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By Martin Kelly
 
It’s been a strange week.  Images from the May 3rd local election results gave the impression that Labour had won.  Smiling, cheering, hugs and high fives from the SECC in Glasgow seemed to accompany every article published and broadcast by the media.

Glasgow became Scotland for a week as the rest of the nation was all but ignored.  Non Glaswegians could only look on in wonderment.

Labour spun it brilliantly, said the Scottish media oblivious to their part in promoting the lie.  Paid to tell us the unvarnished truth, BBC Scotland hid behind the ‘both claiming victory’ line and went along with the charade.

Like Henry Cooper flooring Cassius Clay with that famous left hook, replays of Labour’s victory in Glasgow were played over and over by the Beeb until the ‘victory’ became embedded.  That both Labour and Cooper ended up on the receiving end of a defeat seems of little consequence now.

But was there more to this repackaging of the election result than simply puffing up Labour’s Glasgow win?  The answer is almost certainly yes – for another electoral contest is currently taking place right now, the battle for control of Cosla.

Cosla is the local authority umbrella group that allows Scotland’s local authorities to speak as one – or to give the impression they are speaking as one.  The group has 133 members, all councillors nominated by their ruling administration – for example Glasgow provides eight members, North Lanarkshire six and Edinburgh six.

Crucially, these members decide on the presidency of the body through a vote, the president then becoming the official spokesperson for the group. 

Throughout the last eleven years this role has been carried out by Labour councillor Pat Watters.  This time the around the SNP were hopeful that their election performance, in gaining most councillors nationwide, would see the party provide the new Cosla Presidency.

But something is happening that few foresaw.  Labour appear to have abandoned their left of centre principles and are busy forming pacts with former arch-rivals the Tories. 

The result has been the freezing out of local authority power, those SNP groups with whom Labour enjoy considerable left of centre common ground.  In contrast, and despite their support falling, the Conservatives are gaining greater influence across Scotland’s local authorities and with it, influence in Cosla.  The deals seem to be based more on constitutional common ground than political, Unionism is repacing localism.

The first signals of moves to block the SNP from delivering the presidency of Cosla came the day after the local elections, when Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Cosla has been a robust and reasonably independent voice for local government in recent years, so if it were to become simply another mouthpiece for the SNP that was slavishly loyal to Alex Salmond, it would be a detrimental step for local democracy.”

With only six councils returning outright majorities after the election this meant negotiations would be required throughout Scotland’s remaining 26 local authorities. 

Cosla members are allocated by the council’s ruling administration and there is nothing in the rules that says a party must be proportionally represented, even if that party ended up the biggest in terms of councillors in that local authority.

Edinburgh

It started out with a neat distraction in the shape of an announcement of a coalition between the Labour group and the SNP group in Edinburgh.  Mature politics breaking out we all thought as SNP leader Steve Cardownie emerged smiling with Labour’s Andrew Burns.

However it served only to camouflage what some now believe to be Unionist manoeuvres aimed at seizing control of Cosla.  Strange bedfellows are appearing in a manner that suggests motives, other than the good of local constituents, are at play.

The evidence is the number of seemingly suicidal alliances involving Labour and Tory groups around Scotland.  Edinburgh now seems an aberration as council after council falls under the control of these once unthinkable Tory/Labour alliances.

Labour is forming pacts with the Tories in Aberdeen City, East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Inverclyde, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Stirling.

The ‘workers’ party seems to have developed a crush on the party of the rich, with Labour pacts or expectations of pacts with the Tories currently running at four to one when compared with alliances with the SNP.  There are now suspicions that Labour groups are acting under a directive from the national party.

In contrast, the SNP has managed to avoid any dalliances with the Tories at all and have even endeavoured to keep them out of power in the Borders.

Toxic

But why would Labour opt to agree partnerships with the party that has all but destroyed the Lib Dems in Scotland.  Is Cosla worth the risk that the electorate will turn against Labour?

