Edinburgh Council budget: Ex-Labour councillor Ross McKenzie has thrown council into Jeremy Corbyn-style chaos – Susan Dalgety
Council leader Cammy Day insists he is “still keen to lead the Capital city” after his party’s humiliating budget defeat last Thursday, but will his fellow councillors be as eager to support the minority Labour administration in the months ahead?
And what will the city’s Labour activists decide tonight when members of the local government committee (LGC) meet to discuss the fall-out of the budget? Members of the LGC – including an influential former councillor – are said to be furious at Councillor Day’s handling of the budget. They are particularly infuriated that Labour was forced to support the Lib Dems’ budget – which includes a promise to put an end to the council’s no redundancy commitment.
The crossing of this ‘red line’ will no doubt lead to some heated debate between the comrades. It might even end up with Councillor Day receiving his own personal redundancy notice, though insiders believe he will hold on, "for the moment”.
Thursday’s budget meeting, where councillors had to find £79 million of savings to make the books balance, was always going to be difficult for the council leader and his group. Labour went into the meeting two councillors down. Far-left Leith councillor Katrina Faccenda, an often-vocal critic of Councillor Day’s tactics and policies, was absent – called away on a “family emergency”. And her comrade-in-arms, Ross McKenzie, lost the party whip last November for voting to overturn Labour's ban on the city’s strip clubs.
According to party conventions, Councillor Mackenzie should have voted for Labour’s spending plans, but he decided instead to announce his resignation from the party and promptly voted with the Greens to scupper Labour’s budget. No doubt Councillor McKenzie, who has been threatening to resign almost since the moment he won a place representing the Sighthill/Gorgie ward, believes his dramatic intervention was a revolutionary act.
“I want to make this city a fairer place,” he said as he finished his short speech. Hardly Che Guevara – there can’t be a councillor in Edinburgh who wouldn’t agree with that statement.
All Councillor McKenzie has achieved is to throw the city council into chaos. Instead of the Labour leadership focusing on the challenges that lie ahead – not least the shortage of affordable housing – Councillor Day and his colleagues will have to negotiate a new deal with Lib Dems and Tory councillors if they want to stay in power.
Edinburgh – like councils across Scotland – is enduring its worst budget crisis in recent history. Hard-pressed residents face a five per cent hike in their council tax, while at the same time services are being reduced.
This is not the time for gesture politics. No single party has a majority in Edinburgh – the people voted for consensus. Let’s hope that tonight, the handful of Labour activists who make up the party’s local government committee recognise that fact and get behind their beleaguered leader. The council needs an extended period of calm to allow councillors to get on with the job of running the city, not a re-run of the Jeremy Corbyn years.