Page last updated at 14:29 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

SNP gain vital ally in power grab

John Letford
John Letford has decided to become an independent councillor

The SNP looks almost certain to gain control of Dundee City Council after the Lord Provost resigned from the Labour group.

John Letford is leaving the party after about 30 years to become an independent and has said he will support the SNP in a vote on Monday.

The nationalists started their bid for council control after winning a by-election almost two weeks ago.

The local authority is currently run by a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.

They are informally supported by the Conservatives.

But the by-election win and Mr Letford's resignation means that the SNP hold 14 seats in the 29 member council, Labour has eight, the Conservatives three, the Liberal Democrats two and there are now two independents.

Labour has been in control at Dundee City Council for almost 30 years.

Mr Letford told the BBC Scotland news website that he had been having "serious problems" within the Labour group for a number of years.

He added that one of his main concerns was that SNP councillors were being kept out of important positions even though they were the biggest group on the council.

Mr Letford said: "The people of this city deserve to be represented by the best there is and at the moment that's not happening."

If Mr Letford wishes to be reminded of what principles actually are, he need look no further than his former colleagues in the city council Labour group
Jim McGovern MP

He added that it was an "agonising" decision to leave Labour but he would be a "fraud" to carry on.

"Independent is now what I am and it will give me the freedom and flexibility to express my view," he said.

"I was reminded by my family, which was crucial in my decision, they said, 'you didn't bring us up not to speak our mind and we would like you to do the same.'

"They said, 'dad, please don't abstain [during the vote], you've never done it in your life and just vote the way your conscience directs you'."

Council leader Kevin Keenan admitted it seemed "inevitable" that the SNP would take control of the local authority and he would have "no problem stepping aside".

"I would see there would be very little opportunity to form an administration and indeed the nationalists will move forward and form an administration," he said.

"Obviously John's the biggest unionist I know and it really surprises me that he's decided on this occasion that he'll be seeing fit to join them.

"Politics is a matter of choices and John's made his choice and I'll just move on."

Craig Melville
Nationalist candidate Craig Melville won the by-election nearly two weeks ago

The SNP has said that Mr Letford would retain his role as lord provost when it takes power - but it would be a ceremonial role rather than a political one.

The leader of the SNP group, Ken Guild, said: "We were aware for quite some time that there were differences between John and the Labour group.

"Given the fact that John has been a member of the Labour Party for years, I think it obviously required a great deal of soul searching on his part and I think it's taken a great deal of moral courage on his part to do what he's done.

"We did say when we were kept out of power yet again by a rather strange coalition that we were one by-election away from an administration and I think we've proved our point."

Dundee West Labour MP Jim McGovern served with Mr Letford on Tayside Regional Council.

He said: "I am sure I can recall him saying of himself in one meeting that if you cut him in two he would be like a stick of rock with Labour and trade union movement written right through.

"Sadly, it would seem that the status and perhaps the financial considerations which come with the chain of office have served to gnaw away at the principles contained in that stick of rock, until they no longer exist.

"If Mr Letford wishes to be reminded of what principles actually are, he need look no further than his former colleagues in the city council Labour group. They still have them."



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SEE ALSO
SNP look to seize council control
13 Mar 09 |  Tayside and Central
Council by-election taking place
12 Mar 09 |  Tayside and Central
Political battle in by-election
03 Feb 09 |  Tayside and Central

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