It’s the Scottish local elections in May, and the game-playing is underway in earnest, writes Labour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall.
West Lothian Council is a Labour minority administration, and a bugbear of the SNP. In the 2017 local elections the nationalists won more seats than any other party, but could not attract enough support to form an administration. They never got over it.
Labour formed a minority administration which governs with informal support from councillors from other parties, including the Tories. In the years since 2017 West Lothian Council, unlike many of the SNP-controlled councils across the country, has been willing to stand up against the swingeing cuts made to local authority funding by the Scottish Government, and it has done so without compromising its rightful criticism of the failures of the UK Government.
But the local elections are now less than 100 days away, and the party groups that have had to find common ground over the past five years in order to keep the council running know it’s necessary now to put clear water between each other in readiness for the fight on the doorsteps. Cue the arrival of this meme from the West Lothian Tories yesterday:
(By the way, hands up who’s surprised that the Tories want to fight the local elections on the issue of independence, again, just like they did last time, even though it has nothing to do with anything for which local councils are responsible? Anyone? No?)
This revelation that Labour is in cahoots with the SNP over #indyref2 provoked a predictable set of responses on Twitter. “Another reason not to vote @ScottishLabour in May. Party of liars.” said Jackie #WomanWontWheesht. On the face of it this does seem pretty outrageous, but is it what actually happened? (Spoiler alert: no.)
Here’s what actually happened:
- SNP councillor Janet Campbell proposed a motion in response to reports that the UK Government planned to discontinue the provision of free lateral flow tests. This motion blew much sunshine in the direction of the Scottish Government and concluded:
“West Lothian Council therefore agrees to write immediately to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid outlining our absolute opposition to these plans. Testing plays a hugely important role in ensuring we suppress the virus, the UK Government must ensure these testing kits remain free and that, as now, people are encouraged to use these regularly.“
- In response, Tory councillor Damian Timson proposed an amendment which, on the day it was announced that the Prime Minister was to be subject to criminal investigation for his actions during the pandemic, would replace the entire text of the SNP motion with a glowing endorsement of the UK Government and conclude with:
“West Lothian Council therefore agrees to write to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid congratulating them on the UKs response to the pandemic. Furthermore, Council agree to write to the First Minister of Scotland to express the Councils dismay that as we move out of restrictions, her priority is another damaging independence referendum and the First Minister should announce no such referendum will be called for in this administration term of Holyrood.“
(Side note: West Lothian Tories seem as implacably opposed to apostrophes as they are to honesty in debate.)
- Labour councillors responded to this amendment arguing that the substantive issue was that of LFTs, and said that the Labour group would support the original motion on that basis while making it clear that Labour remained completely opposed to independence and a second referendum.
(Masochists can listen to the debate for themselves here. The discussion of the amendment starts around 113 minutes in.)
It’s also worth noting that the Tories’ apparent belief that Labour can’t be trusted on #indyref2 doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that in the immediately previous council meeting the Labour group proposed a motion explicitly opposing independence and a second referendum, and that motion was passed … with Conservative votes.
I have an alternative meme to offer to the West Lothian Tories. This one is a bit more accurate than theirs.
Expect to see plenty more of this sort of dishonesty in the run up to May, from all parties, as the formal and informal coalitions which have been absolutely necessary to get things done over the past five years give way to electoral warfare.
Just promise me you won’t believe everything you read.