To answer that we have to look at what Cosla offers in terms of setting the political narrative.  Control of Cosla guarantees a media platform, this in turn ensures that public statements will be headlined and broadcast to the Scottish electorate.

Control Cosla and you are guaranteed broadcast headlines on BBC Scotland, STV and Scotland’s newspapers.  And this will allow Unionists another stick with which to beat the SNP in the lead up to the 2014 independence referendum.

One need only note how the attacks from the Unionist dominated Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, headed by the Labour MP Ian Davidson, are headlined to see how effective these official bodies are in getting a message out there.

The other reason Cosla is so important is that Glasgow Council has now lost its potency as a battering ram against the SNP Government.

Prior to Steven Purcell’s dramatic fall from grace, Scotland’s largest local authority was regularly used by Labour in order to launch assaults on the SNP Government.  However, notwithstanding Labour’s excellent local election result, Glasgow Labour are not the force they once were.

Glasgow Labour leader Gordon Matheson is also far too lightweight to head any real campaign and his five year council tax freeze pledge has effectively neutered the one area that could have been used against the Scottish Government. 

Add to this the revelations of his promises to the Orange Order in the days leading up to the local elections and it’s clear that Glasgow’s effectiveness as Labour’s attack dog have weakened.

Unionists need an effective counter to the SNP’s competent national governance; they need a Scottish equivalent of the ‘bogey man’ of UK Coalition cuts that Salmond is highlighting to good effect.  With the UK entering a double dip recession and Scotland’s economic indicators better than the rest of the UK, the Unionists are losing the national argument.

With the Holyrood leadership of Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie and Johann Lamont struggling to make any impact, control of Cosla allows Unionists to take the fight out of Holyrood and down to local level.

The emerging Tory pacts are a risky strategy by Labour and the party will be hoping that the local electorate will turn a blind eye to them when cuts start to hit public services.

The Chair of Cosla will be announced in June and, if Unionist machinations succeed, then expect another Labour councillor to land that job.  However the price will have been increased Tory influence – and with it exposure to the toxicity the Conservative brand still carries; just ask the Lib Dems.

Every cloud has a silver lining though and for the SNP it might offer some unexpected political capital in the run up to the independence referendum.  The slogan ‘Vote Labour - Get Tory’ could well find itself becoming ‘Vote No – Get Tory’ by Autumn 2014.

Comments  

 
# northernshedboy 2012-05-13 15:08
"Glasgow became Scotland for a week as the rest of the nation was all but ignored.  Non Glaswegians could only look on in wonderment."

Your first paragraph is so wide of the mark as to have raised a large guffaw at its reading.

Only one week?
The 'ignore the rest of Scotland' agenda is a lot longer than a week old and is at least several months if not years old.

The election was and is always the Glasgow election. GARL was always a Glasgow question while ignoring the fact that the airport is not even in Glasgow. The bad weather was always Glasgows bad weather rather than Scotlands bad weather despite the highlands two years ago having no road, rail or flight access for more than two weeks. Even the Edinburgh cup final has to be played in bloody Glasgow.

Scotland has not been sitting back over a week long campaign wondering, Scotland has been sitting back for decades wondering.

The dualling of the A9 in cost is equivqlent to the extnsion to a set of shops in Glasgow. Now as a highlander, I wonder which one is more important? Nah ..... I don't really. I know there are more than enough shops in Glasgow to do the inhabitants. My wife has taken me round every single one on a holiday or two

Its long overdue that the other 4800000 inhabitants of the country were thought about rather than the occupants of a large connerbation down south from here.

The world may revolve round many many points but Glasgow is definitely not one of them despite what is written in MSM and other places.
 
 
# gus1940 2012-05-13 15:44
On the subject of Glasgow obsession I watched today's edition of The Politics Show which amazingly seemed to think that the ongoing farce involving a Glasgow football club was something to do with politics and made it the lead story in the program.
 
 
# Wee-Scamp 2012-05-13 19:02
I agree. I'm not a football fan anyway but have so far tolerated the fact that every darn night for the past few weeks the Rangers thing was the lead story. However, when the Politics Show also treats it as the lead story I really think the BBC is going too far.
 
