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Challenge faced by council leader to restore reputation

The great 18th century Irish-born statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke once said: "A representative owes not just his industry but his judgment." Gordon Matheson is the most powerful figure in Scottish local government.

After Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Glasgow City Council, with its annual budget of £1.4 billion, is the third most important politician in the country.

Nobody can question his industry. Each week he spends many hours in his grand mahogany-panelled office in the Victorian splendour of the City Chambers and there is always plenty of work waiting in his in-tray. Recently he was co-opted on to the Labour Party's shadow team at the Scottish Parliament. But there must be serious questions about his judgment, following the revelation that in mid-December he was apprehended by police and reported to the procurator fiscal over an alleged act of indecency with another man in a parked car in the south side of Glasgow. No further action was taken because it was decided there was insufficient evidence a crime had been committed. However, this is not the sort of behaviour voters are entitled to expect from their council leader and the man charged with making a success of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The fact that Mr Matheson is openly gay and lives with his partner in a civil partnership was barely commented upon when he became leader. That is a measure of how far attitudes have changed for the better. But, by his own admission, the other man involved in this incident was not his partner but a man with whom he was having an affair. Inevitably this will be regarded with some distaste in the more socially conservative parts of the city. It also bears some echoes of the controversy surrounding the political demise of Mr Matheson's predecessor, Stephen Purcell, another gay man.

Were it not for the way his Labour colleagues rallied around their leader yesterday and the lack of an obvious challenger, he might not have survived. He can be grateful this is not an election year. His political opponents need only sit back and watch events unfold. As it is, his reputation has been tainted.

Mr Matheson deserves praise for achieving a remarkable victory in increasing Labour's majority in last year's municipal elections when the SNP believed it would unseat Labour easily from its most powerful stronghold in Scotland. He also quelled divisions in Labour's ranks and can be credited with some significant successes, especially in education, despite cuts in the city's budget.

However, recently his judgment has been questioned over the flawed process for the redesign of George Square, which he has masterminded. Now there is a second question mark against his name. Mr Matheson has his work cut out to restore his reputation and his political career.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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