Another Edinburgh-centric guest post from Better Nation’s esteemed friend Dan Phillips, following his previous posts on the SNP and the Lib Dems locally. Dan’s a press photographer by trade but a political obsessive at heart. A small ‘l’ liberal, he blogs at liberalsellout.wordpress.com.
As the journalists and myself pored over these numbers and argued the toss, ‘definitely Lab/Tory’, ‘it has to be Lab/SNP’, ‘Lab/Green/Lib Dem traffic lights for me’, leader of Labour in Edinburgh Andrew Burns swept through with a Cheshire cat grin spread across his face.
‘We’re just trying to work out your coalition Andrew’, I said.
He replied: ‘So am I!’
Everyone tells me this was a boring campaign. Geek that I am, I thought it sensational. Turnout wasn’t awful at just over 40%, Labour won despite most people’s expectations and the Lib Dems provided a Portillo moment with Jenny Dawe’s hopes for safety in Meadows/Morningside being dashed as her seat was removed by the SNP. I’m sorry for her but the Lib Dems had a defeat coming and didn’t try to defend themselves until the last few weeks. The Greens made the jaws drop of supporters and critics alike as they not only won 6 seats but topped the poll in Fountainbridge, removing a ‘safe’ Tory, and then made lightning strike twice as Burgess won the top spot in Southside/Newington. Although I had expected them to win one more, the now councillor who waggled his finger and said: ‘You underestimate us, you Liberal Sell Out’ was proven correct, and I am delighted to be wrong.
Much will now be made of the SNP’s strategy. Their vaulting ambition did over-leap itself. But that doesn’t mean they were wrong to stand two candidates in Leith Walk, or Craigentinny and in many other seats. In a higher turnout those seats could have swung their way. But they also discovered the huge problem standing two risks: the pesky electorate might pick the ‘wrong’ one. They still have a councillor in Leith, just not Rob Munn, so it was a bitter-sweet victory for Adam McVey. I don’t suppose they’ll try it again.
And then the Tories pulled a Nick Cook shaped rabbit out of the Liberton/Gilmerton hat. No one saw that coming, apart from the proud Conservative activist I overheard saying ‘I knew it would work!’ Good for you Nick.
So now comes the hard part. If you follow conventional wisdom, Labour gets to govern and SNP form the opposition, giving the Tories the mathematical possibility of getting in bed with the Reds while the Greens and Lib Dems are left in the cold.
For me that would be a crazy conclusion. Just look at the manifestos. And then look at the behaviour of Greens and Labour at the tailend of the last session, they marched in lockstep on so many things they reeked of a government in waiting. Their policies agree on the end result, Labour say ‘co-operative council’, Greens say ‘Participative Budgets’, they just propose different means. They can work it out.
Which leaves a Lab/Green coalition on 26, short of the magic 30 for a majority of one. But hold your horses, the last administration only had 28, with 17 Lib Dems and 11 SNP until one swapped parties within the coalition.
I suggest that means a traffic light coalition which gives us 29 is a wide open door for the Lib Dems. But do they pass through? They were utterly defeated, reduced to a rump of 3 in the West of the city. But this is not a time for sulking. Either they form a part of the government or they buy one of Edinburgh’s police boxes and have their own meetings within as everyone else gets on with running Edinburgh. They need to prove there’s still a reason for loyalty to the Lib Dems, contributing to the administration is the best way.
Which leaves 29, one short of a proper majority. But the Lord Provost has the casting vote so they could still get their budget through.
Of course I’m ignoring the glaringly obvious. A Labour/SNP coalition. It could work, of course. In fact it’d have a stonking majority. But better informed people than I talk of the deep personal animosity between some of the councillors. Those hatchets buried in each other’s backs will have to be dislodged and the wounds healed over. If there’s any message to take from the last administration it’s don’t form a coalition if you can’t agree. Even if they don’t form a coalition at some level arguments that stem from a different political era need to be consigned to history. Edinburgh doesn’t need a dysfunctional 5 years, it needs leadership and with a divided council that means co-operation. So it could work.
But the Labour/Green love-in is such a tantalising prospect and with so many ideas bursting from their manifestos this would be a chance to set Edinburgh on a new course. The Lib Dems are surely compelled to join this coalition of the willing or they risk irrelevance. This is the only extra traffic light Edinburgh requires. Red. Yellow. Green.