Steve Cardownie: Labour-SNP coalition on brink of open warfare

Over the last few days, we have witnessed a war of words waging between SNP and Labour group members on the city council on the letters page of this newspaper.

All smiles: But Cammy Day and Adam McVey may struggle to contain outbreak of coalition infighting (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
All smiles: But Cammy Day and Adam McVey may struggle to contain outbreak of coalition infighting (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

Councillor George Gordon, the SNP group whip, was prompted to write to the Evening News in response to yet another letter from Councillor Scott Arthur openly attacking the Scottish Government, along with a gossamer-thin veiled attack on the SNP group in the City Chambers.

This was followed up yesterday by a letter from Councillor Gordon Munro (Labour Group) which defended Councillor Arthur and, in turn, followed up by turning the tables on Councillor Gordon by attacking him.

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All this from councillors who are supposed to be working in partnership as part of the coalition running the city council. I offer no apologies for repeating the word “attack” (above) as there is no other way to adequately describe the contents of the correspondence.

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Steve Cardownie: Council coalition at risk if Labour start playing politics

In a previous column, I stressed that the ruling coalition would come under increased pressure from within with tough budget decisions looming on the horizon and the prospect of a snap General Election in the offing.

I said then that Councillor Munro was worth watching, given that he was the Labour Party’s candidate for Edinburgh, North and Leith and would be seeking to optimise his chances of toppling the incumbent, Deidre Brock of the SNP. It didn’t take long for my prediction to bear fruit.

With a Conservative-leaning tabloid newspaper reporting on Monday that Theresa May will consider calling a General Election in December if she faces a challenge to her leadership, adding to the speculation as to what the embattled Prime Minister may resort to in order to retain her premiership, it is little wonder that the major political parties are laying the foundations of what promises to be a bitter campaign, if and when, a date is set.

This backdrop does not augur well for the prospects of a bright and rosy future for the coalition in the City Chambers and it will take all the skills that the two Group Leaders can muster if it is to emerge unscathed.

The friction that is all too evident between “leading” members of the Labour Group in particular and their SNP coalition partners has the very real prospect of breaking out into open warfare.

Councillor Arthur, as a member of his Party’s National Executive Committee, and Councillor Munro, as a Westminster candidate who enjoys the fulsome backing of Jeremy Corbyn, cannot be regarded as lightweights and as such are highly unlikely to voluntarily disappear into the night.

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The Labour’s National Executive Committee took an inordinate amount of time before giving its approval to the formation of the coalition, so it is inconceivable that they would not be prepared to sacrifice it if it assessed that party candidates’ prospects would be enhanced by doing just that. Power at Westminster is the goal and local government coalitions come a long way second.

At present, the chief protagonists in the Labour Group are a small minority and may ultimately fail in their efforts to bring about an end to the coalition, although this should not be a reason for complacency as future political events may determine its fate and there may be nothing that councillors can do about it.

Due to a production error, a previous version of this article wrongly stated that it was the SNP’s NEC that took a long time to approve the SNP-Labour coalition on Edinburgh council. We apologise for the mistake.

One-legged ducks will be able to take tram to Newhaven
As the council wrestles over the decision on whether or not to extend the trams down to Newhaven, I was asked my view on what the decision might be – particularly as the results of the consultation exercise and the Tram Inquiry were yet unknown.

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Will the council’s administration decide to extend the tram? Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?

It is a foregone conclusion and despite some minor issues that are still to be ironed out, it will get the collective nod of approval at a full council meeting with some (but nowhere near enough) dissenting voices.