Budget last stand for Glasgow Labour's legendary tribalism
Stuart Clay is Green councillor for Partick West.
Glasgow Labour is having a bit of a hard time of it right now. Their still relatively new Council Leader isn’t particularly inspiring, London Labour came along last year and de-selected half their councillors, and then some of their local parties did so as well. The 2012 budget meeting seemed like a better time than any for some of the deselected councillors to really let Glasgow Labour know exactly how they feel about the situation.
First, there was a defection to the SNP by Cllr Irfan Rabbani. Then early on Thursday three councillors (Cllr Stephen Doran, Cllr Andy Muir and Cllr Anne Marie Miller) resigned, and a number of others had given hints that they would do likewise: Cllr Tommy Morrision was quoted saying he’d walk into the meeting as a Labour Party member, but wouldn’t be leaving the meeting as one.
Now, in a normal budget situation, this shouldn’t have troubled the ruling administration. Losing a couple of Councillors would be an annoyance, but because the budget process at the City Chambers is designed so that each political group produces its own budget and they are all presented at the same time at the budget meeting (meaning there is no time for scrutiny of each others budgets, and no time to think about whose proposals we might want to vote for), it means that SNP vote for the SNP budget, the Lib Dems vote for the Lib Dem budget, the Greens vote for the Green Budget etc. So, even if the Administration didn’t have an overall majority they would, in normal circumstances, win the vote.
At every budget meeting for my 5 years of being a Councillor, the Treasurer has always said they were willing to listen to other parties ideas, and engage with them more in the budget, yet when it comes down to the actual process, nothing ever changes.
But, seeing how the 2012 Glasgow City Council budget was already looking like it would be interesting following the above mentioned resignations, the opposition parties thought it would be worth taking matters in to their own hands, go against the usual budget process, and had negotiations on how to combine their budgets. Again, I stress that this is something Labour had been promising us for 5 years and never delivered.
And so a Combined Budget, with support from all opposition parties and a number of Labour rebels was produced. From a Green perspective, we had done well out of the negotiations. Highlights for us were:
— A solar panel scheme, which would raise £167,000 per annum for the Council and also kick start other renewable energy projects.
— Cutting the Air Development Fund by 50%
— Increasing car parking charges by 10%
— A reduction of 50% on the planned ‘saving’ from HR Terms and Conditions (Unions take note: Labour will plan to save £5m from this, we negotiated £2.5m in the combined budget)
— Enhanced recycling services, with an increase in blue recycling bin provision.
To me, the crucial moment in all of the Budget Meeting was the adjournment for an hour to study the combined budget; this was moved by Glasgow Labour, and the motion was passed by 38 votes to 36. This gave the administration time to ferry in more bodies, and put major pressure on Glasgow Labour members thinking of voting against the budget, and it was a tactic that worked, as they won the final vote 40-38.
Now, clearly there was a bit of tactical party manoeuvring here: the opposition knew they couldn’t reveal the budget earlier if they wanted to win, because Glasgow Labour would know that it was coming so make sure they had whipped all their potential rebels, while the adjournment was a counter tactic to give the administration just enough time to do exactly that. If the adjournment motion had fallen, the Combined Budget would have won the vote. Dramatic stuff, eh?
After the final vote, Cllr Matheson described the Combined Budget as a “shoddy deal between the Tories and the SNP”. For a short statement there are an amazing number of factual inaccuracies. Firstly, there are not Tories on Glasgow City Council, there is a Tory, David Meikle of Pollokshields. Secondly, the Tory didn’t really get any of his initial budget into the Combined one, because he withdrew his in support of the SNP’s budget. Thirdly, the Scottish Greens, the Lib Dems and Labour (and ex Labour) members were involved in the process. Fourthly, to describe pluralism in politics as a “shoddy deal” just illustrates the tribalistic instincts of Glasgow Labour.
As mentioned previously, Glasgow Labour have had plenty of chances to reform how the budget process works, but they simply refuse to do so. There could have been an all party discussion on the budget, we could have all come together to talk about it (or at least seen what was proposed and discussed amendments), but as every opposition councillor will tell you, there is absolutely no point in trying to negotiate with Glasgow Labour – you always feel they’re trying to get one up on you, or trying to force you into a position that suits them, not you. With every other political party The Scottish Greens have worked with in Glasgow, there has always been a feeling of honesty, respect and being treated as equals. Now, people may say that Glasgow Labour’s stance is just politics, but it’s a politics of bullying, and to be honest if people just sat around a table and discussed things (like the Combined Budget) rather than trying to get one over each other, I think it would lead to much more sensible decisions and processes.
But Glasgow Labour doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks, they don’t care that you have good ideas that could help benefit Glasgow’s citizens, they don’t care what its union members are saying to them, all Glasgow Labour seem to care about is winning! YEAH! And going by Cllr Matheson’s interview after the budget meeting, this would appear to be true: it was more “GIRFUY losers!” than “that was tough be we managed to pull through.” Football fan after a victory rather than Leader of Scotland’s Largest Local Authority.
Anyway, to sum up, the budget scenes on Thursday were born out of a flawed process, that the opposition parties (finally) decided to take action against, and a depleted, defensive administration used to having its own way and never feeling the need to be involved in negotiations with other parties. The problem is, after May, they are probably going to have to if they want to retain power, all the other parties have shown they can do this. If there is to be a coalition after the local elections, there needs to be trust built into that relationship, and I think I can speak for most opposition councillors when I say we just don’t trust Glasgow Labour to show us any respect.
The budget meeting was Pluralism vs Tribalism, and tribalism won out in the end. To me, that is rather depressing.
N.B. You’ll notice that I’ve been referring to Glasgow Labour in this blogpost- I want to stress that this is because Glasgow Labour are the only Labour Party branch I have had dealings with. I understand in Edinburgh City Council, the Edinburgh Labour Party have been calling for a more transparent and pluralistic budget setting process, along with the Edinburgh Greens.