Labour activists call for party to quit Edinburgh council coalition

Labour Leader Cammy Day. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Labour Leader Cammy Day. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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LABOUR activists have called for the party to walk away from its coalition with the SNP at the City Chambers unless the Nationalists agree to campaign against Scottish Government funding cuts.

Two motions passed by Labour’s Local Campaign Forum (LCF), which brings together delegates from all the constituencies in the Capital, put the blame for looming city council budget cuts squarely on the spending squeeze from Holyrood and argued Labour should not be implementing austerity.

Labour, which has 12 councillors, has been sharing power with the 16-strong SNP group since the council elections in May last year.

One of the motions, from Edinburgh Eastern Labour party, said Labour should “consider all options for defending services” including ending the partnership with the SNP.

The other, from Edinburgh Central Labour party, claimed the SNP were in breach of the coalition agreement due to “their continued failure to publicly call on the Scottish Government to adequately fund local councils”.

It noted that while Westminster had cut Scottish Government funding by 1.8 per cent since 2010/11, the Scottish Government had imposed cuts on councils of 9.6 per cent.

And it went on: “Edinburgh Labour Group should withdraw from the coalition agreement unless the SNP Group can commit to a public campaign against further job losses and cuts to local government budgets by Holyrood or Westminster.”

Former Labour councillor Jimmy Burnett, who was behind the Edinburgh Eastern motion, said Labour’s Scottish executive had approved the coalition on condition it would pursue anti-austerity policies.

But he said it was increasingly difficult for Labour activists to campaign against cuts when the party’s own councillors were helping to make them.

He said: “We should be looking at all options, including getting a better deal from the Scottish Government and also including, if Labour cannot get the commitment to pursue anti-austerity measures, considering its future in the coalition and if necessary leaving.

“A number of us believe we should never have gone into coalition in the first place.”

Labour group leader Cammy Day insisted the coalition was “doing a good job”. And he questioned whether the motions did represent the view of Labour members across the city. “It was a very small turnout at the LCF,” he said.

Cllr Day claimed by being in the coalition Labour was stopping even worse cuts taking place.

“We are working hard to make sure the cuts are not as damaging as they could be if we were not in the coalition,

“When we agreed this coalition, we got emails of support from the unions Unite and Unison. I’m sure they’d rather we were in there trying to limit the damage than being in opposition achieving nothing.”

On whether the SNP were doing enough to resist the cuts, he said he knew SNP council leader Adam McVey had “regular meetings with the appropriate ministers”. And he added: “Councillors of all parties should be lobbying against cuts, whether it’s Westminster’s welfare cap which costs the council huge amounts of money or the Scottish Government continued erosion of local government funding.”

Tory councillor Andrew Johnston said Labour activists were right to blame the SNP government for council cuts.

And he said: “The only way the SNP is able to progress this agenda is through the support of Labour. Their own activists are saying this is not a sustainable coalition.

“After the last election we wanted to form a unionist coalition of Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems. Why not look at that again?”