In the same week as their Holyrood counterparts helped block minimum pricing for alcohol, Labour’s council bloc have caused chaos within local authority umbrella group Cosla by refusing to attend talks with senior Government ministers over next week’s Budget.
When it became clear that a majority of Cosla members were in favour of seeking a deal with the Scottish government, the Labour bloc, led by North Lanarkshire councillor Jim McCabe, decided to boycott the talks and are reportedly refusing to be bound by any agreement.
Cosla’s president, Pat Watters, headed the council delegation to Bute House. The meeting was attended by First Minister Alex Salmond, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, Finance Secretary John Swinney, Education Secretary Michael Russell and other ministers.
There have been fears for weeks that Labour would threaten to disrupt the talks after the party found itself under pressure over its council tax policy. Their leader Iain Gray publicly backed calls for a rise in council taxes only days before a BBC poll revealed little support amongst members of the public for such a move.
A subsequent pledge by the SNP at their conference in Perth to make funds available for a continuation of the freeze brought an angry response from Mr Watters who is also a Labour councillor. It resulted in a letter from Mr Watters to the SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney being leaked to a Scottish newspaper who promptly ran articles based on Mr Watters’ attack.
On the meeting, a Cosla spokesperson said: “It is accurate to say that the Labour group on Cosla were not present at the meeting. Obviously discussions took place at the meeting and there are still further discussions to be had in the next few days.”
With Labour councils apparently isolated and refusing to discuss future funding plans or be bound by any deals there is a real fear that public services could suffer amidst the chaos.
A spokesman for the First Minister said that the situation was entirely a matter for Cosla.