SNP closes in on coalition deal with Labour to run city

SNP Candidates Denis Dixon and Catherine Fullerton celebrate their wins. Picture; Neil Hanna
SNP Candidates Denis Dixon and Catherine Fullerton celebrate their wins. Picture; Neil Hanna
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THE SNP today claimed it was close to agreeing a deal with Labour on forming a renewed coalition to run the Capital.

Discussions were resuming this morning and an announcement could be made later today.

SNP group leader Adam McVey said talks over the weekend had focused on the principle and practicalities of forming a coalition, with a detailed programme of policies yet to be agreed.

The SNP emerged from last week’s council elections as the biggest party, but only one seat ahead of the Conservatives, while Labour slumped to third place.

Together the SNP and Labour do not have enough councillors to have an overall majority, so on key votes they would have to look for support from another party.

And Cllr McVey confirmed he had held talks with the Greens, although they have already signalled they do not want to join the administration but may be willing to offer support short of coalition.

However, Labour appeared to be keeping their options open, with group leader Cammy Day saying: “We are in negotiations with parties to get the best deal for Edinburgh.”

The Tories have claimed the most stable administration would be a “pan-unionist” coalition of Tories, Labour and Lib Dems, which would have an overall majority.

Cllr Day said: “Nothing’s ruled out entirely. But we are having progressive discussions.”

Cllr McVey said since the SNP had been returned as the largest party in the council elections, it could claim the moral authority to seek to form an administration.

He said: “We called on Labour to rule out a coalition before the election – we think the Conservatives’ platform for the city is harmful and not well thought out. We are hopeful Labour is now in a position to do that.”

An SNP-Labour deal would switch the parties’ relative positions from their previous coalition, which was led by Labour with the SNP as junior partners.

Cllr McVey said: “There doesn’t seem to be any reason Labour could not join an administration with the SNP, but what we need to do is move forward in a way that all the relevant parties are comfortable with the way ahead and make sure that issues that could come up in the next five years are sufficiently anticipated.

“I’m not anticipating any formal agreement with any other party bar one.

“But there will be key decisions we need a majority for. Those decisions will require further work to make sure the administration can be confident they will go through. I have had conversations with the Greens about the kind of policies they are particularly keen to see implemented in the city.”

He said he hoped for an early announcement to give the city the “certainty and stability it needs”.

And he suggested an official confirmation of a coalition deal could be made before full details of the policy programme were agreed.

“I’m keen to spend a bit of time making sure we get our programme right.”

The council elections saw the SNP become the biggest party in Edinburgh for the first time with 19 seats, two more than before. The Tories won 18 seats – seven up on before the election. Labour was down from 21 to 12, while the Greens increased to eight and the Lib Dems to six.

As soon as the count at Meadowbank was finished on Friday, the parties each gathered their newly-elected councillors together for meetings at the City Chambers.

And in a dramatic series of votes, all three of the main parties chose new leaders to take them into the council’s new five-year term.

The SNP’s Frank Ross, who had been deputy council leader under the previous Labour-SNP coalition and was expected to take over the helm of a new administration, was replaced by Cllr McVey, who had been vice-convener of transport and environment.

The Tories ditched Cameron Rose for Iain Whyte, who had served a previous spell as group leader.

And Labour, who had to fill the vacancy left by the retiring leader Andrew Burns, opted for Cllr Day, who had been education convener, rather than Ian Perry, the long-serving planning convener.

Negotiating teams were appointed, but it is understood talks that evening did not get beyond informal contacts between the leaders.

The councillors were back at the City Chambers on Saturday morning, where the main parties held their own group meetings, each lasting about an hour, to discuss their approach to coalition talks and study a document produced by officials comparing the manifesto pledges of the parties, highlighting the common ground and the points of difference.

A series of meetings between different parties, including SNP-Labour talks and Labour contact with the Tories, then took place throughout the day, with reports back to reconvened group meetings.

