By a Newsnet reporter
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has launched her party’s local election campaign by immediately conceding defeat to the SNP. The extraordinary admission came as she attacked the SNP by comparing the party with the owner of Glasgow Rangers Football Club.
Speaking at her party’s campaign launch in Edinburgh, Ms Lamont raised eyebrows by conceding that the SNP’s courage and confidence was likely to see the nationalists move further ahead of her party in next May’s contest.
She said: "They will get more councillors this time because they've had slightly more confidence or courage to put up a bigger number of candidates.
"Last time they were very, very cautious. So using the last set of elections as a baseline is perhaps slightly false."
The Scottish leader also joked that any councils controlled by the SNP would face the same problems now being faced by Glasgow Rangers, whose owner Craig Whyte took the club into administration.
"Putting the SNP in charge of a council is like putting Craig Whyte in charge of your tax return," she said.
Ms Lamont insisted that Labour were focused on creating new jobs and training opportunities, spending more on schools and providing greater support for childcare.
She also said she wanted proper support for carers and better social care for pensioners as part of a list of "ambitious, realistic pledge, the length and breadth of the country".
"We are in the midst of a Scottish unemployment crisis," she said and added: "Behind every statistic is the tragedy of a family losing an income and a person suffering the indignity of being out of work."
Ms Lamont has faced calls to clarify her party’s position on the council tax freeze after several Labour regional groups adopted contradictory stances. Glasgow Labour has now adopted the SNP’s five year freeze on the council tax whilst their Highland colleagues attacked the freeze claiming it will lead to budget cuts.
However, at today’s launch, which promoted Labour’s local manifesto launches across Scotland, there was no mention of the party’s national policy on the council tax freeze which Ms Lamont herself and her deputy Anas Sarwar have both condemned.
Commenting on this morning’s launch, the SNP’s Local Government Campaign Director Derek Mackay said that Lamont’s lack of ambition for her party sums up her lack of ambition for Scotland.
Mr Mackay said that by fielding 24 fewer candidates than in 2007, and the SNP standing 176 more, it was clear that Labour members had no faith in their new leader’s ability to turn around the fortunes of their party.
Mr Mackay said:
“Johann Lamont’s blunder shows that – for all her talk about changing Labour following their drubbing last year – she has no confidence in her own party. If Johann Lamont thought that she had a strong message to sell, she would be willing to give the voters a chance to vote for it, but Labour are actually standing fewer candidates than in 2007.
“Her weak leadership is summed up by the fact that – across the country – Labour have countless different positions on the council tax freeze. This is one of the most high-profile policies affecting Local Government, and the fact she can’t get her party to form a coherent position on it is very telling.
“Labour are all over the place on the Council Tax freeze – and given half a chance they would put the Council Tax up, just like they did in the past.”
“But Labour have already shown what happens when they are in charge of councils. Under Gordon Matheson’s hopeless leadership, Labour have managed to go from having a comfortable majority in Glasgow to being a minority – without a single vote being cast.
“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – all across the country they’ve got disaffected former Labour councillors, and former parliamentary candidates – standing against them.”
The SNP also highlighted some of Labour’s long list of defectors and disillusioned councillors, who, claim the nationalists, indicate the level of general dissatisfaction within Labour about their own performance since 2007.
Labour defections include:
Eddie Carrick (Clackmannanshire Lab-Ind) – who had been in the Party for 36 years – left Labour, and has claimed that the SNP has been a ‘revelation’ since taking control in January 2012, and “it would be a crying shame if Labour got back in because they made a mess of it in the years they were there.”
Eddie Phillips (East Renfrewshire Lab-Ind) - "Labour is not lazy. Complacent, yes, indifferent to people’s needs, looks like it, divided, unquestionably. Lazy, no, because they are so panic-stricken that they are frenetically thrashing about seeing how to stop the tide of SNP and Glasgow Labour/Independents."
Douglas Campbell (South Ayrshire Lab-SNP – George Foulkes’ former election agent) - praised “the dedication of the local SNP group and SNP Government in delivering positive measures for the communities of north Ayr”
Irfan Rabanni (Glasgow Lab-SNP) "The simple fact is that Labour has been in power for too long in Glasgow and has become complacent. There is too little transparency in the way Labour is run and that can also be true of the administration in Glasgow. It can also seem that they think picking fights with the SNP government is more important than standing up for the city.”
In Dumfries and Galloway, two well-known Labour councillors Wille Scobie (2011 Labour SP candidate for Galloway & West Dumfries) and Grahame Forster abandoned Labour in the last few weeks and are standing as ‘no description’, after refusing to sign Labour’s controversial ‘candidates’ code of conduct’.
Labour also have two former Scottish Parliamentary candidates in the Western Isles standing as independents – Donald Crichton and Donald John McSween.