General election bad blood causes chaos with local administrations in Scotland

19 May 17

Inter-party acrimony, fuelled by the general election campaign, has left the formation of new local authority administrations in chaos across much of Scotland.

Labour has suspended its entire nine-strong council group in Aberdeen for joining a ruling coalition with the Conservatives.

The decision by Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale overshadowed her own launch of the party’s Scottish manifesto, and highlighted the uncertainty hanging over many of Scotland’s 32 unitary authorities after the local elections failed to produce an overall majority in any mainland council.

At its heart is the deep schism between pro-independence and unionist parties, which runs across the more traditional divide between left and right.  

The result has left several important councils, including the capital city of Edinburgh, lacking administrations, and strewn a trail of resignations, intra-party power spats and inter-party bitterness in its wake.

In Glasgow, the electoral arithmetic paved a way for a tacit deal with the pro-independence Greens, which has left the Scottish National Party in minority control, ending almost four decades of Labour autonomy.

Elsewhere, in councils like Perth & Kinross, the Tories have combined with independents and Liberal Democrats in a unionist alliance to keep the SNP out of power.

But in many places the maths are less accommodating.  Edinburgh, where the SNP is the largest group, failed at its first full meeting on Thursday to appoint an administration, amid reports that Labour, now in third place behind the Conservatives, has been warned off deals with both the SNP and Tories by party leaders. West Lothian and Clackmannanshire have also failed to agree administrations.

In North Lanarkshire, Labour has formed a minority administration without any formal deal with another party, while in South Lanarkshire embittered horse-trading that left some councillors from both Labour and the SNP threatening to sit as independents has culminated pro tem in an SNP minority administration.

The biggest ruction thus far is in Aberdeen, where the elections ousted the previous Labour administration and left the SNP as the biggest group, with Labour lying third behind the Conservatives.  The nine Labour survivors duly struck a deal with the Tories and independents, giving Labour both of the council’s top jobs as council leader and Lord Provost.

But Labour’s Scottish executive ordered them to pull out, citing Dugdale’s standing policy of not entering any pact that would further the infliction of austerity policies on the public.  The Aberdeen councillors refused to back out, insisting that the terms of their agreement with the Tories guarded against austerity, and were suspended from the party.

"Tory austerity risks hurting so many families in Aberdeen, and the Labour Party simply will not stand for that," Dugdale said.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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