CONSTRUCTING the Emirates Arena was seen as a sign of rebirth for Glasgow’s East End, but on Friday the sports centre felt like it was hosting a wake.

As the count took place for the local election, Labour figures watched as the party’s 40-year grip on the city fell away and the baton of power was handed to the SNP and Greens.

Part of the Glasgow result was on trend. Labour, caught in a post-referendum tailspin, lost over 100 councillors nationally and watched the SNP become the largest party in other former strongholds.

However, results elsewhere confirmed there was still life left in the Labour corpse. In Inverclyde, Midlothian and East Lothian well-run party campaigns led to Labour winning more seats than any other party. Success could still be achieved.

According to Glasgow Labour insiders there was a strong feeling that more inspiring council leadership in Scotland's biggest city could have deprived the pro-independence parties of a majority.

In September 2015, Gordon Matheson quit as city council leader after a failed bid to become deputy leader of Scottish Labour. Party veteran Frank McAveety took over and had 20 months to turn around the local authority.

At the time, Matheson’s exit was believed to be an opportunity for Labour. The party, while struggling to contain a buoyant SNP, had a chance to reinvent itself and put all its chips on one cause, such as cutting poverty rates or fixing schools.

However, Labour councillors instead picked as their leader a man who, in the words of a senior party figure, had “more baggage than Glasgow airport”.

McAveety was not only a former three-term MSP who had lost a once-safe seat, but he had occupied the leader’s office 16 years earlier in 1999.

“I think that was also the year in which Frank had his last original political thought,” said a Labour colleague.

His record at Holyrood should perhaps have made Glasgow councillors think twice about aiding his unlikely comeback.

In 2004 he apologised to Parliament after providing a misleading account about his non-attendance at a Holyrood session. Six years later he quit as a Holyrood committee convener after getting caught on camera praising a teenage girl’s “dark and dusky” looks.

But despite McAveety’s political indiscretions he was an appealing leadership candidate for some in the Labour group who wanted a shake up of city politics.

For years a small number of party donors were believed to be influential in Glasgow Labour circles. One Labour councillor supported McAveety on the grounds that he would break up existing power networks in the party – another insider said a McAveety reign raised the prospect of inclusive leadership.

Within weeks of beating Councillor Malcolm Cunning to become leader again it became clear to colleagues that McAveety had no plan for reform.

“He came in with no clear idea of what he wanted, other than to get rid of Matheson. It was just just about shifting power – nothing else,” according to a senior insider.

His worst mistake, according to his allies and foes, was in handing two key jobs to men already linked to controversy.

In 2010 Glasgow Labour councillor Alistair Watson resigned as chair of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport amid a hugely damaging row over expenses and foreign junkets. The most egregious example was when SPT arranged a business meeting in Manchester on the same day as a UEFA cup final involving Rangers in the city.

One of the figures on the trip was Rangers supporter Bob Wylie, who at the time was SPT communications director.

Despite the duo’s association with the SPT disaster McAveety made Watson his business manager and gave Wylie the job of chief adviser.

“Bringing Bob in was just poor judgement,” said one party stalwart.

Wylie was also said to be unpopular with council staff and members of the wider Labour group. A former member of Militant, Wylie was an abrasive presence in the city chambers who, in the eyes of some colleagues, did not grasp 21st Century politics or public services.

“He had a 1980s mindset,” said one insider. “His thinking has never really developed.”

It was also believed that McAveety's small band of supporters in the councillor group looked inwards, not outwards, by pointing the finger at local authority officials.

Anne Marie O’Donnell, the chief executive appointed on Matheson’s watch, was bad mouthed at Labour group meetings by McAveety supporters.

Colin Edgar, the long-standing head of communications, who was respected by journalists, was moved to another job.

Female councillors, irked at the lack of women in senior positions, also began to believe that McAveety had simply installed his own old boys’ network.

As the election moved into the foreground it became apparent that there was almost nothing voters could point to as a distinctive and fresh McAveety agenda.

His enthusiasm for the City Deal [an agreement with the UK Government bringing economic support] was genuine, but it was an initiative associated with his predecessor. Setting up an environmental taskforce to deal with litter may have been effective pavement politics, but it was hardly a re-election zinger.

A damning aspect of McAveety’s brief spell in charge, according to his colleagues, was the sense of apathy among fellow Labour councillors.

Under previous leaders – Charlie Gordon, Stephen Purcell and Matheson – Labour group meetings could be tense affairs in which knives were sharpened and coups were planned.

In the McAveety administration the struggling leader was nearly knocked over by a stampede of councillors wanting to leave the city chambers. Folk just didn’t care any more.

One senior Labour figure said his view of McAveety was like the brutal assessment of George H Bush provided by former Bill Clinton adviser James Carville.

“He reeks of yesterday….If I think of an old calendar, I think of George Bush's face on it.”

And while some early supporters believed McAveety could dismantle Glasgow Labour’s old power networks his spell led to another mini-empire being built.

MSP Anas Sarwar – whose father was once a major player in Glasgow Labour – was given a key role in the election campaign and is now considered to be a dominant force in city politics.

As polling day neared Labour candidates had little to sell on the doorstep other than opposition to a second referendum and their own record in office.

Meanwhile, the administration was getting bogged down by controversy. A complaint was made to the council about allegations that Wylie assisted a Labour figure at a hustings.

And, at the eleventh hour, Watson was reported to an ethics watchdog after a leaked recording allegedly showed him interfering in a Glasgow charity.

As the results came in, seats that would have been won easily by Labour in the past, fell to the Tories. A heavier defeat was only avoided by good organisation on the ground.

Glasgow Labour became weak after the referendum, grew sicker after the last Holyrood election, but was dead on arrival by the time the ballot boxes were delivered to the Emirates.