Glasgow City Labour Group’s 15-strong majority collapsed to just two — one of which was the vote of an independent councillor — in the vote on the council’s 2012/13 budget earlier this month.
In the run-up to the vote half a dozen members of the Labour Group resigned the Labour whip, some only shortly before the vote. Other rebels had previously resigned from the Labour Group (in one case, jumping ship to the SNP).
Leading rebel figures say they will contest this May’s election, standing under the banner of “Glasgow Labour” on an anti-cuts platform.
According to Tommy Morrison, one of the ex-Labour councillors: “I believe it will contest 21 wards in the city. I think there will be 23 candidates, many standing on the banner of re-election (i.e. existing councillors).”
Another of the ex-Labour councillors, Stephen Dornan, has attacked the Labour Party: “This is a completely avoidable disaster ... the Labour Party should have been focused on developing the policies to place it squarely to the left of the SNP.”
So far so good? Well, no.
Last year the ruling Labour Group’s budget contained £100 millions of cuts. All the Labour “rebels” of today unhesitatingly voted through those cuts.
This year’s budget involved £45 millions worth of cuts. £35 millions of these cuts had been voted through last year but were being implemented only this year. The cuts which today’s rebels resigned over are largely the cuts they voted for last year.
In the twelve months the rebels have not been involved in any anti-cuts campaigning. In fact, none of them have any record of any involvement in any anti-cuts campaigning.
What has happened between last year’s budget and this year’s, however, is that 17 of the 47-strong Labour Group were ruled inadmissible to stand for re-selection.
Labour claimed that it was rooting out “deadwood”. The de-selected councillors and their supporters claimed that they had been victims of the notorious and long-standing faction fights within Glasgow Labour Group.
The rebels were all de-selected councillors who, in that sense, had nothing to lose.
The “rebels” include some unlikely heroes. Willie O’Rourke was already suspended from the Labour Group for inappropriate comments about a nine-year-old rape victim (“She wanted it to happen.”).
Ruth Black, a one-time member of the Scottish Socialist Party, split with Sheridan to set up “Solidarity”. Elected as its sole councillor, she suddenly jumped ship and took the Labour whip. She won a council grant to run LGBT support services over better-established candidates, and the drop-in centre she ran went bankrupt.
Although any pretence that the rebels are champions of anti-cuts campaigning is preposterous, they do have legitimate arguments about the undemocratic nature of their de-selection (although, having resigned from the Labour Party, they are no longer in a position to pursue them).
They were not de-selected by their wards but by a Labour Party official drafted in from London.
It is also impossible to fathom what criteria were applied in the de-selections.
Alistair Watson, for example, who presided over Strathclyde Partnership for Transport at the time of a £100,000 expenses scandal, was left untouched.
During the budget vote Gilbert Davidson, who sits on the board of City Building (Glasgow), distinguished himself by allegedly threatening one of the rebels that her son would be sacked from City Building if she failed to vote for the Labour budget. Davidson has not denied the allegation, and neither has the Labour Party.
Some of the rebels can also genuinely argue that they are hard-working when it comes to dealing with individual complaints from their constituents.
The fact that the rebels are no anti-cuts champions should not obscure the fact that the Labour Group in the City Chambers are hardly any better.
What’s needed is effective control over the Labour Group being exercised by a reinvigorated Glasgow Labour Party.