Labour officials at Glasgow Council have come under fire after breaking the law by using a magazine funded by council taxpayers in order to mount a political attack on the Scottish government.
Council officials were forced to withdraw thousands of copies of the Glasgow Magazine after an article written by the chief of the ruling Labour group, Gordon Matheson, attacked the SNP.
The magazine is published six times a year and is delivered to 300,000 households at a cost of £42,000. Some copies of the latest issue had already been delivered before the article was noticed.
Using taxpayer’s money for party political purposes is an offence under section two of the Local Government Act 1986 act which states: “A local authority shall not publish any material which … appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.”
In addition, the Code of Practice states that “between the time of publication of a notice of an election and polling day publicity should not be issued which deals with controversial issues or which reports views of polcies in a way which identifies them with individual members or groups of members.”
The article was published despite a letter from the council lawyer giving guidance on political activity being sent to all elected members, including Mr Matheson, and warning that the magazine is covered by the restrictions.
In the article Matheson, who replaced disgraced former leader Stephen Purcell as head of the local authority, accused the SNP’s Finance secretary John Swinney of threatening to withhold council funding unless the council agreed to an agreement that would help the SNP gain votes.
The Labour leader also accused the SNP Minister of breaking his promise and being responsible for cuts “forcing us to find millions in additional savings this year.”
Matheson’s article resulted in a legal letter of complaint to the Labour runlocal authority. SNP group leader James Dornan described the use of the magazine as “blatant political abuse of a council publication”.
SNP Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon attacked Labour for wasting money that could have been spent on public services.
Ms Sturgeon, who is the candidate for Glasgow Southside, said: “Glasgow Labour broke the law and they know it. They have been caught red-handed using taxpayers money for party political propaganda. This publication is an abuse of public money by Labour in Glasgow City Council.
“A local authority that has found money to play politics in direct contravention of its legal duty to be impartial, whilst cutting teachers and public services is a disgrace.
“By withdrawing the magazine Glasgow’s Labour council is accepting it was not just out of line, it was against the law. For too long Glasgow Labour have been allowed to waste council taxpayers’ money through the city council on playing party politics.”
A council spokesman said: “Without accepting we have done anything wrong, we understand the SNP is uncomfortable with this. We have therefore asked the Royal Mail to suspend delivery and agreed not to put the magazine online.”
In August last year Gordon Matheson called for an end to the SNP’s council tax freeze arguing that it would lead to “brutal cuts”. Mr Matheson labelled the freeze “unsustainable” and said that removing the option to increase the tax could cost 200 teachers.
Earlier this month, after four years of opposing the freeze, Labour’s Iain Gray performed a U-turn on the issue. Mr Matheson has yet to confirm if he still holds the views he held last year.