New Glasgow City Council leader: The fall and rise of Frank McAveety


New Glasgow City Council leader’s career has suffered plenty of ups and downs

CONTROVERSIAL Glasgow City Council (GCC) leader Gordon Matheson, who replaced controversial council leader Steven Purcell, has been replaced as GCC leader by controversial Labour politician Frank McAveety.

McAveety’s long career has traversed Glasgow City Council, which he led from 1997 to 1999, to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. But serial gaffes and embarrassments curbed his career and in 2011 he lost his seat to the SNP’s John Mason. In 2012 he was elected once again as a councillor for the Shettleston ward in Glasgow.

CommonSpace takes a look at the fall and rise of Frank McAveety.

Leader of Glasgow City Council (the first time around)

McAveety first came to office as a member of Glasgow District Council in 1988 and worked his way to become leader of the City Council in 1997.

He became leader of the GCC at a time of internal strife for the long held Labour council. Then Glasgow Lord Provost Pat Lally, the ceremonial head of the council and another politician known for comebacks (in fact nicknamed Lazarus for his ability to return from political death), was embroiled in the so-called “votes for trips” scandal.

The dispute turned into a faction fight within the council with allegations ranging from misuse of travel expenses to assault. McAveety remained staunchly loyal during the embarrassing fracas, and his loyalty became a launch pad for his parliamentary career.

Street fighting man

In 2004, after joining the Scottish Executive as transport Minister, McAveety was confronted in the street and subjected to a difference of opinion over the Iraq War, which he loyally supported, by a man and a woman who also complained about cuts to services.

McAveety took the case of what he called “intimidation” to the police.

Sheriff Graeme Warner dismissed the charges in court , saying of McAveety: “If this was the most frightening thing he has experienced in his career then he must live a very sheltered life. It is naive and unrealistic of a cabinet minister to think he cannot attract attention on the streets, especially at a time when a war is ongoing.”

Having his ministerial pie and eating it too

In 2004 McAveety failed to appear in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament to answer questions as tourism minister.

Having missed two questions he ran into the chamber and claimed that he was “unavoidably detained there during the Arts Council book awards”.

It later transpired he had been eating pie and beans in the parliamentary canteen. The incident came to be known as “porky-pie gate” .

Then First Minister Jack McConnell publicly criticised McAveety and later dropped him from his post during a cabinet reshuffle.

Sending the word out for a “dusky” schoolgirl

McAveety’s worst embarrassment came in 2010, when during a quiet moment in a committee session of the Scottish parliament he made comments about an audience member .

Not knowing his microphone was still on, he said: “There’s a very attractive girl in the second row, dark… and dusky. We’ll maybe put a wee word out for her. She’s very attractive looking, nice, very nice, very slim. The heat’s getting to me. She looks kind of… she’s got that Filipino look. You know… the kind you’d see in a Gaugin painting. There’s a wee bit of culture.”

The audience member in question turned out to be a 15-year-old school girl on work placement with the Green party. McAveety resigned his positions in the Scottish parliament. He lost his Glasgow Shettleston seat in 2011.

The last of the Labour City Council leaders?

McAveety was back where he started, and returned to the climb in 2012, winning re-election as a councillor for Shettleston.

McAveety was elected by his colleagues over Malcolm Cunning by 24 votes to 19. But the space was only made available for him by the dash of Labour politicians looking for safe ground ahead of what is expected to be a very harsh Scottish election for Labour in 2016.

His predecessor Gordon Matheson stepped down from the role in order to run for the position of deputy leader of his party, leaving McAveety to hold the torch for Labour for the SNP’s challenge for leadership of the ‘Yes city’s’ council in 2017.

He is the latest of a long line of Labour council leaders. For most of his recent predecessors the GCC turned out to be a poisoned prospect.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Labour