“Daft, pointless, mistaken … and just plain wrong’: Labour at war over primary closures”

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Sunday Herald article: Worth mulling over again

By Tom Gordon, Scottish Political Editor, sundayherald

THE Glasgow schools closure programme has sparked a civil war inside the Labour Party, with city council leader Steven Purcell under attack from local MPs and MSPs. The row is understood to be most intense in the north Glasgow area, which takes in Maryhill and the city’s west end, and is home to four of 11 primaries the council voted to close last week.

Patricia Ferguson, Labour MSP for Maryhill, the equivalent Holyrood seat, said aspects of the programme were “daft”, “pointless” and would “take the heart out” of communities.

Paul Martin, Labour MSP for neighbouring Springburn, where another four primaries will shut, said he was disappointed a Labour-run authority hadn’t stood up to the SNP government and fought for more cash.

Labour MSPs openly criticising the council will be an embarrassment to Purcell, who is tipped as a future Holyrood leader. Purcell needs to build alliances to fulfill his ambitions.

The closures have also angered Ann McKechin, MP for Glasgow North and deputy to Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy. She holds Labour’s most marginal Westminster seat in the city, with the Liberal Democrats requiring a swing of only 6% to overturn Labour’s majority of 3338.

Katy Gordon, the LibDem candidate, has seized on the issue, as have the SNP, who on Friday were out campaigning at the schools affected.

McKechin is understood to be furious Purcell pushed ahead with the closures despite intense opposition, handing her opponents an invaluable campaign weapon. More than 95% of responses to the council’s consultation exercise were hostile, and voter anger has already resulted in a two-week sit-in at Wyndford and St Gregory’s schools.

Ferguson, a close ally of McKechin, has tabled a Holyrood motion saluting the campaigners against the closures.

In it, she says the council’s decision was “mistaken and fails to take adequate account of the social impact on the communities served by the schools”.

Ferguson told the Sunday Herald that closing one Catholic primary would force some parents to switch children to a non-denominational school as the Catholic nearest alternative was too far away. “Folk have the right to denominational schools, but it’s kind of taken that right away,” she said.

McKechin said she appreciated the council had no money to offset closures by building new schools, but said it could have done better, and admitted there had been strains within Glasgow Labour as a result. “We still work on many issues but sometimes we may find ourselves on different sides,” she said.

Martin criticised the council’s lack of resolve, insisting: “The council should be standing up to the government and saying, We are not going to close schools, we want money for new schools’. I’m disappointed a Labour-run authority has not involved the government more in its response. The government has ignored Glasgow on this.”

He said the council appeared reluctant to fight because of the SNP’s concordat between central and local government which gives councils a free hand in deciding spending priorities.

“I think it will come home to roost. How the council plays its politics in Glasgow with the SNP government is up to them, but as far as I’m concerned the historical concordat is a joke,” he said.

Billy McAllister, deputy leader of the SNP group in Glasgow and a Maryhill councillor, said of the closures: “It’s a huge issue, one of the biggest of recent times, and we’ve been organising protests from the off. Purcell’s big ambitions are driving it, but he’s really pissed off a lot of his own.”

However, a senior city Labour figure said: “Purcell has handled it quite well inside the Labour group, letting local councillors have a free vote, which hasn’t happened in the past. Some MSPs aren’t happy, but they have to do their job and put pressure on the government too.”

In a coded dig at the MSPs, Purcell said: “I would encourage our parliamentary colleagues to pursue the government in the debating chamber and the national stage on this issue.”

Please use the Labour List to let the councillors know how you feel about the decisions they made.

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