 
# X_Sticks 2012-05-14 12:53
Yeah, but it saves them having to talk about politics. Politics is a subject that the beeb chooses to only know half the story of.

Sport (in Glasgow) is nicely divisive and both the beeb's political editor (Brian the OBE dreamer) and the business editor (Douglas "make mine an MBE" Fraser) seem to know more about football that their own subjects.
 
 
# John Lyons 2012-05-14 10:05
Never heard of the Edinburgh cup, but if such a competition exists, then it is only right the final is played in Edinburgh.

As for the SCOTTISH Cup final, it shoud be played in SCOTLANDS national stadium. You wouldn't expect it to be played in the highlands if it was between County and Caley would you? No more than a Man City Man Utd FA cup final would be played in Manchester!

Unfortunatley, this Anti Glasgow sentiment is a good arguement for retaining the Union. Independence will only replace the hated greedy south east of England with the hated greedy major populations of the central belt.

Come on people, one Scotland! Let's get behind it and stand together.
 
 
# jafurn 2012-05-13 15:23
"Control Cosla and you are guaranteed broadcast headlines on BBC Scotland, STV and Scotland’s newspapers. And this will allow Unionists another stick with which to beat the SNP in the lead up to the 2014 independence referendum."

That may well be true Mr kelly but do you really think it will make any difference to the output from the media and particularly the BBC,we only have to look at the run up to the election.
Apoplexy over an email. Consternation about some old windbag from America and total negativity from the opposition parties in Holyrood and all of it repeated ad nauseum from the media.
And even after the SNP clearly won the election they are still spinning for the unionists the opposite.

What do you think would have been made of the fact that in the weeks / days running up to the election a close family member of the deputy leader of the SNP had defected to the labour party. Do you think it would have at least warranted a mention on the BBC website???
There would have been,in my opinion anyway, a torrent of 'reports' and Ms Sturgeon would have been grilled day and night about what this would mean to the SNP. However when it is a Labour member it is not even mentioned.
I look forward to the investigation of the
" revelations of his (Mr Matheson) promises to the Orange Order in the days leading up to the local elections"

I really don't think the media need another stick with which to beat the SNP.
 
 
# John Lyons 2012-05-14 10:09
I think the point is that if the SNP ganed control of Cosla we would start to see stories that are hiddn away in places like NewsnetScotland working their way into the mainstream media. (Slowly, like tectonic plate movement, but sometimes that can be dramatic!)

You are right, it's bad enough already, it's probably not going to get any worse, but if the SNP were in control it might actually get better.
 
 
# jafurn 2012-05-14 12:03
Fair point and well made.
 
 
# UpSpake 2012-05-13 15:59
Vote Labour get Conservative Unionism. Vote Conservative get Conservative Unionism. Don't be daft enough to vote Lib Dems 'cause you are guaranteed Unionism.
Vote SNP get Independence. Not a choice really, is it ?.
 
 
# snowthistle 2012-05-13 16:39
You wonder why the unionist parties don't just amalgamate and be done with it
 
 
# Proadge 2012-05-13 19:13
Quoting snowthistle:
You wonder why the unionist parties don't just amalgamate and be done with it


Yes, the fundamental battle in Scottish politics is between the forces of conservatism, represented by the Unionists, and the forces of progress, represented by the SNP. Ultimately the natural allies of the British Labour Party in Scotland are the Conservative and Unionist Party, not the SNP. This has been the case for a long time; it's just becoming more obvious now.

One reason they don't amalgamate is because the current arrangement allows three Unionist voices to be heard for every one nationalist voice - and that's leaving aside any further slant the British state broadcaster might care to put on the debate.
 
 
# Leswil 2012-05-13 18:01
We need to believe that Labour will drop to any low level. They will do anything to gain power wherever they can.

However, to betray their voters to this degree when joining with the TOXIC Tories, is something that even labour die hards would never have envisaged.

