Doing a deal

Shaking hands on a deal is looking increasingly hard for the newly elected councillors in Scotland. One week after the local election and still only a handful of Councils have announced a coalition.

In the Scottish Borders it was announced that the Conservatives and Independents had come to an agreement, with the Conservatives taking the leadership role. Meanwhile, The Highland Council is to be governed by a coalition of Independents, Labour and Lib Dems. So why is doing a deal so hard?
One of the critical issues is timing. One month out from a General Election, nobody wants to be seen to be cosying up to an opposition party. In the case of Labour in particular, this is just sheer self-preservation to ensure they don’t get further squeezed in the General Election. For the Tories, being seen to work with the SNP would be an anathema when they have campaigned on an anti-independence referendum ticket and the SNP equally does not want to be associated with what it sees an austerity party.
There are allegations that in some cases potential deals are being vetted by national parties who are quashing them – the Scottish Labour Executive is allegedly preventing any deals that include Conservative groups. In other cases, it is a reflection of the number of new council group leaders, many of whom have not had to enter the fray of political bargaining before.
Deal or no deal?
Most of the political parties are now entering a period of brinkmanship. In Edinburgh, where the SNP is the largest group, signs of a potential deal with Labour appear to be slipping away. And while the Greens seem happy to prop up an SNP-led administration, they are not prepared to enter a formal agreement. The Tories have offered an alternative pan-unionist alternative, but this seems equally unpalatable to Labour. It’s a similar story elsewhere. In Glasgow there have been warm words between the SNP and Greens, but still no formal deal. An attempt by the Lib Dems to form an all-party alliance in Aberdeen seemed to have been doomed from the start and talks are continuing. And if you look at everywhere from Aberdeenshire to Midlothian, it’s a similar story.
A lonely road
Of course, a coalition deal is not the only option in many areas. In East Lothian and North Ayrshire the Labour Party has already announced that it will not do a deal with any party and will go forward as a minority administration, leaving it exposed to having to do deals with opposition parties on an ad hoc basis.
Coalition has been the norm in Scottish local government politics ever since STV voting was introduced. However, until the political climate calms down minority administrations may be the only realistic option in many areas. Coalition may not be the answer in every instance, but one wonders how many councillors went into these elections to put the interests of their local area at the forefront, rather than national politics.

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