CHANGE was a long time coming to Glasgow.

For nearly 50 years the city was ruled, uninterrupted, by one party, Labour.

As recently as 2007 it had 71 out of 79 local councillors. Even as the SNP tide swept across Scotland after the historic Holyrood landslide of 2011, Labour somehow held on to its municipal bulwark on the Clyde.

Until, that is, Scottish nationalists took the “Yes City” in 2017. And even then, only just.

Suddenly, with an SNP minority administration, Glasgow was a multi-party democracy. The current crop of councillors - 36 SNP, 30 Labour, eight conservative, seven green and four independent - are gearing up for the final 20 months of their term. It’s the home stretch now, the delivery phase for the administration.

The Herald on Sunday asked all four party leaders how things have gone, to pass judgement on themselves, and on their rivals. They were candid: it has not, they said, been nice.

It was one of the newcomers who was frankest about how nasty politics in Glasgow has got. Kim Long, 30, co-leader of the Greens is a first-term councillor. “To be honest, it has been quite depressing,” she said. “There is such a lot of new blood. “I hoped that might have engendered a bit of change.

“But it became apparent that the culture of the council was so embedded and so toxic that it is going to need more than a fresh wave of faces to shift.”

Circumstances have not been easy. The SNP inherited a multi-million-pound equal pay dispute. Sectarian tensions have flared up after a priest was spat on during an Orange Walk amid ongoing and sometimes bitter wider national constitutional politics. One of the city’s main shopping drags was ravaged by fire. The SNP leader, Susan Aitken, has faced off a leadership challenge and lost four councillors to independents - and gained one from Labour. And Aitken, terrorised by a woman who was convicted of stalking, was forced to watch her back, taking taxis to and from work.

“To be fair to everybody,” Long said, “this term there have been an awful lot of plot twists and crisis and fires to fight.”

How have the parties fared? Let’s look at them one by one, in their own words, and in those of their critics.

The SNP Susan Aitken was confident she would take power. So confident that, a year or so out of the 2017 elections, her SNP group, she says, stopped behaving like an opposition and started acting like an administration in waiting. She and her deputy, David McDonald, had a programme for their first 100 days to transform the city. Then reality got in the way.

“We were very impatient,” Aitken, 48, admitted. “Now that is not necessarily a bad thing. It did push forward some issues that would not otherwise be prioritised.

“But we were too impatient at times because we were less familiar with the inner workings of the council as a bureaucracy.”

Aitken admitted some early efforts to drive through policies may have ‘cut across’ officers. Inexperience had its consequences.

“It was not just that none of ushad been in administration before - and I had only been a councillor for a term. So there was an extent of making it up as we went along. We had a 100 day plan. We discovered that some of our plans for our first 100 days were not deliverable within our first 100 days.

“However, I think lack of experience is a good thing. It means you are not stuck in certain ways of doing things and you are prepared to break moulds because you have never been in the mould in the first place. We had a very steep learning curve.

"The entire SNP was new to it. Other people in the SNP had run councils but Glasgow isnae councils, Glasgow’s Glasgow. Nobody in the SNP had ever run a global city before. I did not have anyone to ask.”

The SNP’s critics think that earlier period set the wrong tone. The party, opponents suggest, had expected to form a majority - and then acted like they had when they hadn’t.

“From the very start they tried to get a majority of seats on the top committee and we resisted that,” said Long of the Greens. “And that set the tone.

“A minority needs a mindset of being proactive in working with other people and that has not been there in the way it should have been.”

Long said she hoped changes in Labour - its former leader Frank McAveety has stood down - might offer a chance for a regime “reset”.

Insiders suggest that Aitken’s minority administration - and its opponents - have spent so much time thinking about every vote that city politics has become “internalised”, narrowly focused on numbers and process, on short-term wins.

But, beyond the day to day politics, what makes the SNP different to the council socialism of its predecessors?

“A term I have used in the past is ‘municipal paternalism’," Aitken said. “Our ethos is the opposite of that.”

She railed against a “coonsil knows best” culture. “It didnae work,” she said, “it just perpetuated cycles.

“What has worked in Glasgow and where we have seen the transformation of our city, was the stock transfer and the creation of community-led activist housing associations, like New Gorbals, which are led by their own tenants.

And so, in other areas as well as housing, the SNP, Aitken insists, is looking to empower, to enable, to facilitate, not to control from the centre.

But it is also, she said, prepared to be bolder than Labour was. Her predecessors, she said, put off hard decisions, on equal pay, on taking on the motoring lobby. Aitken pushed through a £500m equal pay deal to mostly women workers. It wasn’t easy. Trade unions - one of which has just been judged institutionally sexist - were organising strikes. Banners saying “desperately seeking Susan” were being waved outside the City Chambers.

