Greens and coalition in Edinburgh

Green councillor, Steve Burgess explains why the Greens will be the principal voice of progressive opposition in the new City Council.

A few people have asked me why the Greens are not formally part of the new Labour-SNP coalition in Edinburgh.  After all, with our numbers swelling from 3 to 6 councillors and our vote up by 40% across the city, there is clearly an appetite for Green ideas.   New Council leader, Andrew Burns, is, by nature, a politician who seeks consensus rather than conflict and he made it clear that he would want to work with Green councillors.

I have assured Andrew that we want to take him up on that offer, but a formal role within the coalition was not practicable.  Here’s why.

There were three possible options mooted:

  • Option 1 – a “rainbow alliance” of all five parties within the city chambers.
  • Option 2 – a coalition of Labour, Green and Lib Dem – the so-called “traffic light” coalition
  • Option 3 – Green participation in a coalition of either Labour/SNP or Labour/Tory.

Option 1 – the rainbow alliance was never a real option. It was an opening gesture, to bring parties together.  But, as a working model it would have resulted in a list of lowest common denominator policies, far short of the ambition Edinburgh needs to show over the next five years.  And it would have obscured accountability and objective scrutiny of policy.

Option 2 – the traffic light coalition had superficial attractions.  It would have given a group of 29 councillors in a 58 member Council, exactly the same numbers as in the last council – although whether that was a successful model is highly questionable.  In practice, the Liberal Democrats showed little appetite for this arrangement now.  And, at the same time, the SNP was actively seeking to persuade the Tories to make an alternative grouping of 29, resulting in an Administration decided by a cut of the cards – no way to run a democracy.

Option 3 – a three party coalition with Labour, Greens and either Tory or SNP probably looks most attractive from outside.  A deal with the Tories would have been difficult given that party’s commitment to re-opening the question of privatising public services, the exploration of which resulted in over £3 million wasted in the last Council.  More generally, either scenario – with SNP or Tories – had a major weakness in that both could achieve a majority of votes (more than 29) without needing the 6 Green votes.  That would leave a real imbalance in the relationship – two of the three parties would have the sanction of withdrawal; one party, the Greens would not.

There’s an assumption in all of this that one is either “in power” or not.  And, if the latter, then nothing can be achieved.  That is not my experience of the last five years.  Working in partnership with other parties, Green councillors have had dozens of ideas adopted – including Scotland’s first “Park Green” scheme, rewarding owners of smaller more efficient vehicles; new ways for community groups to agree budget priorities; and commitments on cycling – among many others.

So, for the next five years, look out for Greens seeking to build consensus on balanced transport, on making the workings of the Council more open, on measures to tackle fuel poverty and low pay – we can and will do all this as the lead voice for constructive and progressive opposition.

And next time around, when I’d like to see 11 Green councillors or more – let’s look at the arithmetic of coalition again.