Scottish Labour have left the fate of the ‘Aberdeen Nine’ up to members who will vote if they can stand for the party again next year.
A landmark vote by the party’s ruling executive was held behind closed doors more than four years after the nine rebels were frozen out in Aberdeen.
Party leader Anas Sarwar and MP Ian Murray were among the 16 to vote in favour of removing the suspension. Meanwhile, six were against the removal and there were two abstentions.
Unison opposed the removal of the suspension.
A Labour spokesman said: “The Scottish Executive Committee has considered the position of the Aberdeen Labour group and have determined that members in Aberdeen should have the right to decide who their Scottish Labour candidates are for the Council elections next year.
“Our members in Aberdeen will now decide if they are worthy to stand to represent our party.”
A source in the party admitted the move will make “some people really angry”.
Back in 2017 the move was seen as the best way for the party to get its house in order before local government elections next year.
“They’ll have stand for re-selection by putting themselves before local members,” the insider said.
“We have to do it now, or don’t do it at all. We could end up with two Labour parties standing against each other in Aberdeen. That’s not sustainable.”
A report paving the way for reselection, which we have seen in full, was handed to the governing Scottish Executive Committee by new general secretary James Kelly.
He had been among disgruntled MSPs who tried to push former leader Mr Leonard from the top job.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is said to have smoothed the way for the significant change, which had been enforced by predecessors Kezia Dugdale and Richard Leonard.
‘Aberdeen City deserves better’
Aberdeen City Council leader Jenny Laing and the city’s Lord Provost Barney Crockett are among those suspended.
Ms Laing said: “We appreciate how the SEC have considered and arrived at this decision.
“In administration in Aberdeen we have promoted and delivered the Scottish Labour Party policies that we stood for election on.
“It is right that the final decision now belongs to members in Aberdeen.”
Conservative MSP Douglas Lumsden, a former council co-leader, said: “For years now, Labour have treated their Aberdeen councillors horrendously, simply because they kept the SNP out of power.
“Even now, these councillors are still expected to be apologetic for working with a unionist party.”
SNP MSP Jackie Dunbar criticised the move.
“Once again Scottish Labour are open to the idea of handing the keys of power to the Tories on Aberdeen City Council and making the people of the city suffer another toxic coalition.” She said.
She believes that Labour are “keeping the door wide open” to another Tory coalition.
Ms Dunbar said: “Aberdeen City deserves better than a Labour party that will openly back a Tory party that is ignorant to the challenges facing folk in our city – as they plough on cutting universal credit support, hiking national insurance and plunging the north-east into chaos with their Brexit obsession.”
What happened to the Aberdeen Nine?
The saga began in 2017 when Labour councillors in the city decided to form an administration with 11 Conservatives without approval from their executive. It locked the SNP out of power.
As leader at the time, Ms Dugdale gave them an ultimatum to back down – but they refused and were suspended.
Labour’s bosses felt the coalition deal did not provide evidence it would “end austerity”.
The SEC believes that members in Aberdeen should be afforded the opportunity to select from a full range of candidates.”
– Report makes key recommendation
In 2020, the party’s National Constitutional Committee heard the nine councillors’ case. In November the panel found they had breached Labour rules.
The suspension was ordered to carry on until May 2022.
However, according to the new executive report, the move was seen as “factionally motivated” and “unfair”.
The executive committee was asked to note the Aberdeen councillors’ “contrition” and their assurance they will not seek another coalition without approval.
The report added: “The SEC believes that members in Aberdeen should be afforded the opportunity to select from a full range of candidates, including those councillors currently suspended by the Labour Party (subject to any decisions in respect of those suspensions made by the UK Labour Party’s National Executive Committee), in order to give the Scottish Labour Party the best chance of success in next year’s crucial local elections.”