National Labour bosses have put the suspension of nine Aberdeen councillors on further hold – with the group now expected to make a final plea in person to a powerful party committee.
The National Executive Committee’s disputes panel (NEC) met yesterday to decide on the fate of the Aberdeen Nine but have referred it onto the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) which will the final say.
But it is understood that the decision will now be months away.
The members were suspended in the wake of last year’s local government election after forming a power-sharing pact with the Conservatives to run the council.
Scottish Labour handed the decision south and once again it will be given to another Labour party body.
Last night a party spokesman confirmed that the NCC will now consider their party membership – with allies of the nine disappointed that the issue was not thrown out entirely.
Council co-leader and Aberdeen Labour group leader, Jenny Laing, said: “We now look forward to finally being given the opportunity to present our case as we believe we have compelling evidence which proves our administration continues to work with trade unions to actively resist austerity, defend local services from cuts, protect jobs by opposing compulsory redundancies and fights to ensure local government is properly funded.”
In the lead-up to yesterday’s decision, rival petitions were circulated on the issue with one started by north-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald and supported by former councillors and MPs in favour of reinstating the nine while another, calling for their expulsion, was roundly supported by the left of the party.
Former Aberdeen Labour councillor Len Ironside said: “(This is) an absolutely disgraceful way to treat people. Over a year and still no decision on their future.
“The decision on what direction to take is a matter for the locally elected members not party HQs.”
Opposition SNP group leader Stephen Flynn said: “Real socialists that campaign for the many, not the few don’t prop up the Tories and campaign for cuts to public services.
“The whole situation is a complete farce – Labour have passed the buck from SEC to the NEC to the NCC. They’re running out of acronyms – it’s dither, delay and defer at every opportunity.
“Richard Leonard needs to get his house in order and expel these councillors for good – and join growing calls for them to stand down altogether, so the people of Aberdeen can elect the representatives they want and deserve.”
However, a source said last night that the group was considering legal action against party bosses if they are expelled – saying the party rules have not been properly applied.
The long road for the Aberdeen nine
It has been a long journey for the Aberdeen nine – and one few of them would have ever thought they would have to make.
With a collective party membership of more than 250 years, many of the councillors have spent their lives in the Labour movement.
Council co-leader Jenny Laing’s father Jim Lamont was a long-serving Labour MP in Oldham from 1970 to 1992 and then Lord Provost while her mother June was also a city councillor for the party.
Others have also been prominent politicians in the city, Lord Provost Barney Crockett unsuccessfully ran for Aberdeen Donside for Labour in 2011 and Cove councillor Sarah Duncan was an election agent for former Aberdeen South MP Dame Anne Begg.
Last February however, in the midst of a Holyrood election battles, then leader Kezia Dugdale warned them not to reform an alliance with the Conservatives or face discipline.
The party slumped to just nine seats in the council elections and in a dramatic first council meeting managed to form an administration between Labour, Conservative and independent councillors – including a defection from a former Liberal Democrat.
Aberdeen Labour have long said the alliance was simply a continuation of their previous five years, albeit this time with Labour as the junior partner.
However, it has also been argued that the SNP won by far the most seats in the local elections in the city and they should have formed the ruling administration.
More than a year after the nine’s initial suspension the ruling SEC decided to give the final say to UK Labour – with a recommendation that they are expelled.
But in council politics, coalition-building is vital as the STV electoral system almost inevitably leads to no party having an overall majority.
Perhaps the bigger point is that the whole issue has been handed over to national party bosses with little interest or knowledge of the situation in Aberdeen.