If I was one these voters I would be furious that labour has reached the bottom of the pit, by doing what they have done.

While I have no love for labour, I would never deny them their right to vote for who they choose, however I am sure they did not vote to help the Tories.

However, unbelievably, that is what they have now got. I cannot imagine they would be remotely happy with this.
 
 
# scottish_skier 2012-05-13 18:08
At some point they were going to have to start forming a clear unionist coalition against the SNP/independence - I recall discussing this with my office mate just after last years elections. With the council elections out of the way, it seems that time has now come and they're not really trying to hide it.

It will be a major factor in a strong majority for yes being secured in 2014.
 
 
# mealer 2012-05-13 18:48
Is there a Euro election before the referendum to test any effects of the Labour-Tory alliance at the polls?
 
 
# xyz 2012-05-13 19:17
There must be because there was one in 2009 and they are held every 5 years.

en.wikipedia.org/.../...

"Elections to the European Parliament were held in the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) between 4 and 7 June 2009"

en.wikipedia.org/.../...
 
 
# oldnat 2012-05-13 19:20
Yes - June 2014.
 
 
# megz 2012-05-13 19:23
it should also be remembered that the only reason labour did a deal with the snp in edinburgh is because the greens couldnt stomach to prop up a lab/tory administration
 
 
# G. P. Walrus 2012-05-13 21:14
I don't see there is much of a platform for unionist parties to effectively oppose independence from COSLA.

They have every right, by the way, to make any coalitions they want to - that's democracy and good luck to them! The voters will give their judgement on the performance of those coalitions at the next council elections.
 
 
# the wallace 2012-05-13 21:20
I beleive that labour forming pacts with the torys is a move to test the water,for the bigger pact to come in the referendum.I think the snp should attack this new axis of evil at every turn,plant the seed vote labour get tory,vote no get tory.
 
 
# jurist 2012-05-13 21:54
The SNP government should play Liebore at their own game and abolish COSLA.

What on earth are a bunch of local councilors doing with a body to promote/represent their interests? They should have no interests but our interests and (we the people) don't need them to have such a body, or interests separate from, and above, ours.

There's too much of this Civic Scotland nonsense talked. There's too much of asking various groups and special interests what they think about this, that and the other issue (unions, COSLA, charities, churches, etc). I don't care what any of these groups think about independence or any political issue.

They tend not to provide a plurality of opinion anyway as they all tend to speak with the same left of centre voice. The individuals within them have their say, and rightly so, but the particular group itself should not have a political voice, as all of them are unelected. The only voice that should be heard is the voice of the people. Post the local election, with Liebore and the Tories in coalitions; the voice of the people is not being heard.

I hope in an independent Scotland, job one will be a radical reform of local government - giving it back to local people.
 
 
# John Lyons 2012-05-14 10:17
I'm not too bothered about that, but what really annoys me is every time there is a vote, Scotland is forced to use a different system from England and it's usually a system that gives the result No Overall Control. Never mind Cosla, it's a disgrace that people like Willie Rennie and Ruth Davidson are in our Parliament on List seats. No-one voted for them! They represent no one! They should not be allowed into the chambers.
 
 
# Blanco 2012-05-13 22:01
In contrast, the SNP has managed to avoid any dalliances with the Tories at all

Except in Perthshire and East Ayrshire...
 
 
# scottish_skier 2012-05-14 10:36
It is perfectly acceptable that the centre (SNP, just a tad left of centre globally) form coalitions with the right or the left as appropriate. That is the role of the centre. Labour are supposed to be the left; left-right coalitions are not the done thing... But then New Labour are centre right. Their traditional voters in Scotland however are not; ergo they are making a big mistake.
 
 
# snowthistle 2012-05-14 10:36
...and Edinburgh
 
 
# Big Eye 2012-05-13 22:05
I remember the late Jim Mitchell arguing that Independence would not arrive until we forced the Unionists into the one box.

That seems to be what is happening in Scotland today.

PS He was right about a lot of other things as well.
 
