So last week, with some fanfare, Johann Lamont announced how her party was going to spend some of the next year rejuvenating itself, setting up new structures, seeking fresh talent, trying to persuade trade union colleagues back into the fold. This last one may have something to do with the fact that unions, at national, regional and branch level, have stopped giving. Labour’s coffers are pretty bare so its solution to its previously overly-reliant relationship on the unions appears not to diversify its funding base but to go back to those it knows.
It is also trying to squeeze some much needed funds out of elected representatives. In a new pilot scheme being tested in six local authority areas, council candidates are being asked to sign a contract which not only demands good behaviour but requires them, when elected to hand over five per cent of their allowance to the party. It’s causing consternation and an awful lot of muttering and moaning: if ever there was a cunning ruse to remove some of the old guard, this might well be it.
Some will no doubt eventually put up, but down in Dumfries and Galloway, the furore has managed to reach the local papers and doesn’t look like being resolved any time soon. It is rumoured some candidates have torn them up and intend to stand anyway. It will be interesting to see how the party reacts, especially at this late stage, when de-selection could be problematic and finding new candidates near impossible.
Frankly, such contracts are long overdue. Councillors are accountable to the people who elect them but also must be accountable to their parties. It doesn’t seem like asking a lot to have their performance reviewed: as the woman said, no one can presume to have a job for life. The days of Labour being able to put a monkey/donkey up in a red rosette (an insulte to animals I always thought) and weigh the vote are long gone. If Labour is to renew itself, it must have candidates at all levels who can attract a vote. Trust now has to be earned not assumed.
But Labour is not the only party with problems with candidates. The Tories have successfully deselected an 80 year old incumbent in the east of Dumfries and Galloway region (Annandale for those with a little geographical nous). His response was to run to the papers crying foul. I was snubbed, he said. Boo hoo.
Elsewhere, the SNP had to do an about-turn on an ambitious plan to put up candidates in every ward – and more – in Edinburgh. Rather than seek to become the largest party outright and run a single majority administration in the city, it is now having to settle for seeking to become the largest party grouping. That is still no small ambition and the burd wonders how realistic it is, when one of the candidates in her ward is the sitting councillor for another part of the city who was deselected. Not sure if I, or anyone else who lives in these here parts, wants someone else’s cast offs, especially when those who knew him, and his performance, decided no thanks.
These council elections are potentially the most exciting for years, not least because they have been decoupled from the Scottish Parliamentary vote. Elected members have a much more direct influence on people’s lives than any other elected representatives. They have huge budgets at their disposal and their decisions really do make a difference on the day to day stuff, as well as the life and limb. Cut childcare, homecare, school budgets, bin collection, bus subsidies and immediately, the effect is felt everywhere and you’ll find councillors’ surgeries just as packed out, or more so, than MSPs’ ones. Despite it being the most important elected position in many ways, it is the least revered by the electorate. One certainty for May is a low turnout, sadly.
Yet the results at these elections will tell us a lot: whether Labour is still plummeting or is clawing its way back; whether folk are still punishing the Liberal Democrats or are taking a decidedly micro approach; whether or not the Conservatives can achieve any semblance of electoral respectability; and whether the SNP can make its dominance of the political landscape complete with more levers of power held through local administrations.
Proportional representation means that we will be treated to some rainbow alliances: expect many of them to be unholy ones, as the Unionist parties gang up on the SNP to keep them out.
But there’s a long road to go; some candidates are not yet in place; and some weel-kent local worthies might not make the start line. On this last one, it will be interesting to see if Johann Lamont is prepared to follow through with her intention and promise to introduce new talent to Labour’s ranks.