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Labour suspends Aberdeen councillors over coalition with Tories

The Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, has suspended every Labour councillor in Aberdeen after they ignored orders to abandon a power-sharing deal with the Conservatives.

Dugdale said the nine councillors, including the newly elected lord provost of Aberdeen, Barney Crockett, would now be disciplined for refusing to tear up a coalition deal with the Tories in a bid to prevent the Scottish National party from taking power.

“Labour cannot do any deal with another party if it would result in further austerity being imposed on local communities,” Dugdale said. “Tory austerity risks hurting so many families in Aberdeen, and the Labour party simply will not stand for that.”

Their suspension, authorised by the party’s Scottish executive committee, is directly linked to the snap general election and Labour’s efforts to rebuild its faltering support among Scottish voters.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National party leader, has made opposing the Tories at all levels of government a key part of this election campaign, even though the SNP struck two coalition deals with the Tories after the 2012 local government elections and worked closely with them during Alex Salmond’s minority administration at Holyrood from 2007 to 2011.

Sturgeon tweeted the Aberdeen suspension decision was “a total shambles”, suggesting Labour had already propped up a Tory administration there.

(@NicolaSturgeon)

What a total shambles. Suspension doesn’t change fact that these councillors have used Labour votes to give Aberdeen a Tory council. https://t.co/nEcc5kqL7V

Labour lost substantial ground in the 4 May council elections. After holding or sharing power in 18 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, it is now the largest party in only three and tied with the SNP in a fourth.

Labour had been in four council coalitions with Tory councillors, including a delicately balanced deal in Aberdeen. But the party lost half its seats and ending up with nine councillors to the Tories 11 in Aberdeen, while the SNP won 19. With a handful of independent councillors in support, that meant Labour was the junior partner in the coalition, leaving it open to electorally damaging charges it was propping up the Tories simply to block the SNP from taking power.

In a bid to sweeten the deal, the Tories had helped to get Jenny Laing, the Labour group leader, elected as council leader on Wednesday, and allowed Crockett, a former council leader, to become lord provost. All nine Labour councillors must now take office and sit as independents. Crockett and Laing have been approached for a response.

Dugdale had refused to ban Labour councillors from agreeing new deals with Tories as long as they could guarantee there would be no compulsory job losses and no service cuts, and are in talks with the Tories about an informal deal in North Lanarkshire and a formal coalition in West Lothian.

As the row over the proposed deal erupted earlier on Wednesday, Dugdale had indicated she was not satisfied the Aberdeen coalition deal had those guarantees. She told an election rally in the Aberdeen group had asked the party’s Scottish executive for permission to sign the deal with the Tories on Tuesday night but it was refused.

“It was rejected because we didn’t believe there was enough evidence the Labour group put forward that there would be no compulsory redundancies and no end to austerity,” Dugdale said. It would be rejected because “the lived reality is that the Tories are the party of austerity”.

She said: “If they do proceed with a deal with the Tories and independents, we will be writing to the Labour group in Aberdeen making clear that they’re in breach of the Labour party rulebook and we will take the associated necessary disciplinary action alongside that.”

The crisis in Aberdeen raises questions about the prospects for other coalition deals being struck across Scotland, since no party won an overall majority in any council on 4 May, leaving most forming minority administrations.

The Tories are now the largest or joint-largest group in six councils for the first time. So far, Edinburgh is still without a ruling coalition and Glasgow is being run by a minority SNP administration.