Scottish Labour was plunged into civil war last night after the party suspended its group of councillors in Aberdeen for agreeing to form a coalition with the Conservatives on the city council.
In an open challenge to Kezia Dugdale’s authority as leader, the nine elected representatives ignored warnings from party officials not to proceed with a power-sharing deal with 11 Tories and three independents.
Labour insisted the councillors had broken party rules after a panel from its executive committee took the decision on Tuesday to reject a coalition deal with the Tories.
But that failed to stop a deal being announced on Wednesday morning, with Aberdeen’s Labour group leader Jenny Laing choosing to join forces with Douglas Lumsden, leader of the Conservatives on the local authority.
A deadline of 5pm was imposed for the councillors to withdraw from the deal. Once that deadline passed, the party promptly announced the councillors’ suspension.
The saga overshadowed a speech by Ms Dugdale in Glasgow yesterday in which she said: “Labour values must always run through any deals in local government.
“The hundreds of thousands of Scots who vote for us have the absolute right to expect us to defend local services against cuts and properly fund the services that so many people rely on such as education and care for the elderly.
“Labour cannot do any deal with another party if it would result in further austerity being imposed on local communities.
“Tory austerity risks hurting so many families in Aberdeen, and Labour will simply will not stand for that.”
A Labour Party spokesman said: “A panel of the Scottish Executive Committee of the Labour Party, made up of trade union representatives, local party representatives, affiliated groups and the leadership, took the decision on Tuesday evening to reject a proposed power-sharing deal in Aberdeen with the Conservatives and independent councillors.
“All Labour councillors in Aberdeen were today requested to stand down from the multi-party arrangement, with a deadline of 5pm.
“That deadline has now passed and the party has contacted each councillor to inform them they have been suspended with immediate effect, pending investigation.
“As a result, there are currently no councillors in office in Aberdeen representing Labour.”
Labour decision to suspend the councillors was seized upon by the SNP and described by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as a “total shambles”.
She said: “Suspension doesn’t change fact that these councillors have used Labour votes to give Aberdeen a Tory council.”
Earlier, the SNP leader tweeted: “So it seems Kezia Dugdale is not such an opponent of Tory austerity after all.”
Callum McCaig, SNP candidate for Aberdeen South and former leader of Aberdeen City Council, described the move as “shameful behaviour”.
Mr McCaig said: “They can no longer call themselves a party that supports public services, given this anti-democratic pact with a right-wing Tory party obsessed with austerity and cuts.
“People across Aberdeen and the rest of Scotland now know where Labour’s priorities lie – they put jumping into bed with the Tories ahead of any principle.
“The SNP won this local election in Aberdeen decisively, yet we face being locked out of office by a Labour party that is now committed to cutting public services rather than engaging with our progressive programme to improve people’s lives across Aberdeen.”
Mr Lumsden defended the deal and said the “Unionist coalition” would work for the benefit of the city.
“Aberdeen needs councillors to work together across party lines for the benefit of all who live here,” he said.
“The city has gone through a difficult period due to the downturn in oil and gas and we need stability and strong leadership.
“Crucially, we now have a Unionist coalition that will put the interests of Aberdeen first, not obsess over a second independence referendum. However, the reckless threat of disciplinary action against Aberdeen Labour from Kezia Dugdale today could put that stability at risk.”
The decision to suspend the Aberdeen group will have a knock-on effect across Scotland as other potential council deals are thrown into doubt.
Last night the party’s Scottish Executive Committee rejected a formal request from Labour’s group in West Lothian for a coalition with the Conservatives.
The party is also in discussions to form a minority administration in North Lanarkshire, with the support from the Tories.
The SNP in Falkirk has also claimed the local Labour group ignored its offers of talks to form a possible coalition. The Nationalists will now form a minority administration.
Sarah Duncan, one of the suspended Aberdeen councillors, said there had been “lots of misinformation” regarding the coalition deal.
“We have an agreement to implement all 15 [of our] manifesto pledges,” she tweeted.
“We believe this is best deal for the city. Unlike the SNP we’re willing to put Aberdeen first.”