Can Scottish Labour hold onto any councils at local elections?

Glasgow is once again the main battleground in the local elections. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
Glasgow is once again the main battleground in the local elections. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
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Scotland’s local elections are looming, and like the last two elections held across the country, polls show that the outlook is grim for Labour.

A recent poll by Panelbase showed that just 14% of Scots intend to give their first preference vote to Kezia Dugdale’s party.

That’s 12 points behind the Conservatives, and a staggering 33 points behind the SNP. At the last council elections, in 2012, Labour were less than 1% behind the SNP in terms of national first preference votes.

The once dominant Scottish Labour are still in power (either outright or as part of a power-sharing arrangement) in half of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

With these headline numbers in mind, we took a look at each area Labour is still in outright control, and assess their chances of holding on.


The Holy Grail of Scottish local government. Whoever wins the most seats on Glasgow City council gets control of a budget upwards of £2 billion pounds, and control of Scotland’s biggest city.

It was a turn up for the books when Labour were able to extend their 40-plus year grip on Glasgow at the election of 2012.

Alex Salmond, then First Minister, had made a number of confident predictions that his party would finally win control of the city, but Labour managed to win 44 out of the 80 available seats.

But this time, the SNP pincer movement is even more pronounced, with their grip on Glasgow politics only tightening since five years ago.

Every single one of Glasgow’s MPs and constituency MSPs are representatives of Nicola Sturgeon’s party, and all but the most bullish of local Labour activists concede they are facing an uphill battle to retain control in the famous building on George Square.


Just down the road from Scotland’s biggest city, the council area of Renfrewshire takes in places like Paisley and Johnstone.

Another former Labour stronghold that long-term trends showed was slipping away from the party, Labour won a majority of the seats here in 2012.

Labour could be affected by the loss of leader Mark MacMillan, who was viewed even by his political foes as a hard politician to beat.

MacMillan pushed through the plans to bid for the UK City of Culture in 2021, and set out the council’s support for a new rail link to Glasgow Airport.

With some of the SNP’s highest profile councillors often making headlines for all the wrong reasons (three of their number were criticised after publicly burning the Smith Commission report) Labour still have reasons to be cheerful here, despite their poor national poll numbers.

West Dunbartonshire

In 2012, this west coast enclave gave Labour one of their biggest victories of the night. The party won double the seats of their nearest rivals, wresting back control from an SNP-led coalition.

A lot has changed, of course, since that election five years ago. West Dunbartonshire was one of four council areas to vote Yes in the independence referendum of 2014.

Despite that, however, Labour stunned many observers in May last year by retaining control of one of the two Scottish Parliament seats that cover the council area.

Jackie Baillie’s 100-vote win over the SNP was a major shock in the Holyrood election, but conventional wisdom is that result had more to do with her backing of the Trident nuclear weapons system based at Faslane.

With that naval base part of the Argyll and Bute constituency, the nuclear issue is much less likely to feature in May’s election.

But with a lot of ground to cover since 2012, the SNP will know it will take a very effective local campaign to win back control of this council.

South Lanarkshire

It took a 2013 by-election victory for Labour to take control of this sprawling council area, which runs from Clydesdale to Hamilton.

A recent by-election has given the SNP a boost, and they have slowly but surely become the dominant force in the area at the Scottish Parliament.

Labour are still in control, for now, but the results of the 2015 and 2016 elections might need them relying on transfers from other parties to get close to their current level of councillors.

The SNP in the area are more and more confident of taking control, at the very least as part of a coalition, after May’s elections.