Against all odds - and his own party

13th February 1998 at 00:00
Glasgow politicians set aside differences to usher in a new dawn for city's comprehensives

It has been a feverish week at Glasgow City Chambers - and not just because of "Lallygate".

Despite, some would say because of, Labour's somewhat inconclusive handling of the allegations against Lord Provost Pat Lally and other councillors, the proposed closures package sailed through its choppy waters virtually unscathed.

The same could be said of Malcolm Green, the education convener, and Ken Corsar, the director of education. These battle-scarred veterans of previous closure battles did their best to avoid looking triumphal as Frank McAveety, the council's new-broom leader (and teacher), announced the decisions on Wednesday.

Dr Green could be forgiven for going in search of the journalist who warned gravely last year that "you'll never do it" (it wisnae me).

It was a damn close-run thing - getting into the press conference, that is, not the Labour decisions which Dr Green said were taken by an "overwhelming majority". The large protest expected outside did not materialise, which possibly had something to do with the fact that the time of the Labour group meeting kept being changed. Technical reasons, no doubt.

But a vociferous enough crowd (Glasgow's equivalent of Private Eye's Sid and Doris Bonkers) gathered outside the barricaded City Chambers demanding that the police allow them in along with the media. It took many minutes of patient negotiations by Strathclyde's finest (PC 147, we think he was), which would have done credit to a United Nations Iraqi mediator, before the media were detached from the protesters.

Once inside the cockpit of vigorous political exchange that are the corridors of Glasgow City Chambers, it did not take long for the real story to emerge. Did Walter MacLellan, or did he not, describe Cardinal Thomas Winning as a "bigot" within the private confines of the group meeting?

Messrs Green and McAveety sounded surprised and claimed never to have heard such a remark. This was probably technically true : it appears the Cardinal was called "sectarian" instead.

And so the closures programme - also known as "modernising the comprehensive principle" and "opening up a route out of underachievement" - is pencilled in for rubber-stamping by the full council next Tuesday.

This will not only give opposition councillors a chance to have their say, but the Labour rebels as well. They are suspended from the group and are therefore barred from taking part in votes. But this does not mean they lose their voices as councillors.

Watch this space - but don't hold your breath.

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