How the Greens kept the Tories out of power in Edinburgh

Gavin Corbett ponders the ebb and flow of coalition discussions in the capital.

I was elected as a councillor last Friday – thanks again to everyone who supported me!  It has been a busy few days since, partly with the nuts and bolts of any new job, but mainly because the Greens have been looking very seriously at what Council make-up is in the best  interests of Edinburgh.

On Saturday Labour, as the largest party, put forward a proposal for a “rainbow alliance” involving all five parties in overseeing the Council.  That has formed the nub of discussions over the weekend and since.

Let’s start with the basics.  There never was any possibility of there being a rainbow alliance as an actual way of governing the city.  It was a means by which Labour got all five parties round the table and that has been useful.  But as a model of governance it obscured accountability, reduced scrutiny and made a fudge of policy priorities when Edinburgh needs bold and innovative ideas.

The option of a traffic-light coalition – Green-LibDem-Labour – has also never been on the table as the Lib Dems showed no interest in it.  It also gave us a Council split 50:50 and constantly dependent on the casting vote of the Lord Provost.  In other words a continuation of the problems faced by the last Council.

Then there was talk of a Tory-Labour coalition with Green support.  Over the last 24 hours this has featured as the most touted option.  But why?  The Tories and Labour would together have 31 votes, more than than the 29 they need.  Any Green participation would have the serious weakness that our votes were unnecessary, creating an imbalance of power within a coalition and leaving no scope for the Greens to push our most ambitious policies.  Besides, all parties recognise that the Greens and Tories are at the farthest ends of the spectrum as regards policy, making a coherent programme difficult.

In truth, this was little more than a green fig-leaf – an attempt by Labour to sweeten for their supporters the bitter pill of a deal with the Tories.  By removing that sweetener earlier today – by making it clear that we could not sit alongside the Tories in an arrangement in which they had a veto – we made Labour rule out the Tories as playing a role in the city’s government.  That left Labour and SNP with what had always been the most obvious option – a partnership of the two largest parties, who have little difference between them in local policy and with only tribalism standing in the way.

What’s best for Edinburgh?  Well, a Green-led council, of course!  The arithmetic did not allow for that possibility this time around.  So a coalition which keeps the Conservatives in opposition and which places the Greens as the leading alternative for bold and progressive ideas offers exciting prospects for the capital.