Leader comment: Consensus politics must not be outlawed

The suspension of nine councillors because they defied party orders by agreeing a coalition deal with the Conservatives is further bad news for Scottish Labour, undermining party leader Kezia Dugdale as the general election approaches.

When Ms Dugdale’s instructions are disregarded by elected members, any sense of unity or strong leadership is lost. It must be hugely frustrating for her that, a day after her UK boss Jeremy Corbyn had launched a manifesto which might just appeal to the electorate more than anyone had expected, giving a clear choice between Labour and Conservative, she now finds that the distinction is blurred again in one part of the country.

But the bigger victim in this is local democracy itself. This month’s council elections gave every voter a real say in the outcome, through proportional representation. What we ended up with was, by and large, a genuinely representative indication of public opinion, which the first past the post system can never achieve. The downside, if it cam be considered in such a way, is that a PR system does not produce a strong government. Instead, it is far more likely to produce a scenario where no party has overall control, and deals have to be done with rival parties. Co-operation and compromise, in other words.

There is a convincing argument, however, that such an outcome is not a negative, and is in fact highly desirable. If one party cannot attract enough support to merit overall control, why should it be allowed to roll out its entire programme, while others who attracted lesser but still significant support, have no influence?

Consensus politics offers the opportunity to find the best way forward for the biggest number of people, by forcing parties to measure their own demands and accommodate the views of others. With no overall control in any of our 32 local authorities, co-operation is the only workable way ahead.

But there have been declarations from more than one of our political parties that they will not do business with a particular rival, and while that sentiment may be understandable in the polarised state of Scottish politics, the regrettable consequence is that our local elections continue to be shaped by one national issue. At local level, parties should be working together to make a difference to the communities they serve.