The Labour Party suffered another blow in Scotland last week as it struggled to force through a cuts budget on Glasgow council.
Glasgow is the largest council in Scotland—and one of only two still under Labour control as the Scottish National Party (SNP) grows.
Labour proposed £43 million in budget cuts, on top of the £100 million lost in the last two years. This has already led to huge cuts in services and job losses.
The party had a majority of 15 on the council. But this time eight Labour councillors resigned, and six voted with the SNP-led opposition to the budget.
After a series of adjournments and huddles in corridors, the whips only just managed to push the budget through.
Amid chaotic scenes the final vote gave Labour a majority of just two—and one of them was an independent.
The councillors were under pressure from an anti-cuts rally outside. It brought together the Unison and Unite unions with the campaign to save the Accord day centre and protesters against care “personalisation”. This will impose drastic cuts to care allowances (see endnote).
The rebel Labour councillors have now announced that they will form a new party to stand candidates in all 21 Glasgow wards in the local elections in May. They intend to call their new party “Glasgow Labour”.
Socialists and anti-cuts campaigners welcome any opposition to the cuts. And the difficulty Labour has had getting its budget through has boosted the anti‑cuts movement.
However, the new situation is not a straightforward split by Labour left wingers who oppose the party’s willingness to implement cuts.
All of the Labour rebels were previously deselected as candidates in an internal power struggle between rival cliques.
Some claimed the dispute was about “London” modernisers who were trying to clear out “Old Labour” councillors.
But the alternative budget that the rebels and the SNP opposition proposed on budget day did not oppose the cuts—it just rearranged them.
Glasgow city council leader Gordon Matheson accused the rebels of “trying to wreak revenge” for being deselected.
The rebel councillors’ initial motivation may have been more personal than political.
But if they are to create any space for their new party, they will have to place themselves to the left of Labour in what will be a crowded electoral field.
Their unofficial leader, Tommy Morrison, has already been reported as saying, “We are campaigning against
£24 million in cuts. That’s what Glasgow Labour wants to tackle.”
With speculation that Labour will lose control of the council in May, the defections add to the party’s sense of crisis.
The cuts, the electoral success of the SNP and arguments about the coming referendum on independence are creating many splits within the Scottish Labour Party.
It is still struggling to come to terms with its defeat by the SNP in the Scottish parliament elections last year.
So far the SNP is the main winner out of the Glasgow situation too.
If they had won the vote in Glasgow, SNP candidates would have had to go into the May election defending an SNP cuts budget. They would not have been able to attack “Labour” cuts quite as easily as in the past.
But Labour getting its budget through leaves the SNP free to go on the attack.
However, the continuing disintegration of Scottish Labour in its heartland won’t just open up opportunities for the SNP.
It will also create chances for bigger and potentially more successful anti-cuts campaigns.
One way to build that opposition is to campaign for the election of councillors committed to setting a “needs budget”. That means one with no cuts that tells the government to plug the funding gap.
We need to defend working class communities when they are under attack. That applies whether the attacks come from the Tories, Labour or the SNP.
Thanks to Jim Main
Glasgow Personalisation Conference to discuss the issues around care personalisation. Organised by Unison in Scotland, Defend Glasgow Services and Social Work Action Network. Saturday 10 March, 10am to 2pm. Email email@example.com by 7 March