SNP leadership contest: If party lurches to the right, progressive councillors may defect to Scottish Greens – Kevin Lang

The main debating chamber of Edinburgh Council is an astonishing and beautiful sight. Nineteenth-century architecture. Wood-panelled walls. Tall historic paintings. A huge domed ceiling.
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So, given its splendour and history, it is little wonder the chamber is so popular for events, hosting dozens of weddings and civil ceremonies each year. Its frequent use for special occasions also means over 60 heavy wooden desks have to be wheeled in and out of the room for the once-a-month meeting of Edinburgh Council.

I’ve always had huge admiration for Paul and the others in his team at the City Chambers who are tasked with the laborious job of lugging all these desks up and down in lifts, and in and out of storage each month. It’s a mammoth task. Who knows how long it takes them to do it each month?

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Equally, it must seem to Paul and his colleagues that there’s a never-ending list of changes from us pesky councillors as to how exactly we want those desks laid out. In the last council term, the decision of no fewer than five SNP councillors to leave their party to sit as independents at differing times forced a fairly constant need to change the desks’ configuration. Cue the inevitable jokes about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

In less than a year since the last council elections, we’ve had to require even more changes in layout. First came the decision of one Labour councillor to go off in a huff, offended it seems by the fact nobody was listening to him, even when he wasn’t speaking. Then we had the sudden and dramatic resignation of SNP councillor Frank Ross and the subsequent landslide win for the Liberal Democrats in the Corstorphine/Murrayfield by-election two weeks ago. More changes to the layout of the desks please Paul.

The key question is whether even further changes may be needed in the weeks ahead. It was the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, who said, “all politics is local”. Well, our last council meeting was certainly abuzz with speculation over the local fallout of the increasingly personal and bitter race to be the leader of the SNP and new First Minister. It is a contest that is clearly taking its toll in a way few could have foreseen when Nicola Sturgeon decided to call it a day.

It is anyone’s guess as to how those local SNP councillors in Edinburgh who have so proudly staked their flag in the sands of progressive politics will be able to continue if their party’s national leadership lurches to the right, both on social and economic issues. You can see the local Green group of councillors almost salivating at the prospect of some shiny new recruits.

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I have often described the current council as the most politically balanced in the City of Edinburgh’s history. We’ve already seen the fragile arithmetic in the chamber throw up a fair number of shocks. Time will tell whether the real surprises are yet to come. And to Paul and his team, I ask you to please be on standby. We might need your help again very soon.

Kevin Lang is the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh Council