A row today erupted between nine councillors suspended from the Labour Party and their national chiefs over leaked details of their meetings with bosses.
Documents handed to the Evening Express regarding their suspensions – which went before Scottish Labour’s executive committee (SEC) at the weekend – detail interviews carried out as the party considers their futures.
The councillors, who ran for the Town House as Labour candidates, were suspended by the party in May when they defied national chiefs to join a ruling coalition with the Conservative group and Independent group.
The papers show the suspended nine believe they are leading their “inexperienced” Conservative administration partners and have them implementing left-wing policies.
It’s also claimed the group was surprised at how easily the Tories agreed to Labour’s policies, while some members of the group said they would pull out of the deal should the Tories stop supporting the party.
Councillors Yvonne Allan, Barney Crockett, Lesley Dunbar, Sarah Duncan, Gordon Graham, Ross Grant, Jenny Laing, Sandra Macdonald and Tauqeer Malik were suspended by the party shortly after the local elections.
And today the exiled Labour members blasted the national party for not allowing them to see the documents leaked to the EE, stating they could not verify the accuracy of their contents.
The Evening Express offered the group the opportunity to go through the specifics of the report so they could comment, but this was rejected.
So far the Tories are playing ball and supporting left-wing policies
An Aberdeen Labour group spokesperson said: “The documents in question are not a transcript, they are merely notes taken by a Scottish Labour party staff member, of private interviews held between Brian Roy, General Secretary of Scottish Labour, and the nine councillors who were suspended in May.
“It is extremely disappointing that these notes have been placed in the public domain when they have not even been shared with the councillors.
“The councillors have not been given the opportunity to verify either the factual accuracy, the interpretation of comments contained in them, or to agree the final version.
“There was no recording taken of these interviews so these notes do not form a transcript of the discussions, they are notes taken to assist Mr Roy in preparing his report.
“The Aberdeen Labour group had previously requested copies of these documents and have urgently requested that they be made available, but have received no response as yet.
“We will continue to pursue this request urgently so that we can make informed comment, should it be appropriate.”
A note from an interview with Lord Provost Barney Crockett states he told Labour’s Scottish General Secretary Brian Roy “Jenny (Laing) is de-facto leader and the Tories more or less go along with what she says”, and that “so far the Tories are playing ball and supporting left-wing policies”.
Speaking about the agreement Aberdeen Labour has in place with local Tories, led by now-council co-leader Douglas Lumsden, the document adds that Cllr Crockett’s view was that “it’s astonishing how favourable the agreement is to Labour, particularly that we received co-leadership and Provost, with most media comments coming from Labour”.
According to the report, Cllr Crockett went as far as to state that Aberdeen Labour needed to get back to a place where its current administration partners, the Tories, were his party’s opposition again.
He is said to have put forward the view that “the SNP are in disarray locally and we don’t want to give them a foothold. Ultimately, we need to get the narrative back to Labour v the Tories, and allowing the SNP to control the council would undermine this effort”.
Despite a strong Tory vote in the city, the new councillors are very inexperienced and willing to be led by the more experienced Labour group
He is said to have added Labour figures were “dominant” in press coverage, with himself and Cllr Laing “the face” of most stories.
Council co-leader Cllr Laing was also interviewed as part of the process.
A report of her conversation with Mr Roy states she put forward the view that “despite a strong Tory vote in the city, the new councillors are very inexperienced and willing to be led by the more experienced Labour group”, which would allow “Labour a great opportunity to exert influence over policy”.
Cllr Laing also believed, according to the documents, failure to join the coalition would have made the party irrelevant in Aberdeen.
The papers state Mr Roy asked: “Given that the Tories are the larger group, are you at all concerned that they will be able to claim credit for Labour policies?”
Cllr Laing is said to have responded by claiming that “given the inexperience of the Conservative group there is an opportunity for Labour to take the lead and the credit”, adding Labour “will, for instance, be able to use the co-leader and Provost positions to be the ‘face’ of good news stories”.
It’s claimed in the notes Cllr Sandra Macdonald said “the Tory councillors are inexperienced and Labour figures are very much in control. There is, however, a danger that they get more experience and confident and this will have to be monitored.”
However, some Labour members did have opposing views over the future of the administration, should the Tories try to exert more authority.
It’s claimed Cllr Laing stated it would be “political suicide” to leave the administration.
But a number of councillors apparently disagreed with their leader, according to the paper.
If the Tories do try to be mischievous, or if the agreement is no longer working in the interests of Aberdeen or the party, then we can always walk away from it
Cllr Crockett is noted to have said that “so far the Tories are playing ball and supporting left-wing policies. If this changes they will obviously look at the agreement again”.
The leaked memo said Councillor Gordon Graham claimed “the SNP’s dirty tricks undoubtedly played a part in our poor performance and we also lost a number of seats very narrowly.
“Also, if the Tories do try to be mischievous, or if the agreement is no longer working in the interests of Aberdeen or the party, then we can always walk away from it”.
The document adds that he is apparently “more than willing to withdraw from the coalition if the Tories, or Independents, renege on the deal in any way”.
The document further states that Cllr Sarah Duncan intimated she “wouldn’t hesitate to withdraw from the agreement if the Tories reneged on their promise”.
It’s claimed that during his interview, Cllr Tauqeer Malik, who represents Lower Deeside, was “surprised at how easily the Tories agreed to implement the Aberdeen Labour manifesto”.
All nine suspended councillors were interviewed on August 8 and 9 ahead of a decision to lift the suspension, lift it with a formal warning, or refer the individual cases to the National Constitutional Committee of the party for a final disciplinary hearing.
In her testimony to Mr Roy, Cllr Laing is said to have accepted the suspension was within the party rules, however, she pointed out there are mitigating circumstances.
The memo also said Cllr Laing gave Mr Roy a run down on the discussions before the agreement was reached between the Labour Party, the Conservatives and Independents.
According to the report of her interview, in the lead-up to the decision to enter into a power-sharing deal with the Tories and Independents, Labour’s SEC stated it had refused the decision, but after a discussion the Labour Group voted 8-1 to enter into the arrangement, in spite of the SEC decision.
The document says she believed it met the criteria set out by the SEC.
In her conversation with Mr Roy she is then said to have claimed the SEC does not fully understand the realities of Aberdeen politics.
And the document also said Cllr Laing believed that failure to join the coalition would have made the “party irrelevant” in the city.
At the time of the vote, the new coalition would have been in the minority, yet a couple of days later Cllr Jennifer Stewart announced her resignation from the Lib Dem group and that she intended to join the new coalition which would give them a majority.
With a majority, the group was then able to implement its 15 Labour manifesto pledges because the Tories had no policies.
The paper said since the coalition was formed Cllr Laing believes it has made progress on a number of initiatives, such as the opening of the Cruyff Court.
Cllr Crockett, it is claimed, said if the group had withdrawn from the proposed coalition agreement with the Tories then it would have been seen as caving to “Central-Belt pressure”, due to the position taken by the SEC – a view several others are said to have echoed.
Scottish Labour today said it “did not comment on leaks” but that following the SEC meeting at the weekend the councillors’ suspensions remained in place.
A spokesman said: “The local government budget process will be the first real opportunity for the administration in Aberdeen to demonstrate their commitment to challenging austerity, as well as protecting public services and its workforce.
“The SEC will keep this matter under review until then.”
The budget is due to be set in February next year.