Monday, 7 May 2012

A kingmaker is born

It's certainly been an interesting week!

I naively thought that after the count on Friday, I'd be able to take a few days' rest. However, given the arithmetic following the Midlothian result (8 Labour, 8 SNP, Independent Peter de Vink and myself) I suppose I should have expected the phone calls from the SNP and Labour groups over the weekend, though being thrust into the position of 'kingmaker' was not something I had really thought much about.

Fortunately, the Greens have been in this position before at Holyrood, where frantic bargaining took place mainly over the budget, but it has concentrated the minds of everyone in the party on the pitfalls and risks associated with delicate negotiations in such circumstances. This has been of enormous benefit - many of us in the party have discussed in depth how we should approach it, and I think as a result we are relatively mature in how to deal with it.

I'm also amazed at how much trust the Green Party puts in its representatives to handle such negotiations - after all, the wrong decision could backfire spectacularly on the party as a whole, and I think that has helped those in my position to be extra cautious about how we proceed.

My decision to back an SNP-Independent coalition was not too difficult to make. I did of course consult with the Midlothian Greens before making any commitments, but I'm very happy to say the position I was minded to take was supported 100% by the membership, which was very reassuring.

During the campaign I was highly critical of how the previous Labour administration had run the council, particularly in its management of finances. To campaign for change, then to prop up what I maintained was a failed administration would be, to say the least, inconsistent. I could not do a deal with Labour. I also believe there is a history of a lack of transparency within the council, and allowing the same people to continue in control may have obstructed change.

On the other hand, I could not stay absolutely neutral. The last thing any council needs - particularly at this time, when people's jobs and livelihoods depend on decisions being made - would be to allow paralysis on the council. With Peter de Vink's decision to back the SNP group in a formal coalition meant that a decision by me to side with Labour would result in stalemate - where even the decision on who runs the council would be made with a cut of the cards.

Looking at the overall results in Midlothian, there was a clear shift away from Labour and the Liberal Democrats towards the SNP and new voices. This was hardly a resounding vote of confidence in the way the council has been run; it was a call for change, not resoundingly for the Nationalists, but change nevertheless. I had to respect that.

Going into a formal coalition with the SNP-independent group would have been risky. Although Peter de Vink and I do share some common ground (particularly in a desire to see more transparency and better financial management), our politics are quite far apart - as I believe are his from the SNP's. The coalition could prove fragile and my ability to remain flexible in changing circumstances could undoubtedly leave me with some interesting options if it all falls apart.

The overriding concern for me is for stability and an environment where the council can function. I hope to remain on good terms with both the SNP and Labour groups and will endeavour to do what's best for the people of Midlothian, and especially the Bonnyrigg ward, whilst pursuing what I entered politics for - to create a fair and sustainable society which caters for the needs of future generations as well as ourselves.


  1. As a green voter I have to say I am shocked and appalled by this.

    I know first hand that the Midlothian Labour group is not going to be winning council of the year.

    But to sell our souls to the SNP it's almost as bad as Nick Clegg and the ConDem alliance.

    I fully understand the allure of "king maker" and the idea that we will get things out of this. The brutal truth is that you're falling for shiny baubles. We know from East Lothian that the SNP also cannot run a good council ~ and certainly not a green one!

    So I implore you to stand for your ideals, the green ideals. Let the SNP run a minority council where you can vote as your concious dictates. Don't sell your soul for some broken promises.

    Become the green councillor you were elected by the people to be. Not another clone wearing blue face paint shouting "freedom"

  2. Hi,

    I think you may misunderstand the position. I declined to go into a formal coalition, so once the administration is set up next week I am free to vote against it at any point and on any issue. My only commitment is that if I decide to vote against it on a vote of confidence, that I discuss the matter first with the council leader (which I would have done anyway).

    Also, because I'm not in coalition, there are no 'shiny baubles', just an agreement by the SNP to look at issues we feel are important. In your words, the SNP is running a minority administration and I will be able to vote as my conscience dictates.


  3. Perhaps Anonymous can explain why he/she believes East Lothian was poorly run. The SNP/Lib Dem coalition came in in 2007 and sorted out some very awkward issues - chief exec, racecourse, cultural centre. If we need evidence of a positive legacy then look no further than four new libraries at Haddington, Dunbar, North Berwick and Tranent. East Lothian is the county Midlothian should aspire to. Don't let your dislike of the SNP cloud your judgment. Oh, and good luck Ian.