The SNP reacted with fury after Labour councillors yesterday backed a motion put forward by the Tory group and Provost Billy Buchanan to give themselves more seats on Falkirk Council’s executive committee.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson, who represents Falkirk West at Holyrood, last night waded into the row by claiming the “silence” of Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on the matter meant “we can only presume he approves of the Labour/Tory partnership.”
The row echoes a dispute on Aberdeen city council last May which saw then leader Kezia Dugdale suspend the Labour group of councillors after they voted to form a coalition with the Conservatives.
But Labour insisted yesterday’s vote was different as it related to the make-up of a committee, with the SNP remaining in power in Falkirk.
The introduction of proportional representation to council elections in 2007 has meant the majority of Scotland’s 32 councils are run by coalitions, often involving three parties or more.
The Nationalists run a minority administration in what is the country’s fifth largest urban area after winning 12 seats in the 2017 elections, with Labour on nine, the Tories seven and two independents.
SNP group leader Cecil Meiklejohn said the vote meant it was likely a Tory/Labour coalition would soon run the council.
“The people of Falkirk voted for the SNP to lead their council – they put their trust in us to deliver better local services for them and their communities,” she told the Falkirk Herald.
“But Labour and the Tories have arrogantly deigned that they know better. Today’s vote completely undermines the democratic choice of the people of Falkirk and is a shameless and self-serving move to seize control of the council.”
Labour angrily dismissed Nationalist claims that it had “ousted” the sitting administration.
A party spokesman said: “This is desperate stuff from the Nationalists. Only in the fantasy world of the SNP can a party be simultaneously ousted and remain in charge of a council
“Falkirk council is a minority SNP administration. It is false to say that has changed.
“The SNP in Falkirk was happy to work with the Tories to pass its recent budget. The Nationalists remain the largest group on the executive.
“This vote is not in any way an attempt to take control of Falkirk Council and Labour did not seek the support of the Tories
“As far as Labour is concerned there has been no deal and there will be no deal done with the Tories in Falkirk.”
Falkirk Conservative group leader Malcolm Nicol said: “No one part got a majority at Falkirk Council at the last election and some people need a reminder of that. The SNP only got 40 per cent of the seats in the full council, yet it holds 75 per cent of the seats on the executive.”