There were further discussions yesterday and more were due this morning.

Tory group leader Iain Whyte said talks were “ongoing” with other parties.

One source said there was a difference of view within the Labour group with some councillors firmly opposed to any deal with the Tories, but some others reluctant to form another coalition with Labour.

“Some of them are adamant they can’t have anything to do with the Conservatives, but others are very anti-SNP. However, they realise that has to be resolved quickly.”

Greens are keen not to see a Tory-led administration but are reluctant to give up the freedom they have to speak out on the issues they feel strongly about and advocate radical alternatives, so they are willing to consider options short of joining a coalition.

Group leader Steve Burgess said: “In discussions over the weekend we have repeatedly said that we are keen to work constructively with parties who share our ambition for a greener, fairer and more open Edinburgh.

“In particular we want to see real progress on affordable housing, better social care and improving city transport.

“We also remain open to different ways of working constructively, ways which allow an administration to be formed but which also allow radical ideas for the city’s future to be given a full airing.”

The looming general election – with parties looking for every opportunity to attack each other – is seen as potentially making it more difficult to come to a deal.

If no agreement can be reached, there is the possibility of delaying a deal until after June 8, though it seems an unlikely scenario.

An insider said: “It will become a lot less fraught once the background of general election has gone. The only appointment we have to make is the Lord Provost within 21 days of the election. In theory all the rest could be postponed, but it would leave a lot of uncertainty in the air.”

Leaders return to the campaign trial

PARTIES across Scotland are stepping up campaigning with a month until voters go to the polls in the General Election.

Nicola Sturgeon will be in Perth today to tell voters that the SNP will “deliver for Scotland”.

The First Minister said Tory gains made in the council elections had come from Labour rather than her party and warned that “the Tory mask” has slipped.

The First Minister said: “Theresa May’s extraordinary attacks on our European partners demonstrate that an unchecked Tory government is prepared to pursue a chaotic hard Brexit if it is in the interests of the Tory Party, whatever the cost to Scotland.”

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has challenged her party to redouble efforts over the next month.

She said: “We have a massive fight on our hands against an all-powerful SNP.”

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron is bringing his campaign bus to Scotland as the party target constituencies such as Edinburgh West.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will campaign in Rutherglen and will tell voters they can “send a message” to Ms Sturgeon.

‘Snake’ attack on new SNP head

A SENIOR SNP councillor who lost his seat in last week’s elections has described new group leader Adam McVey as a “little human snake, totally untrustworthy”.

Mike Bridgman, who represented Portobello/Craigmillar for ten years, made the remark in a tweet.

Meanwhile, in a separate post, Mr Bridgman’s father launched an attack on the SNP for the way it ran the campaign in his son’s ward, where the second Nationalist candidate Kate Campbell did get elected.

He said the party had restricted Mr Bridgman to campaigning in 30 per cent of the ward while Ms Campbell could campaign in the other 70 per cent of the area.

“The SNP is supposed to be a democratic party but it is not, it’s more like a dictatorship with their dirty politics.

“They decided to run Kate Campbell, who is Tommy Sheppard’s personal assistant, along with Mike.

“Then the party restricted Mike to 30 per cent of the constituency and gave Kate 70 per cent of the constituency.

“So he couldn’t go into Joppa, Portobello, Magdalene, Newcraighall the Durhams, Niddrie and the Hays. The only places he could canvas was Bingham and a bit of Craigmillar.

“On polling day Mike could only attend two polling stations while Kate could move between six.

“The odds were stacked against him from the start but he fought as hard as he could for the constituents whom he represented for ten years.”

Mr Bridgman’s wife Claire was elected to the council for the SNP in the Drumbrae/Gyle ward just hours before he learned of his defeat.

Mr Bridgman said: “To say I’m broken up by the result is an understatement. All I ever tried to do was look after the community I’m from and which I love.

“After ten years of doing that, it is rather heart-breaking not to be returned to continue doing that work.”