The inconclusive nature of the General Election result has reminded me that the public are not quite so tribal as those of us who are members of political parties. People shocked by the proposed Tory/DUP deal are asking if a broader, more inclusive, group could not be formed to progress Brexit. Unlikely bedfellows like Ruth Davidson, Ian Murray and Nicola Sturgeon have all been echoing these calls to some extent.
Of course, broad and unlikely partnerships in Scotland’s councils are not unusual. That said, Edinburgh still has no administration. Indeed at Fairmilehead Community Council last week the lack of a Council Administration in Edinburgh was a topic of some derision – I heard repeated calls for Councillors to be “locked in a room” or have their “heads banged together” until a deal is reached. Some cynics even suggested that the running of our Capital should be taken out of the hands of Councillors.
Given that a month has passed without a deal having been reached, I think it’s worth thinking about what people in Edinburgh would want from such an arrangement.
Of course, the first problem is agreeing a policy framework. Combining two or more manifestos into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts can’t be easy. For example, is investing in cutting the attainment gap more important that further developing Gaelic Medium Education?
Even if the result of such negotiations is a bit of a Frankenstein-Manifesto, voters would rightly expect it to comprise fully costed and well defined pledges which are deliverable and not merely a wish list of vague assertions.
I think it’s not unreasonable for the public to expect a Council Administration to comprise a majority of Councillors. Otherwise a minority administration would run the risk of being held to ransom vote-by-vote by opposition parties. Edinburgh deserves a “strong and stable” administration. The problem here, of course, is tribalism when it comes to a formal deal:
- Labour expects anti-austerity demands to be met.
- The SNP refuse to work with the Tories (nobody mention Holyrood 2007-11)
- The Tories won’t work with the SNP (nobody mention Holyrood 2007-11)
- The Lib-Dems won’t work with the SNP, but will do a deal with the Tories (that worked well 2010-15)
- The Greens won’t work with anyone!
Quite quickly one can see that a majority deal is not easy when the SNP emerged from the May 4 elections as the biggest party on the council with 19 seats while the Conservatives were close behind on 18, Labour has 12, the Greens eight and Lib Dems six.
A further layer of complication here is of course committee convenorships (etc.) – these come with status and remuneration (totalling well over £600,000). Although, I’m sure, no Councillor in Edinburgh would let these cloud their judgment, it’s important the public can be sure it has not been a factor when forming an administration.
Constitutional wrangling dominates Scotland, but it’s important that it does not compromise the running of our capital city. Nonetheless, it’s clear that thousands of livelihoods in Edinburgh rely on continued access to both the UK and EU single markets – a point reflected in referenda results in 2014 and 2016. It’s therefore key that any Council Administration in Edinburgh recognises this publicly and lobbies to secure the Edinburgh economy.
We know that Local Authority budgets have been cut year-on-year for some time. This is partly due to austerity, but also due to additional cuts made by the SNP Gov and their unwillingness to raise revenue. The SNP Gov could have used the most progressive revenue raising power they have (income tax) to better fund Edinburgh, but instead they forced the city to use the most regressive revenue raising power (the “hated” Council Tax). At a time when inflation is rising, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Edinburgh residents to expect the Council Administration to oppose real terms cuts to its budget and make the case for fair funding from the Scottish Government to deliver efficiently run services.
This short list of minimum expectations for any deal show how difficult it is for two or more parties to reach an agreement which could underpin any administration. However, it’s very clear that a deal is possible if individuals are willing to compromise to help make Edinburgh a better place to live, work and bring up a family.