 
# C2DEalba 2012-05-13 22:06
I don't think who becomes President of COSLA matters as their is so much anti SNP and Independence on the tv from the BBC, newspapers etc that it would get lost in the excessive negative coverage.

I think the SNP should abolish COSLA and appoint a Minister to deal with them and hopefully save money.

This COSLA outfit looks like political patronage where they get extra money for doing something that is already covered elswhere.
 
 
# G. P. Walrus 2012-05-14 06:24
Abolish COSLA? Why? Why not go the whole hog and abolish all political parties other than the SNP, oh and shut down the BBC and all newspapers as well?
Isn't the mentality of denying your political opponents a democratic platform one of the things we dislike about the MSM? I think I smell hypocrisy creeping in here.
 
 
# Caadfael 2012-05-14 08:07
Abolish COSLA?
Then we will indeed have become the last thing we want .. N.Korea!
Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
Sun Tzu.
 
 
# John Lyons 2012-05-14 10:20
Interesting. Is that why Salmond keeps talking about a middle ground? Devo whatever? To give the unionists an outlet? Is he not pressing them too hard because he knows how desperate they are?
 
 
# scottish_skier 2012-05-14 10:32
The SNP know that Westminster will never offer Devo Max/Full fiscal autonomy. There is no way that will happen as it would mean Scotland controlled all its resources. It would also force the end of the british political establishment as an english parliament would be needed in a addition to a new UK one covering just foreign affairs/defence. The whole system would have to change completely.

Westminster will gamble on a straight Y/N. The SNP will keep mentioning devo max as 70% of Scots would vote for it. When it does not appear, the vast majority of these voters will vote for independence as it is just Devo Max excel...

That is why the unionists are annoyed with what is a viable and popular option to maintain the union.
 
 
# G. P. Walrus 2012-05-14 19:10
Aye, you've called it.
 
 
# jafurn 2012-05-14 10:16
Meet the new 'bosses' same as the old bosses....

heraldscotland.com/.../...

ROLE FOR SPT BOSSA DISGRACED quango boss has been given a key role in Glasgow's majority Labour administration.

Alistair Watson, who resigned as chairman of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) amid an expenses scandal in 2010, is to be Labour's new business manager, policing the conduct of the party's 44 councillors. He is expected to then become the council's business manager.


Auditors KPMG found that while Watson chaired SPT, senior managers claimed "excessive" expenses and that receipts were shredded, leaving £32,000 of corporate spending unaccounted for.

Watson – who left SPT citing ill health – did not return calls for comment.
 
 
# xyz 2012-05-14 10:40
And some people came out and voted for Glasgow Labour .. it's incredible
 
 
# cirsium 2012-05-14 11:20
thanks for this information jafurn.

Two sayings come to mind

flagitiis manifestis subsidium ab audacia petendum - Crime, once exposed, has no refuge but audacity.

L’audace, encore l’audace, toujours l’audace!
 
 
# jafurn 2012-05-14 10:51
Date set for recount of Glasgow ward after votes not included

local.stv.tv/.../...
 
 
# cokynutjoe 2012-05-14 11:05
Cosla may have been of some use when Scotland lacked a government/parliament to which local authorities can now make representations direct. It's "jobs for the boys" no matter who is in power.
It's well past its sell-by date. The Aleo's were scrapped, time to scrap Cosla.
 
 
# Dundonian West 2012-05-14 11:33
OT.A meaningful DevoMax,just short of independence, would never get through the Commons.
Labour MPs from the English cities just wouldn't allow it through,and who can blame them?
It's Independence---FULL STOP.
 
 
# weegie38 2012-05-14 11:43
Might be barking up the wrong tree here, conspiracy-wise.

I seem to recall a stooshie among Fife Labour councillors recently about a new rule, whereby they had to contribute part of their allowances to party funds. Not sure whether this was Scotland-wide, but we know they're desperate for money.

Being in control of the council means bigger allowances, therefore more public cash going to Labour.
 

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