By Martin Kelly
There has been confusion and anger after the minority Labour and Conservative groups at Stirling Council were reported to have formed an alliance in order to wrest control from the SNP group.
Early reports yesterday evening, including BBC Scotland bulletins, claimed that the two Unionist parties had set their differences aside in order to prevent the larger SNP group from forming an administration.
SNP Group leader Graham Houston, whose party had run the council for the last four years and who saw support grow last Thursday, immediately condemned the move describing it as a betrayal and “treacherous”.
“The people of Stirling will be shocked at news that the Tories and Labour will get together to form an Administration on Stirling Council, despite neither party being the biggest party after Thursday’s election.” said Mr Houston.
The SNP group leader claimed that a desire for power had lured the Labour group into a deal with the Tories, “we await details of how cheaply they have been bought off.” he said and added “The people of Stirling will rightly feel betrayed by this treacherous Labour / Tory alliance.”
However within hours of the story breaking, Labour appeared to backtrack with group leader Chory McChord insisting that negotiations were still ongoing. Mr McChord did though confirm that he preferred an alliance with the Tories.
“The accurate position is that discussions are ongoing. Although a Labour Conservative deal may be my recommendation, at this stage a lot of detail remains to be worked out.”
The Labour leader then appeared to suggest he wanted to consult with the Scottish leadership before making an official announcement and said: “Moreover I would wish to report any decision in the first instance to the Labour Party nationally and locally.”
There is already suspicion that the two Unionist groups are seeking a deal, not in order to serve the needs of local constituents who supported the SNP in greater numbers, but in order to ensure the SNP group are kept from power in the run-up to the Bannockburn celebrations in 2014.
Such an alliance holds the danger of considerable voter backlash and at least one opposition councillor has already suggested that the wishes of voters have been ignored.
Immediately after reports of a Labour / Tory deal, Green Councillor Mark Ruskell tweeted “Labour take out two LibDem seats on @StirlingCouncil due to unpopularity of Tory coalition. Then go into coalition with Tories. Good luck.”
Reports of the deal followed news of another Labour / Tory alliance in Aberdeen.
The election saw Labour emerge the biggest party on 17 votes with the SNP second on 15. However Labour chose the 3-councillor Tory group over the SNP and will form a precarious administration with the help of 3 independents – the SNP and Lib Dem groups have 20 councillors between them.
Commenting on the announcement, SNP Group Leader Callum McCaig said:
“Following discussions with the Labour Party on working together for the good of the city, the SNP are disappointed that they have chosen to form an administration without us. This is not because it means that we are in opposition, but because it is a missed opportunity for Aberdeen’s two strongest political parties to put their differences aside to deliver for the greater good of the people we represent.
Mr McCaig described negotiations with Labour cordial but superficial and said he did not believe Labour wanted any deal.
“National policy differences were cited as one reason why we could not work together. I firmly believe national politics have no place in our local authorities, and my biggest fear is that Aberdeen City Council will be used as a pawn in Labour’s battle with the Scottish Government.” he said, adding:
“On a personal level, and with the interests of the city in mind, I wish Barney well in his role as council leader. I have no doubts in his abilities, but he will not find it easy leading such a weak administration.”