How Sarwar’s ‘no deal with SNP’ could backfire on Labor

During a campaign visit to Possilpark, Glasgow earlier this month, Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar flatly rejected any prospect of Labor working in a coalition with the SNP at local or national level in the future.

Labor leaders in Britain and Scotland were adamant there would be no deal with Nicola Sturgeon’s party either after the May 5 vote or following a general election in the UK.

Susan Aitken, the SNP leader of Glasgow City Council, had told the Herald the day before that she thought Labor was “very stupid” in ruling out alliances with the SNP.

While the leader of the SNP in Scotland’s biggest city has not explained why she thinks this is the case, a look at the makeup of Scottish local authorities may help explain why.

READ MORE: Anas Sarwar slammed by council labor chief for no deal with SNP

Currently the SNP and Labor are coalition partners in six of Scotland’s 32 local authorities – Edinburgh, East Renfrewshire, Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway, South Ayrshire and Fife, while Labor and the Conservatives also jointly run administration in Aberdeen.

So, ruling out forming coalitions again with the SNP and the Tories in these local authorities, Labor could opt to relinquish power in seven areas and run fewer councils than in 2017, despite the fact that they won more votes and overtook the Conservatives, as the polls suggest.

Adam McVey (SNP), left, and Cammy Day (Labour) sign a coalition agreement at the City Chambers six-week negotiation on June 16, 2017. Pic Gordon Terris/The Herald.

Indeed, 18 of Scotland’s councils are run by two or more parties working together, while no party runs a majority administration.

Mark Diffley, an independent pollster, said the dominance of coalitions and the scarcity of a ruling party in local government has a lot to do with the voting system for municipal elections.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system used in municipal elections is a form of proportional representation that allows voters to number a list of candidates. Their number one favorite, their second number two favorite, and so on. Voters can put numbers next to as many or as few candidates as they wish. Parties will often field more than one candidate in each field.

READ MORE: Susan Aitken: Labor are very stupid to rule out a deal with the SNP

To be elected, a candidate needs a certain number of votes, called a quota. The people counting the votes set the quota based on the number of vacancies and the number of votes cast.

After the count is complete, any candidate who has more number ones than the quota is elected. But, rather than discarding any extra votes a candidate has received past the amount they need to win, those votes are transferred to each voter’s second-favorite candidate.

If no one meets the quota, the people counting the vote eliminate the least popular candidate. People who voted for them have their votes transferred to their second preferred candidate. This process continues until every vacancy is filled.

“Proponents of the STV system would say it is fairer because it gives a more accurate picture of what voters are thinking,” Mr Diffley said.

“One of the main criticisms of the first-past-the-post system is that the majority of votes are wasted, so a candidate could win with 35% of the votes in the region and win, meaning the politician represents a region even if the majority did not vote for him.”

He added that the council-wide extrapolation of the STV system means it is more difficult for one party to win an overall majority as it is very rare for a single party to win more than 50% of the vote. To win on STV, a party would need to get more than 50% of the vote and both candidates first, second and third.

However, voters often mix up their party choices and “split their votes” when ranking them, Mr Diffley added.

“The STV proportional representation system is one of the reasons why there are so many coalitions in local government – another being the high number of independent candidates who also run.

“There is a much more tradition of independent candidacies than at the national level.”

But why then does Labor seem so keen to stress that it opposes forming new coalitions with the SNP?

Diffley said the distrust is political and has a lot to do with the shadow of the election campaign and the 2015 defeat that still hangs over the party.

Ahead of the vote, then-party leader Ed Miliband did not rule out a post-election alliance with other parties – a stance taken by the Tories who immediately plastered up giant posters across the UK. Labor leader’s United in the pocket of Alex Salmond in a bid to scare voters in England and pro-union supporters in Scotland.

“It is said to have been one of the reasons for Labour’s defeat,” Mr Diffley said.

“The message from the Tories was vote Labour, get the SNP and another referendum. And while you could argue there’s a very big difference between that and whether, for example, Highland Council has a Labour/ SNP [and local council elections shouldn’t be about constitutional issues] Anas Sarwar is worried about sending a message that could be a gift to the conservatives.”

At the local level, though the position of Mr Sarwar and Mr Starmer has its critics among the heads of labor councils.

As the Herald reported last week, Elaine Murray, leader of the Labor/SNP Coalition Labor Council who leads the council in Dumfries and Galloway, said the arrangement had worked well.

She said the two parties were able to put aside their differences over the constitution and find a common political platform to implement.

Councilor Murray said the joint administration has taken steps to grow the local economy, support small and medium-sized businesses and improve the skill level of the local workforce.

She also added that targets had been met to roll out a household recycling scheme across the region, lobbying the Scottish Government to expand the 80 per cent funding to include smaller waste prevention schemes floods.

In terms of child support, she said the council had developed free breakfast clubs in all primary schools in Dumfries and

Galloway; provided 1,140 hours of child care for each eligible preschooler and improved educational attainment.

Knocking out a coalition with the SNP could let the Tories enter as a minority administration, Councilor Murray warned.

“The Conservatives are the biggest party, so the alternatives are a minority Conservative administration…or some form of partnership between Labor and the SNP,” she said.

“If they were ideological conservatives they could cut a lot of services. For example, we have chosen to invest £1million a year in anti-poverty measures such as anti-poverty programs hungry during the holidays. [for school pupils]. It may well be that the Tories choose not to and spend the money elsewhere.”

On Edinburgh City Council, where Labor and the SNP have also been in coalition since 2017, SNP leader and council leader Adam McVey is again open to a coalition with the other main parties except conservatives.

Like Councilor Murray in Dumfries and Galloway, he said the SNP/Labour coalition had been successful.

“Our two parties in 2017 put aside our party interests and worked together to achieve the best for Edinburgh. Our manifestos worked well together and we shared a vision of a fairer and greener Edinburgh with better services for residents. We knew that working together, and with other parties, was the only way to make progress on these key issues,” he said.

“The past five years have given the capital a strong direction and built a solid foundation for further reform. Both parties were able to use their experience and ideas to serve the city and nothing more than when we had to work together during the pandemic. to ensure the safety of people and the operation of vital services. »

Edinburgh Labor leader and deputy council leader Cammy Day was more coy but seemed to suggest there could still be talks with the SNP if the Labor leadership softened its stance after May 5.

“We are currently campaigning to win as many seats as possible in Edinburgh, to lead or influence the next administration and await advice on post-election discussions,” he said.