Winds of change sweep Scots town halls

THE Nationalist wind of change which swept Alex Salmond into power at Holyrood was last night blowing through council chambers all over Scotland.

After a day of council meetings across the country, by last night it emerged that the Scottish National Party is now in a position of power in 11 out of the 20 councils that have established ruling administrations.

In contrast to the position at Holyrood, where the Liberal Democrats refused to speak to the SNP about a coalition, the two parties have come to agreements in six Scottish councils so far.

Steve Cardownie, the SNP deputy leader of Edinburgh City Council, where the Nationalists are in coalition with the Lib Dems, said their agreement sent a message to the Scottish Parliament.

He said: "There is a different situation at Holyrood. Local authorities cannot hold a referendum on independence.

"But I hope that the Liberal Democrats at Holyrood see that their colleagues in local government are prepared to work with the SNP for the benefit of their communities and even now reconsider their position.

"If the Nationalists - who oppose Edinburgh's tram scheme - and the Lib Dems - who are in favour - can find a way of doing a deal in the city, then why can't the two parties do the same at Holyrood?

"The Scottish people would expect them to do that. If it can be done in local authorities, it can be done at Holyrood. Where there is a will, there is a way."

The SNP nationally took a more cautious position, preferring not to draw comparisons between town halls and city chambers and Holyrood.

However, the party was confident that when all 32 local authorities agreed leaders and provosts, it would have power in more councils than Labour.

The stark change in the political landscape can be seen by the decline in Labour's fortunes and the increase in the SNP's representation, aided by the new single transferable voting (STV) system for councils.

In the first election for the new unitary authorities set up in 1995, Labour won 20 councils to the SNP's three, with six run by independents and three under no overall control. Today, Labour is in overall control in just two councils - Glasgow and North Lanarkshire - and controls the administration in just two more, Midlothian and North Ayrshire.

In contrast, over just two elections the SNP, which ran or shared power in four councils in 1999, now has power in at least 11 across Scotland.

Yesterday, Argyll and Bute was among several councils to see Nationalists take power.

Robert Macintrye, a Nationalist councillor, was elected as depute leader with an independent, Dick Walsh, becoming leader.

In Highland Council, independents who were previously in control are now sharing power with Nationalists.

On Wednesday, the once impenetrable Labour stronghold of Fife, was taken over by an SNP/Lib Dem coalition.

As well as Fife Council and Edinburgh City Council, there are also Nationalists and Lib Dems in power in East Lothian, Aberdeen, Perth and Kinross and Renfewshire.

Last night, a spokesman for the SNP refused to comment on the parallels between council chambers and Holyrood.

He said: "We are delighted to have emerged as the largest party in terms of councillors in local authorities across Scotland.

"We have made significant inroads all across Scotland and are playing our part in administration in many local areas.

"While the parliamentary election was a hugely significant event in Scotland's political development, the local authority elections have been just as significant in terms of ending Labour hegemony and establishing the SNP as a major force in local politics."

Robert Brown, the MSP and policy convener of the Scottish Lib Dems, said: "Unlike some other parties, Liberal Democrats trust our council groups to make the most appropriate decision for their communities without interference from the centre.

"It should also be remembered that no SNP council group was proposing to hold a referendum to declare independence from Scotland."

In the elections earlier this month, the SNP won 363 council seats, up 182 on 2003, and Labour won 348 seats, down 161.

Independents suffered from the new electoral system, going down by 39 to 192, the Lib Dems took 166, down nine and the Tories staged a mini-revival, taking 20 more seats, lifting their tally to 143.

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