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.