed, coherent and co-ordinated approach to policy. Or if they do, they won't tell voters because they don't publish a manifesto.
One former Carmarthenshire Independent famously used to boast that he never had a policy in his life.
And yet, ever since Carmarthenshire re-emerged from Dyfed, Independents have sat at the top table with responsibility for matters on which they have no stated policy. The result in Carmarthenshire has for years been to surrender democratic control to the undemocratic rule of Mark James.
Leighton Andrews' proposed reforms of local government failed, but that does not mean that reform is not needed. Nobody should serve in a council cabinet unless they have signed up to a manifesto telling voters what they plan to do with that responsibility.
Ironically, Llandeilo also provides us with another graphic reason why voting Independent may not always be in a community's best interests.
By far and away the most serious problem confronting the town is air pollution, and nice as Edward Thomas may be, an independent backbencher was never going to be in a position to do anything about that.
The agreement to build a bypass for Llandeilo came about only because Adam Price and Plaid Cymru worked hard behind the scenes to cut a deal with the government in Cardiff, and that in the face of opposition from the likes of Lee Waters for Labour.