This morning we revealed the existence of a threatened wrecking party in the SNP group leading the coalition administration of Argyll and Bute Council.
We said that in our view, the game of Russian roulette that Councillor Michael Breslin was playing to attempt to force a reopening of the decision by the full council to close the Struan Lodge care home in Dunoon, could only have been put into action with the knowledge and consent, and possilby the approval, of his political senior, local MSP, Michael Russell.
Mr Russell is known to be panicking badly at the possible impact on his own political career of the Struan Lodge decision – being in the voting area of his own home ward.
The MSP has now emailed all councillors in the coalition administration to let them know that he has chosen to ask the CEO of Argyll and Bute Council that no further action should be taken on the matter of the closure of Struan Lodge.
This is an astonishingly desperate action which is constitutionally bizarre. Mr Russell has no different a position in relation to a council Chief Executive – or to any other officer – than does any other resident of the area. We would expect a CEO to pay as much or as little regard to such an approach as to one from any of the rest of us.
We do not yet know what the Council CEO’s position on this intervention can possibly be – and the language in which it has been expressed would be interesting to see.
As we published earlier, Councillor Breslin saw fit yesterday [24th February] to issue new Council Leader, James Robb, with an ultimatum: answer his two questions by 17.00 today – or face ‘very problematic’ consequences.
It is hardly a coincidence with this known timetable in place, that Michael Russell chose to visit Struan Lodge this morning and then immediately to issue this email announcing his thoughts and the action he has taken to the administration councillors – along with a press release.
It would be far too much of a coincidence for this not to be part of the fabric of conspiracy, with Mr Russell’s role now openly played. It must be noted that before he has had any response from the recipients of this email, Mr Russell, an assiduous self-publicist, has issued a press release on his actions as the champion of the people.
Mr Russell’s email says:
‘I am taking the unusual step of writing to all members of the Administration in the light of my visit to Struan Lodge at lunch time today.
‘I am of the opinion that the Council is in a very difficult situation over the matter of the continuation of the facility in Dunoon because a convincing case for closure has not been made to the local community. There is a strong feeling in the area that an alternative model of provision could be devised which would allow Struan Lodge to remain open and that the Council should be helping to develop that model.
‘I agree with that perspective and I have discussed it with a number of councillors, including the Council Leader and the Lead Councillor for Social Work. I have now written to them and to the Council Chief Executive [Ed: our emphasis] requesting no further action on any possible closure and the active involvement of the Council in helping to provide a constructive solution under a different business model and/or ownership. I believe that the Council motion as passed on the 14th February would allow that to happen as it is not tied to any particular timescale.
‘I have given the attached statement to the local press today and of course I would be happy to discuss it with any member.
‘I do hope we can find a way forward on this difficult matter and of course my support for the Administration and the work it is doing remains undiminished.’
The Russell press statement
‘This is the second time I have visited Struan Lodge in recent weeks and I do so today to offer my full support to staff, residents and families in their fight to continue to deliver the wonderful service that exists here.
‘The Council is under a great deal of financial pressure, in part because of the cuts coming from the Liberal / Tory Government at Westminster and in part because of the poor financial decisions of the previous administration. Difficult decisions have been necessary but one of this magnitude requires to be taken with the consent and understanding of the community and explained carefully to them. That has not happened and now the community sees it as being an imposition in the teeth of united opposition.
‘The Council needs to work with the community to find a way forward that keeps Struan Lodge in existence even if run by others. It is regarded as being one of the best care homes in the area and the residents – including six who are over 90 and two who are over 100 - deserve more than displacement and re-housing, some of them for a second time.
‘Finding a better way forward for them and the community will take some time and accordingly I am asking the Council today to agree to suspend any further action. I am also asking them to lift the bar on admissions, not least because it is already leading to bed blocking in the local hospital which has an in patient who cannot be moved because the Council has told Struan Lodge to help no one else.
‘Fortunately the resolution that the Council passed on the 14th of February requires another report to go to the Council before closure takes place. In addition no closure is possible before the Care Inspectorate reports on the proposal. Neither of those things should happen until every possible avenue for continuation of Struan Lodge has been examined and exhausted - a process that is bound to take several months.
‘As a next step there should be an independent examination of the costs of running the facility and some independent consultancy, paid for by the Council, to consider alternative models of provision and alternative governance of Struan Lodge.
‘I would be happy to work with Cllrs Breslin and Blair , other local councillors, the Community Council and the wider community in Cowal in the campaign for Struan Lodge.’
The game is now in the open.
So who governs Argyll and Bute Council? If this a feudal fiefdom? It looks as if is intended to be.
Constitutionally, this level of intervention – and public intervention – could not be more serious.
Here we have an MSP attempting – and grandstanding on it in public – to overturn the legitimate majority decision of a full council, taken with three weeks advance possession of the full budget papers – and in apparent ignorance of the fact that the agreement of a council to a proposal from its administration converts that proposal to a decision.
What has been happening in Argyll and Bute Council since this new and untried coalition administration was put together, has been unparallelled political intervention – not just with the SNP group but with the entire administration.
It has crippled a young administration at birth, giving them no time to learn to work together in their own way, creating favoured in-groups, breeding suspicions in orchestrated internal machinations – like that going on at the moment – and which is not the first such manifestation.
Mr Russell, is now like any reckless gambler, going for broke to get his way. Councillor Breslin has himself been a major victim of the momentum of this. The damage done to his reputation looks irretrievable.
And it is Argyll and Bute Council and its battered [with a nod to young school meals blogger Martha Payne] reputation that suffers again.
And it is now five minutes to Mr Breslin’s ultimatum deadline. Was there any substance to his threats? We will see.