Pressure has been piled on Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to readmit the exiled Aberdeen Nine to his party – but this time, by the Tories.
Councillor Douglas Lumsden MSP used his maiden speech at Holyrood to blast the “unbelievable” continuing suspension of his administration colleagues.
Aberdeen Labour councillors were excommunicated in 2017 by then-leader Kezia Dugdale for signing up to a coalition with the Conservatives, who were headed up by Mr Lumsden at the time.
And although Mr Sarwar has voiced his respect for his “Labour colleagues” in the Granite City, no action has been taken to welcome them back to the party.
Mr Lumsden, who stepped down as council co-leader the day after he was elected as a North East list MSP, hit out at the stalemate.
He said: “Every day since my arrival I have heard politicians on the Labour benches telling us that they will work with anybody to deliver for the people of Scotland.
“Well, I only hope that Anas Sarwar is as good as his word because I come from Aberdeen and I still represent the UK council of the year for 2020.
“A coalition made up of Conservative and Labour members, a coalition that has put the interests of its people first. I can honestly say that Aberdeen City Council has worked tirelessly on its economic recovery for the city following Covid-19, by working with its people, its businesses and its communities.
“I find it unbelievable that the Labour council leader in Aberdeen, Jenny Laing, is still suspended by the Labour party despite winning local councillor of the year, not once but twice in 2017 and 2020.
“So it is no wonder we Tories are ahead of Labour in all three Aberdeen constituencies given the refusal to acknowledge their own talent because they dared to work with the Conservatives to deliver for the people in Aberdeen.”
As it stands, the so-called Aberdeen Nine – including award-winning council leader Jenny Laing and Lord Provost Barney Crockett – will remain suspended until after next year’s local election.
That would mean they could not stand as Scottish Labour candidates for re-election.
More than three years after their initial suspension, the UK Labour Party’s national constitutional committee last October ruled the group would remain suspended until May 1, 2022.
The 2017 power sharing agreement was a renewal of an agreement reached in 2012, when the first Labour-led coalition with the Tories and independents was formed.
Encouraging signs for the Aberdeen Nine on party future
However, Scottish leader Anas Sarwar has been very supportive of their cause since taking the top job.
He said: “I will be here with all our Labour candidates to make sure we return Labour councillors and – I hope – a Labour council.
“We will have to wait and see if that includes the nine councillors, obviously there is a process they have gone through.
“That will continue but I say clearly these are Labour councillors, delivering a Labour programme and manifesto and talking about the issues that matter to the people of Aberdeen.”
SNP: Tory support should be ’embarrassing’ for Labour
But Mr Lumsden’s support for the Aberdeen Labour cause was leapt upon by supporters of independence – who drew comparisons with the joint effort in support of the union in the 2014 independence referendum.
Councillor Jackie Dunbar, herself a new MSP for the SNP in Aberdeen Donside, said: “The Tories will stop at nothing to try to get the Better Together band back together.
“We saw it during the election campaign when they begged for a pact with Labour and their desperation continues on Aberdeen City Council.
“It is embarrassing for Labour that Douglas Lumsden is now batting for them, but it serves as a reminder that Labour would enter another toxic coalition with the Tories, betraying the people of Scotland by standing side-by-side with the party of devastating austerity.”