Hot on the heels of dissent in the ranks of the SNP come tales of woe from within the ruling Labour party in the City of Glasgow.
There’s a lot at stake. A resurgent SNP has taken the prized political scalp of the City Council as its number one target in next year’s local government elections. It signalled the seriousness of its attempt by appointing Cllr Alison Hunter as the opposition group leader after James Dornan won election to the Scottish Parliament in May.
Yet, there are internal problems over the campaign strategy, essentially over the number of candidates to field. One group advocates a 40 candidate approach while, it has been rumoured, a group backed by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Depute First Minister (from whose constituency Cllr Hunter hales), want more candidates to stand. It has resulted in bad tempered city association meetings and resignations. For what it’s worth, the Burd reckons the latter strategy – of more than 40 candidates – is the right one. In some wards, a carefully targeted 1 – 2 voting scheme could pay dividends. Labour has managed to get more than one candidate from wards elected in the past. But the way the party is behaving it will be lucky to win any wards at all.
The party is undergoing a purge, removing dead wood in the form of sitting councillors to make way for fresh faces. But newspaper reports suggest the scale of the scalping is causing deep divisions with some who have been dumped threatening court action over claims of procedures not being followed properly. And worst of all, the party might find itself embroiled in financial irregularities with allegations against former Shettleston MSP Frank MacAveety, hoping to return to active politics as an elected member, currently being investigated by police. It might come to nought, but the publicity will be damaging to a party already in the doldrums and still recovering from the resignation of its energetic reformist council leader, Stephen Purcell.
God help Glasgow. For in amongst this morass, the city faces huge economic and social challenges. Even during the boom years, Glasgow featured in all the “worst of” rankings. Lower life expectancy, high levels of poverty, long term economic inactivity, huge social dislocation – these are Glasgow norms. And things are about to get worse. The city council’s budget will be hit hard by cuts coming downstream from Westminster via Holyrood. Services are bound to be affected. And measures like changes to benefits through the welfare reform bill will cause unprecendented strain on families and individuals. If folk who have not worked in 20 years are thrown off the new universal credit after 12 months, where will they turn to prevent themselves and their families becoming destitute and homeless?
The ropey economic recovery will also require careful stewardship to ensure that Glasgow, with its lower skill base and more fragile base, is not impacted disproportionately. Investment means new jobs are still being created but it is hard to tell if it amounts to growth or simply displacement. And in amongst it all is the prospect of the city showpiece of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Glasgow has a chance to shine on the global stage and the city has to be ready for its big moment.
At a time when the city needs strong and energetic leadership, the two biggest parties, vying for the right to rule, are fighting among themselves. We are less than eight months out from the election, and neither of them have all their candidates in place nor evidence of a campaign strategy in the pipeline. To be sure, the SNP’s problems are fewer than Labour’s and it has the bounce to be expected from an outstanding performance across the city.
Perhaps the internecine troubles over candidates point to an obvious solution, that of allowing city folk to participate in candidate selection through primaries. Seeing as the parties are having a little difficulty working out how many and whom, handing the whole process over to the public might work? There have been others touting the use of primaries for candidate selection for Holyrood, mainly I think from the Labour camp. Not only would such an innovation sort a little local difficulty, it would provide a useful road test of a different way of selecting candidates that might result in quite different candidates being put forward.
And Glasgow might just get the candidates and councillors it deserves, rather than the ones the parties think it does.