Unless there is a drastic change in the polls, the writing is on the wall for Scottish Labour at May’s council elections, writes Ross Laird, Director of Public Affairs.
Despite Labour’s optimism at its party conference in Perth at the weekend, within the next few months we may see the final bastions of Labour power in Scotland collapse at the upcoming local government elections. Former totemic cities, once the heartland of Labour in the UK, let alone Scotland, may fall to the SNP – or at least to a coalition. Such a result would have been unthinkable only a few years ago and yet in many cases people will be unsurprised at Labour’s losses.
Glasgow has been hard fought over for many years. The SNP has slowly risen in numbers on the city council, but rarely has it come particularly close to taking control. Labour on the other hand has had its factions and sometimes has felt as if it is in opposition to itself, but has always mastered the city since the 1950s. Now the Party almost seems to concede that it is likely to lose control of Scotland’s largest city – a city steeped in trade union activity and the Labour movement.
There can be little doubt though that the nail in Labour’s coffin was the 2014 referendum result. Glasgow showed, decisively, that its love of Labour had worn and it was now looking to an SNP future. Of course, there is no guarantee that Labour will lose its majority, but given current polling it would take little short of a miracle. That would pave the way for Cllr Susan Aitken’s SNP Group to take over.
But Glasgow is not the only city on the SNP’s hit list. Labour has sustained majorities in Aberdeen and an uneasy coalition in Edinburgh. Aberdeen’s fights between the SNP and Labour have often boiled over into full scale media spats, but with the SNP having taken all the parliamentary seats in the city in both at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, there seems little scope for a Labour revival. Cllr Stephen Flynn is the relatively new SNP Group Leader who will be hoping to take over the city’s reigns in May.
Edinburgh poses a more difficult question for the SNP. The Party, under the leadership of Cllr Frank Ross, has a coalition agreement with Labour for now. After the tram debacle, the Labour Party were keen to distance themselves from the Lib Dems, but now will be lucky to muster more than a handful of councillors after May as many of their big guns resign. However, the SNP is unlikely to get a clear run at taking the city. The Scottish Conservatives are strong in the city and the Greens and Lib Dems continue to make steady progress. That could result in some strange coalition agreements being formed – a pattern not so unusual in Scottish local authorities thanks to the STV voting system.
The SNP may finally take control of Scotland’s major cities, but it will be far from plain sailing for the Party. There are some real challenges facing many of our cities. The national government has left them cash strapped and many would say toothless. The real question though will be whether this is the beginning of the end for the SNP ascendency, or just another milestone.