Scotland politics

Where will power lie in Scottish councils?

Aberdeen City Council headquarters Image copyright Colin Smith

Labour did not completely rule out coalition deals with the Conservatives to run Scottish councils.

Instead the talk played down he notion, pointing out that Scottish Labour's national executive committee would need to approve any Labour participation in coalition deals.

It is significant that in Aberdeen councillors appear to be ignoring the NEC to enter a coalition with the Conservatives.

But the notion that local deals between Labour and the Conservatives were possible should not come as a complete shock.

In 2012, Labour and the Conservatives struck a deal to run Stirling - even though this kept the SNP, the largest local group, out of power.

However across Scotland the process of forming administrations is taking time.

In Glasgow, an SNP minority administration is expected to take office on Thursday, while in Dundee the SNP have reached a deal with an independent councillor to govern together.

But in Edinburgh there's uncertainty. Locally Labour gave an unambiguous commitment that it would not do deals with the Conservatives - matching a promise made by the SNP.

Mathematically possible deals in the capital are politically impossible. When the City of Edinburgh Council convenes on Thursday for its first meeting since the election it is unlikely a new administration will take office.

Administrations have still to be formed in many smaller councils too.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the general election.

It can be hard to reach deals in council chambers and fight for Westminster seats at the same time.

The expectation is that most new administrations will be in place by the end of next week.

It should then be possible to assess where power actually lies in local government - there are no guarantees that the largest party will always be in the administration.

For instance, a deal in South Ayrshire puts the Conservatives into opposition while in Angus the SNP (who had a local majority at the last council elections in 2012) have been kept out in the cold.

Nationally the SNP has more councillors than anyone else and is the largest group in more councils than anyone else.

There is no doubt that the SNP will be in its most powerful position ever in local government, emboldened by the symbolism of taking control of Glasgow.

But the deals so far suggest the party will enjoy less power than some may have anticipated.

The SNP is the largest group in all four main cities but the expected coalition deal in Aberdeen means the party will not be able to say that it leads all four.

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