LABOUR activists in the Capital have officially registered their concern over the handling of coalition talks by the party’s council group after the local elections.
They particularly criticised the failure to nominate a Labour councillor to be Lord Provost.
An official memo, leaked to the Evening News, says the Labour group now appears “more divided than it has ever been” and claims a rift “appears to have opened up” with the wider party.
Labour saw its number of councillors cut from 21 to 12 in the May 4 elections, while the SNP became the biggest party with 19 councillors, ahead of the Tories with 18, Greens eight and Lib Dems six.
The Labour and SNP groups have negotiated a coalition, but it needs approval from Labour’s Scottish executive, which it is not expected to get until after the general election.
However, the SNP’s Frank Ross was elected Lord Provost by 26 to 24 with SNP and Green councillors backing him, while the Tories and Lib Dems voted for Lib Dem group leader Robert Aldridge and Labour abstained.
Tory councillor Cameron Rose had originally proposed Labour’s Lezley Cameron for Lord Provost against Cllr Ross, but she declined the nomination.
The memo, from the executive of Labour’s Edinburgh Local Campaign Forum (LCF) – made up of constituency and union representatives in the city – says: “It is now clear that we could have had a Labour Lord Provost, giving a much-needed boost to a demoralised membership.”
And it points the finger at group leader Cammy Day over advice which he relayed from the Scottish party to the councillors.
The memo recounts a “lengthy discussion” over the possibility of nominating a Labour candidate for Lord Provost: “It was noted the Conservatives might be prepared to nominate Labour councillor Donald Wilson. The view was expressed that we could not be seen to ‘collude’ with the Tories and that not to support Frank Ross would mean the proposed coalition deal would be scuppered. Group members were keen to support a Labour nominee.”
The memo says the LCF secretary – Martin Hinds, husband of former councillor Lesley Hinds – asked Cllr Day for an update on the eve of the meeting to choose the Lord Provost. “He said he had received advice from the party that the group should abstain.”
After Cllr Ross was elected, the memo says, Mr Hinds contacted Scottish Labour general secretary Brian Roy for “clarification”.
And it quotes Mr Roy saying that voting for a Lord Provost from another party could have breached Labour’s rules, but there was no reason in principle why a Labour provost could not have been nominated.
“Brian further clarified that he had, to the best of his recollection, not been asked about a Labour candidate being nominated.”
Cllr Day told the Evening News the Labour group had seen the memo from the LCF executive and the office-bearers had asked for a meeting to discuss the matter.
He added: “I don’t think the document is a true and fair reflection of what has been said. Some of the LCF delegates have also said that and they will be challenging the document too. There are a number of inaccuracies I would like to discuss.”
Cllr Day said he had spoken to a number of senior figures, not just Mr Roy. “This was just after the Aberdeen Labour group had been suspended [for agreeing a deal with the Tories] so there was a cautiousness about what we should do. I reported to the Labour group the comments I had received from senior members of the party.”
He said the claim that the group was now more divided than ever was “inaccurate”.