Grown up politics! Whatever next?

It was mooted, particularly by the prescient callow youth, Rory Scothorne, but frankly none of us took it seriously.

Having spent the better part of the last thirteen years loathing each other and telling anyone who would listen just how much they loathed each other, Labour and the SNP have done the unthinkable and formed a coalition to run Scotland’s capital city.

To be fair, this is not a unique set of circumstances.  For the last five years, the two parties worked together to run East Renfrewshire council.  Observers reckon it all went swimmingly and they appear to be hooked up there again already.

But with all due respect to East Renfrewshire, it’s a wee council: a coalition of the big in Edinburgh is taking co-operation to a whole new level.  If Edinburgh sneezes, we all get to catch the cold, courtesy of the national media, so expect plenty of coverage for the administration’s earliest moves.

It would be nice if that coverage came with minimal cynicism.  After all, this outbreak of grown-up politics is a cause for celebration.  For those of us who have longed for some semblance of the new politics promised with devolution for thirteen lang and weary years, this is very good news.

First, Edinburgh gets a coalition with a solid majority which ensures stability as the local authority hits uncharted financial territory.  Good, thoughtful and determined leadership at all levels is needed.  And between them, Labour and the SNP has considerable experience in their respective ranks of councillors to call upon.

Also, the obvious one – despite all attempts to persuade us to the contrary, Labour and the SNP have more in common than they disagree on in policy terms.  In fact, they’ll be struggling when they work their way through their manifestos to find the points of difference.

Most of those differences are positive ones where consensus can be achieved.  Labour’s grand plans for renewing local democracy through co-operative activity fit nicely with the SNP’s broad aims of localism.  Indeed, the idea of developing mutual vehicles to which to transfer some local authority functions likely to be threatened or under pressure from depleted resources is an inspired one, and might just provide some much needed progress in the drive to reform our public services.

Moreover, if these vehicles work, we might just have found a model for other areas to adapt and adopt.  And that would be another very good thing:  we need solutions and fresh thinking in local government.

One area of difference was on the approach to road repairs, though it was more a difference in emphasis.  Presumably, they can split the difference on the money involved and the timescale proposed.

Of course, the big unknown is what happens when we get to the referendum.  It’s clearly not a cooncil issue but local authorities will have a role to play in the debate and especially, in the conduct of the actual referendum.  All those polling booths, signs, places and clerks will be back before we know it.  And perhaps one unintended spin-off from this glasnost is that we can be spared all the usual accusations and allegations of party political perfidy.  In the capital, at least.

This might be wishful thinking and we’re a long ways away from 2014.  In the meantime, there’s the all important posts to be carved up.  Labour’s having the Lord Provost and Leader;  the SNP the deputy positions.

Andrew Burns, of course, will be leader but who’ll fill the other “offices”?  A plea – can we have it 50-50?  In that, Labour puts forward a woman for Lord Provost, the SNP nominates a woman for depute leader of the council and a man for Depute Lord Provost.  Admittedly, the SNP only has two women councillors to choose from, but Deirdre Brock would provide an interesting and effective counterpoint as Depute Leader to Andrew Burns.  And while Lesley Hinds is unlikely to want the LP for a second time, Labour has several to choose from in its ranks for that position.

The possibilities this new partnership offers are exciting: this augurs well for the people of Edinburgh.  Indeed, these kind of radical and thoughtful coalitions are what we need to renew and rejuvenate local politics.  Apparently, the tie-up between the SNP and the Scottish Green councillor in Midlothian is only for the formation of the administration which is a shame.  It’s understandable that Iain Baxter might want time sitting on the outside;  he is, after all, just newly elected and being a councillor does get some getting used to.  But Midlothian is in uncharted territory – for decades, it has been run by Labour and last Thursday, it voted for a shift.  The Scottish Greens should be part of that shift and putting their principles into practice.

Indeed, they had the chance to do likewise in Edinburgh.  Instead they have chosen to stand on the sidelines and are claiming credit for saving the city from the Tories getting “even a whiff of power”. How honourable of them.  They’ll be pleased to find themselves sharing the Opposition benches with them then.

