THE SNP’s deputy leader said Glasgow needs rescuing from a “crumbling” Labour Party that is losing control of Scotland’s largest local authority, as the gloves came off ahead of May’s local elections.
Nicola Sturgeon told delegates at the SNP spring conference that the party could seize control of the city, where Labour is “discredited” and “losing councillors hand over fist”.
Her rallying call prompted a furious response from Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson, who accused the Deputy First Minister of “gutter politics”.
Sturgeon said the SNP had enjoyed a “historic victory” in Glasgow last year, when voters in the city returned seven Nationalist MSPs to Holyrood.
And Glasgow City Council will be a key battleground for both the SNP and Labour in the council elections on 3 May. Sturgeon said the party could enjoy “another important electoral breakthrough” then.
She told the conference in Glasgow: “These are exciting times for Scotland and for this city. Even people who aren’t usually that interested in politics will ask me if the SNP really can win the local elections here in Glasgow.
“Well let me give you the answer – the answer is yes we can.”
She added: “We are not like Labour, we take nothing for granted, we will work hard for every vote.
“The people who will decide the election here in Glasgow and in every part of Scotland are the voters.
“But we face here a Labour Party that is crumbling before our eyes, a Labour Party that is discredited, that is losing councillors hand over fist.
“We are working hard in Glasgow and we are working hard right across our country. We are fighting hard to win the local elections in every single part of Scotland.”
SNP group leader at Glasgow City Council, councillor Allison Hunter, told delegates that the finishing touches would be put on the SNP manifesto for Glasgow in the next week.
She said it would contain “common sense proposals”, and not “unrealistic, unfunded and unachievable pledges like Labour’s”.
She said: “Everyone knows that Glasgow has its problems. I am not going to make any false promises about what an SNP administration can achieve.
“We don’t have a magic wand that can magic away all Glasgow’s problems with one stroke, but I promise you this: there is absolutely no chance of an SNP administration becoming complacent and comfortable while these problems continue to exist.
“We will use every power at our disposal and every tool available to us to help create a fairer and more prosperous future for the people of this city.”
She added: “The statistics [on infant mortality, poor health and high unemployment] are a badge of shame for the Labour party which has presided over this city for the last five decades.”
James Dornan, a former leader of the SNP group in Glasgow City Council, and MSP for Glasgow Cathcart constituency, told delegates he had uncovered “shady deals getting done with businessmen and people of ill-repute” when he was elected as a councillor in the city in 2007.
Referring to Labour politician Steven Purcell, the former leader of Glasgow City Council, who stood down in March 2010 amid allegations of drug-taking and inappropriate associations, he said: “Steven Purcell was [Labour’s] rock and when that rock was removed, lots of creepy crawly things came from underneath it.”
He added: “We will be a tremendous force for good. There will be an openness and transparency amongst Glasgow City Council that they will not recognise, and I have to tell you, that frightens the life out of them.”
In response, Gordon Matheson accused the SNP of negative campaigning.
He said: “I welcome anyone visiting Glasgow, including those at the SNP conference, but am bitterly disappointed they have chosen to start with such negative and false attacks on the city.
“It is gutter politics, and their slurs will backfire on them.
“We face great challenges in Glasgow but our city is moving in the right direction and folk don’t warm to those who come here to talk our city down.
“The fact the SNP have chosen to go negative so early in this campaign is telling, but they have done it in a way that will offend a lot of Glaswegians.”
The SNP is fielding 600 candidates, an increase of around 150 on the last local authority elections in 2007. The party has said that membership has grown by 2400 since the new year, an increase of 12 per cent.
In recent weeks six Labour councillors who had been de-selected by the party before May’s vote joined the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in an effort to torpedo the Labour administration’s budget.
The SNP has already revealed it will also target the Northern Isles in the local authority elections in an attempt to secure its first councillors on Shetland and Orkney.
The Nationalists have also increased the number of candidates the party will field in other key areas, such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Council elections, unlike last May’s Holyrood elections, use the single transferable vote system and multi-member wards, making it difficult for any single party to win an overall majority.