Battle lines drawn in Scottish Labour and Aberdeen councillor’s civil war

Council leader Jenny Laing with Labour leader Kezia Dugdale campaigning in April
Council leader Jenny Laing with Labour leader Kezia Dugdale campaigning in April

Battle lines have been drawn in the ongoing civil war between Scottish Labour and the rebel group of nine Aberdeen councillors dramatically suspended from the party this week.

The city’s Labour group formed a coalition with the Conservatives to seize power at Marischal College and continue the alliance that has been in place since 2012.

But this was against direct orders from party bosses in Glasgow – who warned that they would face disciplinary action if they formed the pact with their main rivals so close to the June election.

The heavyweight Scottish Executive Committee (SEC) of the party talked late into the night ahead of the crunch meeting on Wednesday where the key positions of the Aberdeen administration were to be appointed.

The SEC, which used to include former city finance convener Willie Young, ruled that Aberdeen Labour could not join the pact as the Tories were “pro-austerity” but the local party ignored orders and were suspended from the party.

Today, Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and group leader of suspended councillors Jenny Laing have written for the Press and Journal explaining their decisions.

Ms Dugdale insists that the pact did “not pass the test” and justified her actions.

Meanwhile Mrs Laing, said she felt she had to continue the previous administration and “put the city ahead of party politics”.

A majority administration of 23 councillors was formed on Wednesday following the formal agreement between the 11 Conservatives, nine Labour and three independents, meaning Mrs Laing was re-elected as council leader.

Separately, SNP group leader Stephen Flynn last night called for all nine of the suspended councillors to resign their seat and fight for them again – as well as former Liberal Democrat Jennifer Stewart who dramatically crossed the chamber to join the independents on Wednesday.

He said: “I think that all the former Labour members of the council have betrayed their voters and allowed themselves to be bought for Tory gold.

“They were elected as Labour councillors and are now no longer, they must resign their seats and let the people choose whether to re-endorse them.

“The public delivered 19 SNP councillors, a historic result for any party in Aberdeen, and now we are being denied power so that Labour can line their pockets and pick key positions in the council.”

But the rebels have won backing from former heavyweight Len Ironside who was the Aberdeen Labour group leader from 1999 until 2009. He did not seek re-election this year after fighting nine successful campaigns.

He said: “When I was campaigning during the recent council election I heard two things on the doorsteps – first that the people were tired of party politics running local government and secondly that parties should work together for the benefit of the city.

“Under the Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive the single transferable vote (STV) system was brought in so that coalitions could be formed between those with different opinions.

“After the election, 45 councillors were elected and 23 of them have decided to form an administration for the benefit of the citizens of Aberdeen.

“I in my time as a councillor have had to form alliances with various groups to help provide stability to the city.

“It is what local politics on a council level should be about.”

When quizzed on whether Ms Dugdale should lift their suspension, he said: “That’s something that they will have to discuss.”

Conservative group leader Douglas Lumsden said the new administration would “build on the great work of the last” and said the row was a “distraction”.

He said: “We need a strong administration in Aberdeen to provide leadership at a time when the city is emerging from a very difficult period due to the downturn in oil and gas.

“We have a cross party group ready to work together for the good of the city.

“The distraction of the last 24 hours has not been helpful, but we are determined to do what is best for Aberdeen.

“We plan to build on the great work of the last administration, which has delivered major infrastructure improvements such as the Third Don Crossing and taken innovative steps to raise money at a time when the SNP government is cutting our budget.”

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