All too often local elections get billed as “a crucial mid-term test of support for the Government”, or even described as “the biggest opinion poll since the general election”. It’s intensely irritating and it should be ignored. Sure, Holyrood and Westminster have more powers, and sure, people’s opinions of the parties nationally will play out tomorrow. But a week’s worth of punditry about the national implications will be quickly forgotten – these elections will again elect local councils for a long five year term.

And they should be regarded as important in their own right. Local government matters, despite the long years over which power has been sucked from them by Westminster and more recently by Holyrood – notably, does anyone think they’re electing a local administration with the power to make tax choices based on the needs of their community? Local councils can cock up important transport projects or they can expand safe cycle networks, they can privatise and close down local services or instead pay a living wage, they can send their own leadership around in limos or make them walk, cycle or take the bus, and they set the tone for planning too.

It matters what the parties in office have achieved, and what are the other credible candidates offering? Do they have principles that matter to you locally? I’m in favour of independence, but it doesn’t tell you much about what SNP councillors or candidates would do, for instance. In Edinburgh their shambolic administration with the Lib Dems means the Nats will be marked down my ballot paper. Conversely Glasgow has been run by Labour for Labour alone, with incompetence and the whiff of something worse, and I’m not surprised to see Green councillor Kieran Wild arguing that that city needs a change too.

Also, your candidates matter, if you can find out enough about them to make an informed judgement. Until I moved house in the run-up to the 2007 local elections I lived in a ward represented by the Labour councillor who rammed the doomed Caltongate project through planning. If I’d stayed where I was he’d have probably got my last preference. If I lived in Aberdeenshire I’d look very closely at who backed the Trump application, or in Aberdeen who voted which way on Union Terrace Gardens.

The electoral system is the most proportional we get to cast, and not using all your preferences only makes sense if you genuinely can’t choose between two candidates – for instance, if there are two indistinguishable Tories standing in your ward and they’d get your last two preferences. SNP MSP John Mason recently posted his completed ballot paper on Facebook, which apparently isn’t quite a breach of the 1983 Representation of the People Act, and he’d only voted SNP with his first two preferences, despite it being a four member ward. John: is it really the case that you don’t care whether the other two councillors elected are Green, Labour, Lib Dem or Tory? Seriously?

Using all your preferences is also a particular kind of anoraky fun. In 2007 I had the pleasure of putting a 1 next to Alison Johnstone’s name – a good friend as well someone who knew would make a great Green councillor – then putting my least favourite Lib Dem last, and filling in the gaps. Personally, I tend to put the Tories second last with Lib Dems last, because at least the Tories tend to be more honest about their plans, but it’s not easy. This time I’ll need to work out where UKIP fit in amongst that tail end.

This is the first time Scottish voters have had a local election using STV without a Holyrood election on the same day. Turnout will be down, of course, but that may not be the disaster the pundits will claim it to be if those who do vote are those who care about their local area and vote both locally and exhaustively. Don’t worry about your country. Your local authority area needs you.