WHAT do we have here? Is it fresh inklings of rebellion? Is it a crack in SNP discipline It’s only a crack, I hear you say, but many a structure has fallen in the end because someone, somewhere, at some point, ignored a little crack. It’s how it starts.

In case you missed it all, I’m referring to Susan Aitken, SNP leader of Glasgow Council. There was a time when Ms Aitken was criticised for allegedly failing to stand up to the SNP leadership in Edinburgh. Some in Glasgow thought, think, that Scottish Government actions and policies were, are, having a negative effect in Glasgow and Ms Aitken wasn’t saying enough about it. Party-before-city kind of thing.

But look at her now. Ms Aitken has written a piece for The Glasgow Times slagging off the Tories, uh-huh, and Labour, uh-huh, but more importantly she’s had a pop at the SNP too. The council’s ability to tackle its problems, she says, is being constrained by limitations placed on it by Holyrood i.e. the SNP. And check this out: “We cannot be treated solely as a delivery vehicle for national priorities at the expense of local needs.” Decisions about Glasgow, she said, should be made in Glasgow. City-before-party kind of thing.

To be fair, Ms Aitken is only going so far and she has been making rumblings in this direction for quite a while. But the fact she’s now saying it so explicitly and publicly is significant. The catalyst seems to have been Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announcing councils will face penalties if they use any of the money for teacher recruitment on other services. Try it and the money will be recouped, said Ms Somerville.

No one, including I assume Ms Aitken, was surprised by the government’s actions. Speak to anyone in any council and they’ll tell you that one of their big problems in recent years has been the Scottish Government increasingly ring-fencing their money so it has to be spent on government priorities. As Ms Aitken points out, almost all of the additional £550m announced for local government in December has to be directed at national priorities.

This is a problem for a number of reasons. First, it’s based on the fallacy everything should be consistent across the country (“there must be no postcode lottery”). The problem with that idea is that Glasgow isn’t Thurso isn’t Cumnock isn’t Brodick so a postcode lottery is actually a good thing because it ensures that services, priorities and outcomes are appropriate for different areas.

The other problem here is that ring-fencing explicitly undermines devolution. Ms Aitken suggests being forced to spend money on a national priority could jeopardise other services but she also makes the point that councils are elected to focus on local priorities and yet don’t have the flexibility to do that. Basically undemocratic, I’d say.

So it’s good news I suppose that Ms Aitken is demonstrating some independence on this. It’s also interesting to note that her fit of the rebellions comes at a time when the Scottish Government is looking distinctly wobbly on a number of fronts. The gender reform debacle obviously, but there’s also open scepticism, from the likes of MP Stewart McDonald, over Nicola Sturgeon’s de-facto referendum idea.

I’m not suggesting this is the beginning of the end or anything – these are cracks, not fissures – but politicians lower down the hierarchy only feel emboldened to question and rebel (however mildly) when they intuit that there won’t be a price to pay for it. It’s the sense that the leadership is weaker than it was, wounded. It’s the drop of blood in the water.

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More importantly though, Ms Aitken is right and we should be starting to think about how we can fix the situation and redress the balance. I don’t particularly like the idea of an SNP mayor but I was speaking to Reform Scotland, Professor James Mitchell and others about this recently and they made the point that a mayor cannot be a party person; they have to stand up for the city or they won’t get re-elected.

So city mayors, or elected provosts, might be part of the answer. But assuming we’re stuck with SNP hegemony for some years to come, we also need more nationalists to start behaving a bit more like Ms Aitken. We need more of them to speak out. We need more of them to go for it. We need more of them to fight for more important things than their party.