THE battle lines have been drawn in Glasgow as candidates go head-to-head in what is expected to be the city’s most closely contested local election in decades.
By Matt Coyle
AFTER months of turmoil among the ruling Labour group, mired with deselections and rebellions as almost half its councillors get set to leave their posts after May, the party lost its majority for the first time in four decades following the resignation of Govan councillor Shaukat Butt.
The SNP are expected to give Labour their toughest election battle in 30 years.
As the largest, wealthiest, most influential, and until recently, the most politically stable council, Glasgow has always been the big fish in the Scottish local government pond.
But the SNP leader in Glasgow, Allison Hunter said the once-dominant Labour group was “hanging on by a knife edge.”
“We would have been going in to this election anyway, with a strong view to winning regardless of the situation with the Labour part,” says Hunter, who is also the councillor for Govan. “That is our aim. It is not being taken for granted; we know we are going to have to work very, very hard.
“But the state of the Labour party in Glasgow, and particularly Govan, is a factor that we have to recognise. I don’t know if it is a leadership issue or not and to be quite honest I don’t want to know. We are just focusing on the SNP campaign.
“A lot of councils dislike Glasgow because Glasgow always wants the lions share and I think we have to be more co-operative, especially with neighbouring councils such as Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde.
“Glasgow City Council has for far too long has been seen as bullish and predators. An SNP administration in Glasgow will change that by working with the government and other local authorities as well as possible.
“You have to see their point of view and although we will fight for everything we can get for the city you have to realise that other authorities have the right to fight for their best interests too.”
But Craigton Labour councillor, and executive member for social services, Matthew Kerr, said he remained confident himself and his party would remain in power despite a close election being a certainty.
He said: “Certainly in Craigton, where I’ve been out chapping doors, the reaction on the door steps is very good. And I have found that really encouraging because if you were to read the press you would think it was all doom and gloom.
“However the big question is the city-wide picture: is the Labour Party going to hang on to power? There is no doubt that it’s going to be close. For one thing, the SNP are putting up more candidates than they did last time so you would think that they will gain something.
“I have to say that if the campaigns follow local issues then I think Labour is in a strong position. That’s not to say everything has been perfect for the last four or five years but I think that we have done an awful lot to get on with it and get things done in spite of huge cuts.
“If you look at the unemployment statistics across Scotland they have gone up, in Glasgow by about 4.5% which is obviously still not good, but if you compare that to other cities such as Dundee where unemployment is up around 20% then we have done an OK job at curtailing that.”
The city’s three-member wards are expected to be the battlegrounds which could prove pivotal in deciding who will take power in City Chambers. Newlands, Pollokshields, Langside and Springburn are where the SNP and Labour candidates will lock horns in what is expected to be the most tightly fought wards in the City. Pollokshields, which is currently held by one Labour, one SNP and one Conservative councillor, is expected to be especially crucial in the outcome of the election.
A senior Labour councillor added that the SNP will hold the party’s greatest challenge for many years in the run-up to the election.
Alistair Watson, former chair of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and who is an executive member on the council, said that first minister Alex Salmond will be desperate for a Glasgow SNP group victory to claim the city as a “political prize”
The Craigton councillor, who has been in office since 1995 said: “I think that this will be the most intensely fought local election in 30 years. The SNP party in power at Holyrood is in a strong position.”