WIPED OUT; End of the One-Party State as Labour's 50-Year Iron Grip on Local Councils Collapses after the SNP Strikes Deals with Other Parties

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON JENKINS

LABOUR'S iron hold on Scotland's councils is over as a series of coalition deals demolish the last bastion of its 'one-party state'.

The party's 50- year grip north of the Border has been rooted in its dominance of local authorities.

But while Labour used to run 14 of the country's 32 councils, a rout at the ballot box means it now has overall control of just two.

The party's attempts to form coalition deals to maintain power have been snubbed and agreements being drawn up over the next week - many between the SNP and Liberal Democrats - will force Labour from power, even in its west coast heartlands.

Last night, the SNP and Lib-Dems struck a deal to control Fife Council, in Chancellor Gordon Brown's own backyard.

The historic shift could be even more damaging to Labour's prospects of a recovery than its humiliating loss in the Scottish parliament elections.

The introduction of the single transferable vote (STV) method of proportional representation was expected to lead to the party taking a hammering at the polls.

But political experts last night estimated that even measured by the traditional 'first past the post system' Labour's council vote collapsed by five points. John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said: 'The Labour Party would have lost a lot of councils anyway (under STV) but not this many.

'Everybody is ganging up on Labour because they are not forming (council) administrations.

'As far as Labour had power of patronage, some of that is going to be lost.'

However, he said it will be more damaging for Labour to have lost 161 councillors - one-third of its total - than actual control of the local authorities.

Scottish Labour leader Jack McConnell, former Education Minister Hugh Henry and former Finance Minister Tom McCabe were all council leaders before being elected to parliament.

But future Labour Holyrood candidates with a council background will be denied valuable experience of dealing with multimillion pound budgets.

The SNP was the big winner of the council elections, becoming the party with the most councillors - 363 to Labour's 348.

However, it failed to win a majority in any one local authority, with 26 councils left without a single party in overall control. …