Local election results in Scotland likely to heal COSLA rift

8 May 17

A three-year split in the national body representing Scottish local government looks set to end next month, as a consequence of the Labour vote collapse at last week’s local elections.

The election result, which saw the Scottish National Party emerge as the biggest party in Scottish local government, but without any party gaining an overall majority in any of the 32 unitary authorities, is also expected to give COSLA the first non-Labour president in its history.

Four councils that quit the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in a dispute over decision-making processes – Glasgow, Aberdeen, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire – are expected to rejoin at the COSLA convention at the end of June.

Preliminary talks are understood to have taken place with all four authorities at senior official level, and the new SNP leader of Scotland’s biggest council, Glasgow, says today in an article in a Glasgow local newspaper: “We want to rejoin COSLA, pretty much straight away.”

Susan Aitken reveals that she and her deputy, David McDonald, were in informal contact with COSLA ahead of the elections, and that further talks are now scheduled to put the reconciliation on a formal footing.

The other three rebel councils, in all of which the SNP are now the biggest group, are expected to follow suit.

But matters could be complicated by the lack of overall majorities, and complex talks are now getting under way across Scotland to try to stitch together either formal coalitions or informal deals to give councils workable administrations.  

Aitken says she is exploring a deal with Glasgow’s seven Green councillors, which would give the administration 46 votes, against Labour’s 31 and the Conservatives’ seven.

Other deals may be harder to stitch together, not least because of the SNP’s declared refusal to work with the Tories.

The Labour collapse is also expected to give COSLA the first non-Labour president in its 42-year history, though there too there are complications.  

COSLA rules require that the top two lay posts are both gender-balanced and occupied by different parties, with the result that the Tories, having pushed Labour into third place across the country, may insist on one of the posts.

In any event, the change of leadership is likely to create an interesting dynamic with the SNP-run Scottish government, which has frequently been at odds with COSLA in recent years over funding and what councils see as a steady diminution of their responsibilities.

  • 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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