Out in the cold

THE Liberal Democrats and the SNP are to join forces to take over the running of the city council - thanks to the Tories. Conservative councillors have pledged to effectively support a coalition which freezes Labour out of power for the first time in 23 years.

They have promised not to oppose the appointment of a Lib Dem Provost, who will hold the delicate balance of power in the City Chambers, next Thursday.

But the Tories will not be part of the coalition, which will have just 29 councillors - exactly half of those elected last week.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The deal means the Lib Dem and SNP administration will have to rely on the Lord Provost's casting vote if opposition parties join forces. And the new alliance faces defeat if any councillors miss meetings or jump ship.

However Lib Dem leader Jenny Dawe said today that her group would have been letting the people of Edinburgh down by doing a deal with Labour.

The coalition, expected to be formally signed this afternoon, will contain an agreement that they will take different positions on the tram scheme.

Councillor Dawe said: "Within the group it was felt we would have had great difficulty defending going into a coalition with Labour, both to our supporters but also to the general public, even though there is a lot in common in our manifestos.

"There is no doubt it is the beginning of a new era in the city."

Labour group leader Ewan Aitken said the coalition was a recipe for unstable government and accused the Lib Dems of abandoning trams.

He said: "It's going to be a huge problem for them relying on the casting vote of the Lord Provost at every meeting."

Councillor Dawe rejected suggestions the coalition was the "death-knell" for trams and said her party was 100 per cent committed to the scheme. The SNP is also committed to scrapping the rail link between the city centre and Edinburgh Airport.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Huge doubt now hangs over the council's plans to sell off Meadowbank Sports Centre to help pay for a revamp of the Royal Commonwealth Pool and a new athletics and rugby arena at Sighthill.

And insiders say the Caltongate development now faces a struggle to secure planning permission because the controversial scheme was so closely linked to the previous Labour administration.

The immediate priority for the new council will be to scrap the cabinet-style executive Labour introduced seven years ago and bring back the old committee system.

Key issues for the two parties will be improving the Capital's economy, tackling climate change and improving sustainability, delivering major infrastructure projects in the city, and boosting the city's festivals, events and cultural venues.

A largely unwanted Lib Dem alliance with Labour was looking increasingly likely after last week's results, which saw the former secure 17 seats, Labour 15, the SNP 12, the Tories 11 and the Greens three.

Several days of stalemate ensued as Lib Dem councillors, particularly those newly-elected, made clear their opposition to helping Labour retain its grip on power.

Cllr Dawe, one of her group's strongest supporters of an alliance with Labour, had warned colleagues of the risks involved in going ahead without the backing of the Greens. The three Green councillors decided after several days to remain in opposition, forcing the Lib Dems to come to a crunch decision.

The SNP nationally is opposed to any coalitions with the Tories but next week's deal with group leader Iain Whyte is being billed as an "agreement".

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It is a personal triumph for SNP group leader Steve Cardownie, a former senior Labour councillor.

He conceded ground to the Lib Dems by accepting they could retain the position of Lord Provost, although he is to become deputy council leader.

The Lord Provost will be decided on, along with other significant posts, at a Lib Dem group meeting on Tuesday. The SNP is expected to secure the Deputy Lord Provost position as well as three other senior posts.

Cllr Dawe said: "There is no doubt it is a very tight situation and is not ideal. There are certainly risks attached because of the numbers involved.

"We had some very fruitful meetings with Labour councillors and I had no doubt at all I could have worked with Ewan Aitken.

"However, we strongly feel that the council has been seen recently as remote and unapproachable by the people of Edinburgh. We feel the electorate firmly rejected Labour last week and on that basis it would have been wrong for us to go into a coalition with them."

Cllr Dawe said the Lib Dems and the SNP had agreed to exempt the trams scheme from their manifesto agreement. She added: "I don't accept at all that we are putting the scheme in doubt. All the other parties on are fully behind the tram scheme. There shouldn't be a problem with any further decisions going through the council, unless any of the other groups perform a massive U-turn."

Councillor Cardownie said: "We're absolutely delighted with the deal, which will see the new council administration adopt a number of our key policies.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"There is no doubt at all that the people of Edinburgh voted for change and voted Labour out of office.

"I'm not sure it was essential for the Tories to agree to support the creation of the new administration, but it's a belt and braces job to make sure there are no problems. On the trams, we have not agreed to soften our stance, and our continued opposition will be made clear."

Councillor Aitken said: "A Lib Dem-Labour coalition would have offered Edinburgh the stable pro-tram government that it requires in order to build on the gains of the last 20 years.

"A coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP is built on the casting vote of the Lord Provost unless the Tories sit on their hands for four years. The tram scheme is fundamental to the future of the city and both the Lib Dems and the SNP campaigned on completely different viewpoints."

Councillor Whyte said the Tories had been unable to form an alliance with the Lib Dems because of the Greens' refusal to enter into a coalition.

He added: "We could have formed an administration with the Lib Dems had the Greens not decided to be a fringe pressure group instead of a grown-up political group. We decided to ensure that Labour were kept out of power but we have obviously retained our right to vote on issues as we see fit."

Cllr Whyte is expected to be offered the key post of convener of Lothian and Borders Police Board as part of the deal he has hatched with the Lib Dems. But he insisted there had been no promises made against forming an alliance with Labour and the Greens to threaten the administration.

The Greens said they were "seriously disappointed" that a deal had been done behind their backs and insisted they had been keen to form a coalition.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Councillor Maggie Chapman said: "This 'unholy alliance' of Tories, Nationalists and Liberal Democrats will need rigorous and responsible opposition over the next four years. It now appears we will form part of that opposition."