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Glasgow's missing millions

The SNP is disproportionately targeting Labour-run local authorities, a local councillor claims.

On Thursday Glasgow city council set its budget. Yet again it faces a real terms cut.

The SNP will, as they always do, naturally seek to blame Westminster, and it is true that funding reductions by the UK government have had an effect. But these have been intensified as the Nationalist government in Edinburgh has hacked away at Glasgow’s share of the overall local authority pot year after year.

Since the SNP minority government first allied with the Tories to set a budget in 2008, a habit they continued throughout their first term, Glasgow has lost £370,000,000, in total, and the pace has been accelerating. The Scottish government’s own figures show that if Glasgow got the same share of the pot as it did under Labour, it would have had an extra £96m this year. Glasgow city Council’s estimates for the coming year are that this gap will swell to £109m, as Scotland’s biggest city once again sees its share cut. We now know where at least a hefty piece of the SNP’s £444m underspend has come from. It is money that could have been spent on the people of Glasgow.

The Nationalists insist that they are helpless in the face of Westminster. Indeed this was the line dutifully parroted by Nationalist councillors in the budget debate. At no point were any of them prepared to diverge from the line they were given by Edinburgh and fight for their constituents’ interests.

These lines from Holyrood would be more believable, were it not for the fact that some areas seem to have been strangely shielded from the storm according to figures directly from the Scottish government.

Angus, the only council where the Nationalists have an outright majority, and which sends SNP MP Mike Weir to parliament, has seen its share of the pot actually increase, so that it has had an extra £3m this year than it would under the allocation when the SNP came to power.

Perth & Kinross, run by the SNP with Tory support and returning an SNP MP in Pete Wishart, has seen its share of the pot go up year on year, and had an additional £13m in its 2014-15 budget from these adjustments to funding shares.

Aberdeenshire, the local authority where Alex Salmond had his Westminster seat for many years and where he hopes to have one again, gets an extra £16m this year. Aberdeenshire has an unemployment rate a third of that of Glasgow.

Just as the Thatcher government tore down the democratic structures of the urban centres of England for daring to oppose her, so the Nationalists, similarly intolerant of dissent, are deliberately throttling Scotland’s greatest city.

The formula is simple. Slash a council’s revenue stream, bar it from raising money through the rates, let the difficult cases fall onto the social care roles and then watch as Labour councils are forced to do your dirty work of cuts for you, while you use every crisis to centralise power.

The Nationalists seek to lecture Labour on its roots, while their policies are socialism in reverse. Let us be clear. The redistribution away from areas of need is by definition regressive.  This is not “progressive politics”, it is the antithesis.

The Nationalist attacks on local democracy, most recently articulated by their MSP Joan McAlpine, argue that Scotland’s cities cannot go it alone. Holyrood thinks Glasgow is too feart to stand up to it, to demand that it gets its fair share. The people of this great city do not need to be protected from their decisions by the government in Edinburgh, and still less will they stand for being robbed so the Nationalists can buy votes in its heartlands.

Labour has an alternative. The party has pledged to give the cities of our island the resources to solve their own problems. We are one of the great industrial, cosmopolitan cities of Europe, and given our fair share of money and power there is so much more that could be done. Glasgow must not be denied this opportunity because of nation-building politicians in Edinburgh.

Matt Kerr is a Labour councillor in Glasgow. He tweets as @Cllr_Matt_Kerr.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.