READ MORE: Glasgow council leader Susan Aitken accuses opponents of sectarian dog whistling 

This, she said, was the hardest thing she had to deal with. It was, she said, an example of misdirection - “like magicians do” - designed to put the blame for long-standing problems on to her. She prevailed. Critics, such as Tory leader Thomas Kerr, thinks getting a “reasonably prompt resolution” to the equal pay dispute was too the credit of Aitken and her officials.

But Kerr, like Long, sees similarities between the new city government and the old. He said: “After criticising Labour’s control of the council for so long, it has been too easy for them to assume the same bad habits of secrecy and avoiding scrutiny. “They promised the electorate that they would shine a light into the dark corridors of power at the City Chambers but under their leadership I fear the city is very much still in the dark.”

Malcolm Cunning, the councillor who replaced McAveety was not happy with ‘shine a light’ rhetoric, with its premise that there was something wrong that needed to be illuminated McAveety has compared it with ‘clear the swamp’ language from US Trumpists in 2016.

But Cunning does see similarities between his party and Ms Aitken’s, despite all the rancour.

“Clearly there are areas where the SNP and ourselves see some things in very much the same way,” he said. “The major difference is that the SNP will not stand up for Glasgow in terms of funding in the way that we did.

Why? “Because,” he said,” their great prize is another referendum where people vote Yes.”

For Cunning, this big prize focus means the SNP miss detail. And where Aitken sees herself as bold, Cunning sees her as timid.

“There is this attempt to be nice to everyone,” he said. “You cannot please everyone. When they were in opposition they attempted to do that. Now they are in administration they are discovering the restrictions that exist on any administration, particularly a minority one.

“They came in to power and you were in overall power it would have been far far easier.

“They know on every single big vote they need someone else. Usually it is the Greens because they know that any greens are very sympathetic to the nationalist cause.”

Aitken rejects this analysis. She stands up to the Scottish Government, she insisted. And the fact she regards cabinet ministers as peers and colleagues helps, not hinders. Why does she jokingly refer to Nicola Sturgeon as ‘boss’?

“She is not my boss in Glasgow,” Aitken responded. “She is my boss in the party because she is my party leader. She does not give me instructions as leader of Glasgow City Council. And she never ever has.

“I am a member of the SNP, I am a Scottish nationalist. I do absolutely want independence. But when I come in here and do my job as leader of the city of Glasgow it is those city challenges that are my immediate thought every morning.

LABOUR It has been three years. But Labour are still struggling to come to terms with losing Glasgow.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I think it took the Labour group a long time to get used to being opposition and how to operate as an opposition,” Malcolm Cunning, the city party’s new leader, said. “I think we are learning that and getting used to that. We have 20 months to perform that function.”

Cunning is new to his post, but not to Glasgow politics. Now 63, he was a city councillor when his Tory and Green counterparts were still at school.

Even as Scottish Labour struggles in national polls, Cunning reckons he has a chance to replace Aitken.

“We also have to start building a clear Labour alternative rather than just criticising the SNP; we should be saying what we would do differently.

“That has to go al the way to the Scottish Parliament elections and them the council elections. In terms of getting some form of labour recovery, we need to do that. And it has to be very Glasgow based.”

But Cunning freely admitted that the Conservatives were taking pro-UK votes from Labour.

“The constitutional question meant some people were voting Tory as much on who are the effective unionists as much as who are the most effective councillors.

“Because of the constitutional divide, Labour is fishing in a pool which is around 50% of the vote, plus or minus depending on the mood. "It would be a lie to say we jave most faced difficulties in terms of our message, our credibility, our leadership at a UK level and that has meant an uphill struggle. People’s acceptances of us as a credible administration at any level has been undermined by that process.”

But Labour has a secret weapon: pensioners. “What cheers me is that if you look at the results in Glasgow both in 2012 and 2017 we bucked the trend. We were expected to lose in 2012 but we comfortably won. In 2017 we were expected to lose badly.”

On small turn-outs, Labour has held vote share in local elections even as it was hammered in Glasgow in Scottish and UK elections. “One suspects that there is an older demographic voting,” Cunning said. “That has maybe protected us.”

Labour’s opponents have little bad to say about Cunning, or his deputy Eva Murray. But three years of shrill opposition have made relationships difficult. Aitken, as The Herald reported yesterday, believes aLabour and Tory politicians have played a sectarian card against her. This claim was denied by Cunning, who nevertheless expressed sympathy with her over abuse she has received. The SNP leader acknowledged it would be “sore” to lose power after so long. But she remains frustrated by Labour tactics of making accusations - and headlines - which fail, on scrutiny, to stand up.

The Greens’ Long disapproved of such tactics too. She said: “Labour have oscillated between carping from the sidelines and some real low-ball gutter politics.

