Edinburgh Council elections: Labour's anti-cuts election campaign flies in the face of their record in coalition with SNP – John McLellan

I wouldn’t blame Labour councillor Gordon Munro for affording himself a wry smile when he saw this week’s Evening News story about how his party’s new candidates were planning “a distinctive anti-cuts agenda” for May’s Edinburgh council elections.

Thursday, 6th January 2022, 4:55 am
Labour councillor Gordon Munro was suspended by his party leader after taking a stand against council cuts by abstaining in the budget vote (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Labour councillor Gordon Munro was suspended by his party leader after taking a stand against council cuts by abstaining in the budget vote (Picture: Neil Hanna)

Cllr Munro has been running his own distinctive anti-cuts agenda from within the SNP-Labour administration, a somewhat lonely figure consistently arguing against the SNP’s destruction of local government finances throughout this council.

His reward for recognising the contradiction of arguing against cuts but then helping the SNP to implement them by abstaining in last year’s budget vote was for his leader to suspend him for three months.

In May, he stands down along with most of the Labour old guard, their places on the ballot papers replaced by a new generation of candidates who have either been living in a closed religious order since 2017, or are accidental comedians, in claiming they will stand for “rebuilding our services, not managing cuts” when their leadership has not just been managing cuts but disciplining a colleague for making a principled stand.

Maybe they’re eager but hopelessly naïve idealists, because it’s entirely feasible that Labour will stand on a ticket of opposing its own record and then try to carry on as before because, as ex-Labour and SNP councillor Steve Cardownie pointed out this week, if opposing SNP cuts is the core Labour message then that should rule out another coalition after May.

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Some might call it shamelessly cynical, others pragmatic, but for that reason it’s highly unlikely their manifesto will rule out another deal with the SNP. The most likely Labour position is what we might call cynicism-plus, in which they pledge to oppose SNP cuts while fully intending to cut a deal if that’s what it takes to hang on to their administration places.

Better off inside the administration to stave off the worst effects of the cuts is the nonsense they’ve spun every year, so why change tack now?

There’s little evidence they have made any difference to the administration’s spending decisions and none whatsoever that the SNP in government gives two hoots what even their own councillors say, as the recent budget which short-changed local authorities by £370m clearly demonstrated.

Edinburgh Labour is in knots; the party has been systematically dismantled by the SNP yet its response is to validate an SNP agenda which puts it ever further away from traditional Labour voters. Its MP and MSPs find their arguments undermined by council colleagues but taking control away from the SNP by striking deals with other parties, as their colleagues did in Aberdeen, is the one thing they won’t do.

Not as unionist as the Conservatives, not as nationalist as the SNP, not as eco-extreme as the Greens, but every bit as responsible for the alienation of the public from the council as their SNP buddies, the question then is what’s the point of voting Labour in May? Vote Labour, get SNP is some slogan, and right now that’s all they’ve got.

The test will come in February when a budget for the year must be set. Do Labour councillors refuse to agree a budget with their SNP bedfellows, break up the coalition, set their own and abstain when it falls? Maybe Cllr Munro will have the last laugh after all.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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