Edinburgh Labour has a choice: some power in coalition or none outside it – Steve Cardownie

As some Labour members urge the party’s councillors to quit the Edinburgh council coalition with the SNP, Steve Cardownie explains why they should stay.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 6:00 am
Adam McVey and Cammy Day shake on the council coalition deal between the SNP and Labour in June 2017 (Picture: Greg Macvean)

Tomorrow’s full council meeting will start with no less than 27 questions, requiring an answer from various councillors who make up the administration. They will be answered in writing, ­leaving the person who posed it to ask a ­supplementary question if they wish, which sometimes ensures a lively start to the proceedings.

One question to be dealt with has been tabled by Councillor Phil Doggart (Conservative), where he asks the leader of the Labour Group (and deputy leader of the council): “Noting that an Edinburgh Constituency Labour Party voted to back calls for Labour to break its coalition with the SNP, does the depute leader agree with Councillor Arthur that, ‘there is real concern that we (Labour) are being associated with the SNP’s inability to stand up for Edinburgh?’”

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Now, Councillor Scott Arthur is no stranger to this page. As one of the minority of Labour councillors who have regularly expressed misgivings about the advantages of being a junior partner in the SNP/Labour coalition that runs the city council, he has attracted my attention.

He has regularly criticised the council leader, SNP councillor Adam McVey, through the letters page of this paper, and has expressed forthright views about the Scottish Government, which clearly demonstrates that he could hardly be deemed a team player.

Mischief-making

He is obviously entitled to hold these views, but openly expressing them whilst being a member of the ­coalition is frowned upon and the patience of the SNP group whip, Councillor George Gordon, has been tested on more than one occasion, prompting him to beat a path to the door of the Labour group whip, Councillor Maureen Child, to lodge a formal complaint about ­Councillor Arthur’s activities.

The question referred to above is obviously a bit of mischief-making and, although it is asked of Councillor Day on a personal basis, it should ensure that it will be discussed within the Labour group, where any splits might be exposed as a consequence.

At the moment there is no evidence to suggest that the minority view within the Labour Group (that it should withdraw from the coalition) has found additional adherents but if there is a groundswell of opinion amongst the Labour rank and file that the coalition should be disbanded, the numbers may change and, if successful, could lead to a complete breakdown of the management of the council which, in turn, could have serious consequences for the city as a whole.

Political maturity

The council administration is already in a minority position and regularly needs the support of others to get its policies adopted but that would be greatly compounded if the SNP Group was left to administer the council on its own.

A new coalition is also unlikely to emerge, as no group wants to be associated with the Tories, deeming it to be political suicide, and the other groups have too many policy differences to contend with.

The Greens and the new Epic Group also support Scottish independence so there may have been room for the SNP Group to manoeuvre there, but so far the Greens have demonstrated a marked reluctance to involve themselves in any formal coalition and this view is unlikely to change.

Last week I wrote that “the last two coalitions that controlled the council ran their full length and although sometimes it may have been a little rocky, the political will was there to see it through and I have little doubt that the current coalition will follow suit”.

The Labour Group is being asked to make a trade between some influence in the City Chambers for no influence at all – a politically mature group would come up with the right answer.