Labour have signed their Cumbernauld death certificate although they'll win the local council election, I think

Written by Scott Campbell. Scott Campbell
Published at 17:42 on 13 February 2013.
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LABOUR has sealed its death certificate in Cumbernauld, with the party’s councillors voting in favour of Abronhill High School closing.

The next council elections will be in four years’ time. And, it will, as always, be played on a local battlefield where arguments such as ‘I can get your bins emptied’ and ‘I can help you with anti-social neighbours’ are the special deal of the day on the election menu.

However, in 2017 when we all go to the polls we will be thinking less about our bins, neighbours, pavements and roads. And, instead, we will be looking at the record of the ruling group in its previous term.

As the electorate it is our job to hold these Motherwell-based so-and-so’s to account, through consultations, letters, protests, and ultimately, the media. Last year’s council elections saw 37.72% of the electorate show. It was dismal.

Labour won by a landslide, with 41, and the SNP – the Labour group’s main opposition, came in at 26. 3 independent candidates were elected; victory for Labour, then.

However, just short of six months into their term, the leading Labour boffins and spin doctors were about to earn their keep – there was a ‘savings package’ to make, you know.

The council announced that £73.3million of cuts had to be made over the next few years – no department was safe; no jobs guaranteed, apart from Labour’s, of course.

Immediately, Labour’s Leader, McCabe screeched foul and blamed those barmy Nationalists, in Holyrood for the cuts. He screamed that certain provisions should be guaranteed and that some departments should be protected to the full extent possible. One face for the public, quite another when he turns his back, one suspects.

September quite clearly saw some Labour councillors choke on their morning ration of Corn Flakes; Abronhill High School was a proposed saving – the community’s children became numbers to the council. Cumbernauld’s Labour mob went silent, whilst the consultations got underway.

One entitled ‘The Way Ahead’ and another named ‘The Proposed Rationalisation of Abronhill and Cumbernauld High Schools’ were published. The figures were muddled and certain data was inaccurate. Never mind, still, there’s always the two consultation evenings, James McKinstry – the man responsible for looking at the proposals viabilities, probably thought. He was wrong.

Bringing a council team to Cumbernauld, McKinstry was welcomed to a bursting Abronhill Community Centre, on the first night and, a smaller – but equally angry crowd on the second evening, in Cumbernauld High School. People wanted answers; questions were asked and the council shrugged the proposals off by saying ‘life is a challenge’. I heard it, it was a disgrace.

McKinstry, however, wasn’t the only target of both meetings. Abronhill, Kildrum and The Village’s Labour Councillor Stephen Grant, was firmly in the sightlines of many parents and pupils.

At the Abronhill consultation evening he told residents that he was, to some extent, against the proposals. However, he made it clear that he would follow the party line. Again, as with McCabe, it was one face publically, another privately.

Consultations over, the community’s faith was disappearing. Campaigners tried desperately, in vein, to change the mind of Councillors and council officials. Document after document flooded the e-mail relay of North Lanarkshire Council’s server, but still, it seemed nobody was going to crack first.

The Save Abronhill High School Working Group wouldn’t give up. ‘Walk to Win’ marches led many out onto the streets to show the council that they wouldn’t take this proposal lying down. North Lanarkshire Council was surprised. They thought the proposals would slip under the radar, because Abronhillers are all stupid, in their minds – judging by the way which they addressed peoples’ concerns at times.

McCabe said that a 1% response to a £73.3million savings package consultation was a “success” for local democracy – despite nearly half of North Lanarkshire households failing to receive the document. Red faces all round, in Motherwell – what a sight that would have been.

Nevertheless, the council pressed on.

Abronhill residents made a last ditch attempt to save their school, in a massive letter writing campaign, which saw some local constituents blocked by their one Labour Councillor – by the way, cheers for that, Mr Grant.

It was all useless.

The proposals were changed. Abronhill High School’s closure would be offset by a year to match the “significant concerns” raised by parents, pupils and staff at the school. The language changed too, a new build was now not a “proposal” but a “guarantee”, in the new recommendations – the council knew that the people were watching.

Wednesday 6th February, 2013; D-day for the Gregory’s Girl school, the media went crazy. As one of the Working Group’s spokesmen I was handling media requests for interviews and photographs. The Evening Times, The Herald, the Daily Record, STV News, BBC News and a number of radio stations, including BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Clyde, Real Radio, Smooth FM and Rock FM carried our campaign’s story – most with an interview.

At 6am, I was awoken by a familiar voice on the radio. It was mine. Real Radio and Radio Clyde carried my on-air interview, Paul Baird, my fellow press officer for the Working Group was live on Radio Scotland’s flagship ‘Good Morning Scotland’ programme, whilst the internet went nuts, and BBC Breakfast and Daybreak’s Scottish news updates carried the D-day announcement bulletin.

It was exposure like never before. I kept my phone on throughout the morning and made sure I was at the council’s Motherwell Civic Centre for 10.30am, when over forty Save Abronhill High School campaigners took their seats in the council chamber, ready for the debate on Abronhill High’s future.

11.15am: I’m shown a text; the second person to read it. ‘Council vote to close Abronhill’ – that was it. The community’s fate was sealed. I was straight on the phone to as many press rooms as possible, although the council’s own PR team were ahead of me.

It had taken forty-five minutes. All of the Learning and Leisure Services committee Labour members voted for the closure – including Cumbernauld South’s ‘Champions’, Stephanie Muir and Allan Graham. The SNP stood united against the proposals but stood no chance; they were the equivalent of a bag in the wind during a tornado – they couldn’t stop Labour or hold them back.

4pm brought the council’s full meeting. Abronhill High’s closure was rubber stamped. Again, all Labour Councillors joined forces in what I described as a ‘dark day’ for local democracy. Councillor Stephen Grant was, however, true to his word. He voted with his party, in favour of the closure.

With that, the day was over. The Working Group knew it was off to the Scottish Government to appeal the decision and gathering of the council’s mismatching figures and ill-prepared reports began immediately. However, something else occurred that day, in Motherwell.

Labour had signed its death certificate, in Cumbernauld.

In Cumbernauld, Labour has five Councillors – a figure crucial to the party’s continued survival within North Lanarkshire.

Labour has 41 Councillors elected, out of the 70 positions available. 35 is half of the positions, 36 is the figure which spells majority. Cumbernauld provides Labour with its much needed majority. If Cumbernauld abandoned Labour then the party would see its majority crumble to one.

Now, giving a party, or person, the boot at a local election is very difficult. The Single Transferrable Vote system means that voting for one person means you are, in effective, voting for someone completely different, just because of the transfer of votes.

The only way to out Labour is to vote for the most credible opposition. In Abronhill, Kildrum and The Village the SNP is the biggest opposition, so the electors would have to vote only for them and the strongest third candidate available. If everyone voted in this way then Labour could find themselves oot oan their arse!

However, this isn’t likely, and what we’re likely to see at the next local election is pretty much the same situation as just now, with Labour’s Stephen ‘Honest’ Grant elected at a stage other than one – relying on transferred votes to get in. However, I would plead with you to vote at the local elections – apathy allows people a clear path into local government.

Bring back the District Council, I think. Otherwise, raise your glass and congratulate Labour on their early local council win, with 39 Councillors, in 2017 – that’s my prediction. It’s an unhappy ‘Cheers!’ from me.