While it’s disappointing that the Greens decided not to make this coalition a traffic-light one, this is a brave and bold move by Labour and the SNP.  It could be a disaster but let’s hope not.  We need more grown-up politics like this and the coalition’s success will be good for us all.

12 thoughts on “Grown up politics! Whatever next?

  1. As Steve Cardownie said, the only difference between the parties is “independence”, which solves no problems, let’s face it. Drop “independence” and we could all be in the same party and addressing the problems that affect the Scottish people.

    Or is that too “grown up”?

    • Ha ha! Yes, just a bit. Some of us actually believe in it!

      • Yes, but why? If the problems can be solved by cooperation now, why go through all the bother and hassle of breaking up the country? For what?

        What’s the point if, as Mr cardownie says, there’s no real difference between the parties?

  2. Good to see Scotland catching up with the rest of Europe -parties can still retain their identity and put their communities first – the most obvious example must be Sinn Fein and Dup in the North of Ireland – in Ireland the home of the two and half party system Labour has tended to enter coalition with a right of centre Fine Gael and run pretty successful administrations at a national and local council level.

    For Edinburgh the need to re-establish the City’s reputation is crucial -and there is enough is the wise heads within Labour and the Cardownie faction within the SNP to make that happen

    • A good comparison. It seems like grown up politics is breaking out everywhere in Scotland. Except in Stirling. Where Labour going into admin with Tories to keep SNP out. Which is a shame – can see why but don’t accept it is a good thing!

  3. Wouldn’t it be lovely if there were a few more instances of this happening, leading to a simmering of relations at Holyrood (making the ugly spectacle of the first 10 minutes of FMQs a thing of the past), and a far less visceral referendum campaign than we all suspect we’re going to get?

    As soon as I saw the news about this, I thought of Aberdeen council, where the situation is pretty similar, albeit a Labour-Lib Dem coalition would just reach the magic 22 number required for a majority. I’d actually be pretty happy with it, because the Lib Dems have been in administration for too long in Aberdeen (with the Tories in 2003 – 2007, and with the SNP from 2007 – 2012), and we need a far bigger change than just the Lib Dems having their third different partner in as many terms.

    Also, I suspect UTG will be a big sticking point… Although on the other hand, a Labour/SNP coalition would allow Labour to say “aww, we couldn’t cancel it after all because the SNP wouldn’t let us”, or the SNP could say “oh well, we couldn’t save it because we’re not the biggest party”. Either side could cynically use it as a get out of jail free card.

  4. The Edinburgh coalition is a breakthrough for sensible politics – for too long the electors, who in pretty much every council in Scotland have voted for left of centre parties, see their wishes dashed by tribal squabbling amongst the parties of the left.

    It would be to everyone’s benefit if we could park constitutional matters at the town hall door and focus on delivering the best services we can.

    There are plenty of other forums to set about each other on separation, our local representatives should declare a ceasefire and work together to get us through these difficult and challenging times.

  5. I’m still in shock! I’ve always said that the first priority for a politician is the electorate in the area they represent. For once, it looks like Labour and the SNP have remembered this.

    The cynic in me, however, wonders if they have done this only to avoid negative press for puting party politics first!

    But if they can make it work it can only benefit the people of Edinburgh.

  6. Kate, the Greens wanted a traffic light coalition but neither Labour nor the Lib Dems would consider it. And there’s no point being a small party in a coalition which has a majority without you. It’s a recipe for getting no real change through but still being responsible if bad decisions are made. I’d rather we were outside, wishing the administration well, backing them when they do the right thing and holding them to account if they don’t.

    • I think the UK coalition should be a lesson to everyone that the only thing worse than going into coalition with the Lib Dems is going into coalition with the Tories. The Lib Dems have been naive to think they could dilute the Tories and get the credit for it, so I’m actually glad to see the Greens having nothing to do with them. Grown up politics is one thing, but being an enabler for Tory policy is another thing altogether.

      Besides, the result is Edinburgh has an independence-neutral council, which is the next best thing after a pro-independence council!

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