Aberdeen Town House
It won’t take you long rooting around this blog to discover I have more than a passing interest in the city of Aberdeen (I live there) and in local government (I worked in councils in the North East for many years, although not for Aberdeen council). I also normally steer away from expressing an adverse view about individual pro-GB parties as I want them all – well, the three mainstream ones – to succeed as a counter-weight to the SNP. The suspension of the Labour group in Aberdeen for proposing to enter into a joint administration with the Conservatives and some independents does however call for some comment, as restrained as I can make it.
One. The system of electing Scottish councillors – multi-member wards and the single transferable vote system – makes it the rule rather than the exception that no one political group (I use the word to include independents as well as political parties) will gain a majority of councillors to form an administration. The need to combine forces across group lines is normal.
Two. The history across nearly all Scottish councils for decades has been that virtually any two or more political groups can do deals locally to combine and form an effective administration. Before the May election, for example, there were at least two councils in which Conservatives and SNP councillors served in the same joint administration.
Three. Whatever the deeper philosophical differences, political ideology is less important in local authorities because the powers are different from and less than at the national level. There are no distinctively unionist or nationalist recycling schemes. There may be some jockeying about which flags are flown from which council buildings on which days. But if I were to identify partisanship by many councillors it would be more to do with the desire to direct resources to their own ward or town than anything more fundamental.
Four. Much more than at national level, personalities, local dynamics and people’s instinct to work together (or not) are important in how effective a council is. Most councillors get it, some don’t. It now seems that some national politicians choose not to get it. As well as Labour’s decision on its Aberdeen councillors, Nicola Sturgeon has piled in with a whole series of tweets including ‘…these councillors have used Labour votes to give Aberdeen a Tory council.’ Either her ignorance about how local government works is overwhelming, or she’s playing her usual divisive political game. Or maybe a ‘staffer’ with even less knowledge of the subject is working her account just now.
Five, and my final point, I hate how this approach to politics demonises a whole democratic party (and by implication the people who voted for them) and seeks to put them outside the pale as if they were something they’re not. It says party is more important than the fact we occupy this space (our city, town or country) together and have to make it work for all of us. It’s not a good way to go.
I end with two anecdotes.
First, when I worked for the old Grampian Regional Council there were two dominant politicians on the council – Bob Middleton of Labour and John Porter of the Conservatives, both what I’d call local patriots: they wanted what was best for Grampian. They were very different as individuals and boy, did they know how to be sharp with each other in the council chamber. Each could give as good as they got. But outside, they were nice as pie with each other, and even managed to sustain a personal friendship. Sadly, I suspect that these days at least one of them would be called a quisling or worse, and by members of their own party.
Finally, I switched on Twitter this morning to find a tweet from a former Labour council leader (he may well be its next leader too):
Our national politicians fought the local elections on national issues now they want to fight a national election on local issues.
Wise words. He ended his message with the e-moji that could be a face laughing or crying or both. I know how he feels.