“Minority working does not just need administration leadership it also needs opposition parties not to behave like toddlers. “

TORIES Few in Scottish politics are old enough to remember there was a time when Tories ran Glasgow. The late Conservative John Young led an administration in the late 1970s. Progressives - a centre right party of local government - had stints in power in the post-war years. And, until a game-changing 1933 Labour election, a broad party of anti-socialists, the Moderates, had held sway.

READ MORE: Glasgow council leader Susan Aitken involved in social distancing row

However, between 1999 and 2017 there was never more than solitary Conservative voice on the council. So Thomas Kerr had a steep learning curve when he found himself in charge of an eight-strong group.

Still only 24, Kerr jokes that he has become “Potholes Tam” as he highlights problems in his eastern Glasgow ward, often using social media and the newspapers in a way that - privately - sparks envy from his opponents.

“I take ‘Potholes Tam’ as a badge of honour – it’s my job to talk about potholes and bins and drains and parking and I won’t be embarrassed to drone on about these issues on behalf of the communities I serve,” said Kerr. “I think it’s also been important that my group has been unashamedly vocal in representing the people of this city with centre-right views and not accept that conservative voices in Glasgow should be drowned out by the multitude of left wing parties.”

What do Tories in the council stand for?

“I think the traditional Conservative principles of sound public finances, efficient taxation and local accountability are particularly relevant in local government,” Kerr explained before accusing his rivals of not focusing on city issues.

Generally speaking, and you can see this in the topics we choose to bring to the full “Unfortunately, the other parties – especially the administration – have a tendency to try to divert our attention to national issues completely out with the remit of Glasgow City Council. From at least two debates on a Scottish independence referendum to an emergency motion on Catalan independence, I think it’s incumbent on all parties to ensure that local democracy priorities local issues and is not used as an opportunity to grandstand on issues completely out with our control.”

Critics are not convinced. They see the Tories’ success as down to playing constitutional politics, of getting out a working-class unionist vote that might previously have gone to Labour. And opponents of the Conservatives say the group, while constructive in private, can pander to their unionist base in public.

“They are often much more constructive in person than the way they communicate their politics,” said Aitken of the SNP. “They are quite a young group so it sounds like I am being patronising. It nothing to do with their ages, but do they have quite a student politics style. They are in to ‘gotcha’ type stuff, of making an accusation to get a headline and then forcing me to defend myself, which I think is low politics.

Aitken was echoed by Cunning. “They do fight their corner very well,” the Labour leader said. “I am not trying to be patronising but there is an element of them which is reminiscent of the junior common room debating society. But they do it quite well. They lay out a stall which is quite traditionally conservative about not putting council tax up, about value for money for the public pound, the sort of thing you would expect.”

Kerr took this criticism of his group’s youth on the chin.

“Prior to 2017 there was only one Conservative Councillor in Glasgow so perhaps it is not surprising that opponents see us in those terms,” he said. “I do believe however it creates unnecessary barriers to the aspirations of young people, and other groups that feel disillusioned with politics, to cast aspersions on newly elected councillors as ‘inexperienced’ when we all have valuable life experiences to contribute.

He added: “Susan Aitken and her administration aren't fans of me because we have highlighted daily failings in how the council is run but also because we have shined a light on some very iffy choices the former Lord Provost’s expenses, SNP bullying claims and resignations.

“I am not surprised that SNP Councillors would try to paint us in a light of inexperience but if we are inexperienced then why have we been so effective in showing Glasgow the truth behind this administration?”

Social media politics, meanwhile, has not all been good for Kerr and his team. “The toughest personal challenge I have faced has been to see the targeted abuse that my family have had to deal with,” he said. “ While I chose to stand for election and submit myself to public scrutiny, they did not and it’s been heart-breaking to see some of the vile language used about my loved-ones. It’s public knowledge that my father died due to drug-related issues and that my mum is in recovery and to see them smeared by online bullies just because I have the audacity to be a Tory from the East End of Glasgow really speaks to how divided our country has become.”

GREENS They were supposed, their unionist critics thought, to be the SNP’s sidekicks. But the first thing the new generation of Green councillors did was to work with other opponents to stop nationalists controlling the council’s main committee, City Administration.

Glasgow’s Greens are far from all pro-independence - though Long certainly is. But she made it clear her priority was nudging the SNP city government in the right direction on environment and equality issues. Some SNP talk sounds a lot like what the Greens are saying. “I am glad that other parties are now listening to the green agenda,” Long said. “It is good that everybody is waking up. But SNP’s rhetoric does not match their action."

Long, however, repeatedly uses words like “distressing” and ‘depressing” about politics in Glasgow. She talks about snide remarks and fake accusations.

“I am not naive that we are all going to be best friends,” she said. “I have such frustration that there are behaviours in politics that would not be acceptable in any other workplace. I don’t see how that is OK. To make accusations in public, to shame each other in public. It is not appropriate.”

The city should be getting together to work out a post-Covid strategy, she said. “The chances of that happening? It is more realistic we would have the meeting on the moon.”