Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated by the leadership of Glasgow City Council Labour Group against Matt Kerr, who is a candidate in the Scottish Labour Party deputy leader ballot running from 21 February to 2 April.
At a City Council meeting a fortnight ago the minority SNP administration proposed a cuts budget. The Labour Group also proposed a cuts budget, with the usual homilies about it being "less painful", "the fault of Holyrood underfunding", "our cuts not as bad as yours", etc., etc.
Matt, a Glasgow Labour councillor, decided that he could not vote for either of the cuts budgets and walked out of the meeting. As he subsequently explained:
“Yesterday (at the Council meeting) I announced that I could not vote for any cuts budget being proposed for the city that I represent. I have had enough, this city has had enough, and we owe it to the people we represent to put up a fight.”
“Declining to support a Labour Group decision is not something I did lightly, but each of us has to make a stand against the SNP cuts at some point. I could not have in all conscience voted for any of the budgets proposed in the Chamber yesterday.”
The response to Matt’s refusal to support further cuts sums up the sorry state of Scottish Labour after years of right-wing control. And nowhere is its state more lamentable than in the ranks of the dysfunctional Glasgow City Council Labour Group.
According to the Labour Group finance spokesperson: “You (Matt Kerr) broke the group whip, you engaged in personal grandstanding and gifted the SNP an attack line before walking out and leaving your Labour colleagues to deal with the consequences.”
Labour Group chair Marie Garrity went one (or several) better, claiming that Matt’s conduct had led her to back arch-right-winger Jackie Baillie in Scottish Labour Party deputy leadership contest:
“Leadership is not walking out on your colleagues or trying to throw them under a bus. That’s not unity. Through this (Deputy Leader) contest it has become clear that Jackie Baillie is the real change candidate. I will be voting for her.”
For the right wing, the key and sole issue is that Matt broke the Group whip (although the Group standing orders only say that councillors are “expected” to abide by Group decisions).
But what the issue really highlights is the utter spinelessness of the Glasgow Labour Group. When Matt proposed at a Group meeting that Labour should propose a no-cuts budget, just one other member of the Group backed him.
Garrity – a close ally of Group Leader Frank McAveety – equates refusing to support cuts with throwing members of the Labour Group under a bus. But throwing the poorer sections of the population under a cuts steamroller doesn’t seem to even register on her political radar.
The debacle also highlights the uselessness of the Glasgow Labour Local Campaign Forum, which is meant to exercise some degree of control over the city’s Labour councillors.
The Forum hardly met last year, was badly attended when it did meet, exercises no control over the Labour Group, does no campaigning, and functions only as the passive recipient of tedious lectures by the Labour Group leadership about municipal realpolitik.
Jackie Baillie, Matt’s opponent in the Scottish deputy leadership contest, has denounced Matt’s conduct in a particularly surrealistic manner: “I’m not in favour of councillors walking out and abdicating responsibility. Matt walked out and left the rest of the Labour Group behind. They stayed to argue and protect the interests of their constituents, and I think that’s critically important.”
But in what way is a cuts budget a mechanism to protect the interests of constituents?
Baillie’s enthusiasm for bonding Labour to council cuts finds it highest expression in her support for the "Aberdeen Nine" – nine councillors suspended from the party because they joined a Council coalition administration with the Tories.
Baillie has not condemned the councillors for allying with the Tories and implementing cuts.
Her complaint, and key plank of her election platform, is that they have been suspended. She wants them to implement cuts in alliance with the Tories as full-blooded re-instated members.
Baillie was on the Board of Directors of "Better Together", the Labour-Tory "No" alliance in the 2014 independence referendum. Class collaboration with the Tories is second nature for her.
With a shameless contempt for reality, the pro-Trident, pro-fracking, pro-class-collaboration, pro-cuts Jackie Baillie – who wraps herself in a Union Jack at every opportunity, and was thrown off Scottish Labour’s front bench in Holyrood for briefing against Richard Leonard – now proclaims:
“I am the real change candidate. Next year’s (Holyrood election) campaign can’t be driven by a small group advocating more of the same. We need to open our doors, rebuild and unite the Labour Party.”
Scottish Labour members, especially in Glasgow, should: oppose any disciplinary action against Matt; build an effective Local Campaign Forum; build the anti-cuts alliance which the Labour Group is inherently incapable of building; and campaign for Matt for Deputy Leader.