To lose half the seats from the high of 18 in 2017 can’t be described as anything other than calamitous.
As the Lib Dems found out in 2012 and Labour in 2017, it is hard for council election candidates fighting on local issues to over-ride negative national factors played out nightly on television, not when even Scottish bulletins ram home the message that the vote is a judgement on UK parties.
The Lib Dems hit a perfect storm ten years ago when the 2010 Westminster coalition deal coincided with their time running Edinburgh Council and their councillors were the face of the tram fiasco, and this time round the Boris/Nicola effect has allowed the local SNP to avoid pay-back for widespread chaos on the city’s roads.
It’s all very well for SNP leader Adam McVey to crow about “a positive, progressive vision” when the SNP’s share of the vote has steadily declined since 2012, and with a total turnout of 47 per cent this time, its programme was only endorsed by barely 12 per cent of the electorate. And most of them would be voting for independence, not a ruinously expensive tram line through Newington.
Similarly, even with ten councillors, the Greens’ assertion that last week’s vote was for “local climate action” does not ring true when backed by just eight per cent of the voting public. It was a vote for action by those who voted Green, but that’s all.
Apart from awarding seats in the City Chambers, last week’s result did not produce clear marching orders, but circumstances are handing administration, but not necessarily control, to a minority SNP-Green arrangement ─ a marriage of inconvenience, it has been described ─ because Labour’s Scottish leadership has put the mockers on another cosy deal between Adam McVey and Cammy Day.
Senior Labour figures made it clear before the election they thought the local SNP was “toxic”. It was known that talks were underway on Friday afternoon, but it’s been widely reported that the national party intervened to block another coalition, even one with a linguistic and bureaucratic fudge. It looks like Cllr Day is a group leader without permission to lead.
The ballot boxes might be locked away for two years but, by the time the next council elections come round, electoral fortunes may have changed. Who knows who will be in Downing Street ─ that’s currently in the hands of Durham Police and Sir Keir Starmer’s beer-and-curry session ─ but the signs are that Bute House will have a new occupant after the 2026 Holyrood election.
That’s what’s in Labour’s sights, and strategists have no desire to have their wagon hitched to a raft of controversial policies which will prove increasingly unpopular with core voters.
After Labour played an enthusiastic part in rushing through a controversial agenda towards the end of the last council, the pace is likely to slow if an SNP-Green administration can’t rely on Labour support to push through the next phase.
Workplace parking fees, congestion charges, breaking up the bus network, and anything which hammers working people will be off the table. Flash Adam might need more than eight years to save the world.