LABOUR was last night hoping to form a minority administration in Edinburgh as part of its strategy to tighten its grip on three out of four of Scotland’s major cities.
With control over Glasgow already ensured after last week’s local elections, Labour was locked in talks with the other parties in Edinburgh and Aberdeen as its negotiators attempted to capitalise on a result that put the brakes on the SNP bandwagon.
Yesterday the Labour group leader on Edinburgh City Council, Cllr Andrew Burns, revealed that his preference would be to lead a minority administration after his party emerged as the largest in the capital.
Labour and the SNP profited from the collapse of the Lib Dems, who led a ruling coalition with the SNP in the last administration.
At the polls the Lib Dems bore the brunt of the public’s anger over the city’s disastrous trams project.
During the last term, the Lib Dems and the SNP ruled a finely balanced council using the casting vote of the Lib Dem Lord Provost George Grubb.
Yesterday, Burns said he wanted to lead a council that did not suffer from the “indecision” that had marked the past five years.
When asked what his preferred method of leading the council would be, Burns said: “It is likely to be a minority or a rainbow arrangement, but I am not ruling out a coalition.”
He added: “There is a myriad of possibilities when you look at the numbers. We are going to take a bit of time over it to make sure that we get it right and don’t end up with the indecision that we have had over the last five years. What we arrive at has got to be clear, precise and deliverable.”
Burns’s hope of leading a minority administration that could reach agreement with rival parties on an issue-by-issue basis has been encouraged by analysis of the manifestos produced by Labour, SNP, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and the Greens, who with six councillors are likely to play a prominent role in negotiations.
“The council officers have done an analysis of the five party manifestos and shock … horror … amazement was that there was complete and total agreement on 75 per cent of the manifesto content across all five parties,” Burns said. With all the parties indicating that they are prepared to talk, there is also the intriguing possibility of a Labour/Tory coalition – the only combination of two parties that would secure an outright majority.
Labour gained five members to return 20 councillors. The SNP also gained five to return 18 members. The Tories returned 11 councillors, the Greens six and the Lib Dems three, a fall from 16.
Yesterday Conservative sources indicated that they would be prepared to set aside their political differences with Labour in the interests of providing stable local government.
Labour was also working hard to secure its new power-base in Aberdeen City Council having returned 17 councillors (a gain of nine seats) to overtake the SNP on 15.
Both Labour and the SNP were engaged in talks with the five-strong Lib Dem group yesterday in a bid to form a coalition. If Labour succeeds in leading in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, it will have control of three of Scotland’s four largest cities.
An arrangement that saw Labour and the Lib Dems would enjoy an outright majority. If the SNP were to succeed in wooing the Lib Dems there were also have to secure support from the local authority’s three independents to get a majority.
One possibility that is being actively examined by Labour is to join with the three independents, all of whom are rated by the party, to form a minority administration made up of 20 councillors – shy of the magic 22 required for a majority in the 43-strong council chamber.
There was, however, recognition that a more stable arrangement would be a deal with the Lib Dems, who have been in power for two terms, first in coalition with the Tories and latterly with the SNP.
“That would be a cleaner deal, giving us the desired number,” said a Labour source.
“But they have lost a number of colleagues and I wonder if they are feeling bruised by that experience. They might think it is time for a rest.”
The free-spirited nature of the five Lib Dems who survived a disastrous result, which saw the party lose six seats, is sewing seeds of doubt amongst Labour politicians.
The Labour source added: “They would be a difficult bunch to herd. I don’t know that would work.”
In Aberdeen City, there is little chance of Labour doing a deal with the SNP. But that was not the case elsewhere in the country, where there exists the possibility of such an unholy alliance.
With the electoral system ensuring that the vast majority of councils are hung, talks began yesterday across the country.
In East Renfrewshire, the Labour leader Jim Fletcher said it was a “possibility” that the party partnership forged with the SNP in 2007 would be resurrected.
Last night the SNP was set to become the first party to strike a deal. Eighty-four years of Labour domination in Midlothian was on the verge of being ended with independent Peter de Vink, an Edinburgh financier, indicating he was prepared to enter a formal coalition with the eight Nationalist councillors.