SNP Councillor Roddy McCuish from Oban is Council Leader.
The following councillors continue today, 29th May, to hold Lead and Depute Lead responsibilities, under constitutional arrangements which suggest that they are an executive while they continue to hold – or continue to choose to hold – these senior responsibilities.
13 Lead Councillors: Mary Jean Devon; George Freeman; Anne Horn; Donald Kelly; Robert E MacIntyre [Bute]; Roddy McCuish; Louise Glen-Lee; Dougie Philand; James Robb; John Semple; Isobel Strong; Sandy Taylor; Richard Trail;
3 Depute Lead Councillors: Gordon Blair; Robert G MacIntyre; Elaine Robertson.
Iain Angus Macdonald has been a Depute Lead Councillor but apparently did resign from that position.
The Council Constitution
The published Council Constitution of 2009 has not been revised. It continues to show that the Executive Committee is a part of the structure of governance of the council; and other structural arrangements that have since been changed.
If there is an unpublished revised Constitution, which we understand there is, there may be a legal issue as to whether a public document or a private one takes precedence.
The published constitution makes no mention whatsoever of a distinct entity called an ‘Administration’; nor, indeed, of anything approximating to what we understand an ‘Administration’ to be.
While the current Council has scrapped the Executive Committee, introduced during the pre-May 2012 administration, the Published Constitution of 2009 continues to show that the Executive Committee is a part of the structure of governance of the council; and cites other structural arrangements that have since been changed.
The published Council Constitution lays down that: ‘The council accepts that Spokespersons and Depute Spokespersons will be appointed to such positions by the council on the nomination of the Leader. Spokespersons will hold office until otherwise determined by the council (but not beyond the life of the council), unless:
‘S/he is suspended from being a councillor in terms of the Ethical Standards in Public Life [Scotland] Act 2000 [although s/he may resume office subject to the approval of the council at the end of the period of suspension].’
From material we have been given, it would seem here that the unpublished revised Constitution retains this precise formulation but simply changes the word ‘Spokesperson’ for the words ‘Lead Councillor’, so we can be confident that the prescription remains the same.
By the constitution, the Leader leads the Spokespersons / Lead Councillors.
From our reading of the entire published Constitution – which is, in many ways, a less than competent document, there is no formal provision for the removal of a Leader or a Spokesperson or Depute Spokesperson.
This would appear to be achievable only by two means:
- the submission to the full council by the Council Leader – and the council’s consequent approval – of proposed Spokespersons and Depute Spokespersons which differ in some or all respects to those currently holding such positions;
- individual resignations from such positions.
So what have we got just now?
We have a constitutionally proper and workable political and administrative management of the council, even if, in StarTrekker terms, ‘it’s life, Jim, but not as we know it’.
We have a Council Leader who, by the Constitution, leads a group of Spokespersons / Lead Councillors and their deputies.
We have a Provost, Councillor Isobel Strong; and a Depute Provost, Councillor Dougie Philand. We have a Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Dick Walsh; and four Area Leaders / Chairs of the Area Committees: Robert E McIntyre [Bute and Cowal]; Dougie Philand [Mid Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands]; Roddy McCuish [Oban, Lorn and the Isles]; Richard Trail [Helensburgh and Lomond].
We have a stable officer and staff regime, with the everyday service delivery functions of the Council carrying on as usual.
While this may, in reality, still seem an unsatisfactory situation, it is nevertheless constitutional and does highlight eventualities a revised constitution should cover, as this one does not.
What will happen next?
Council Leader, Roddy McCuish, plans personally to talent spot – to put together a proposed team of Lead Councillors and deputies from the entire body of councillors, as he is constitutionally entitled to do. He will do this regardless of group affiliations, based on those he perceives to have the best skillset for each position of responsibility – and this skillset, constitutionally, includes the ability to work as a member of a team.
It is worth noting here, that Councillor McCuish asserts unequivocally that his predecessor as Leader, Councillor James Robb never operated on anything other than group decisions which he was mandated to take forward. That perspective would appear to be supported by the fact that a core group of eight SNP councillors, which contains Councillor Robb and adds independent collaborating colleagues – Councillors Freeman and Robertson – remain together.
Councillor McCuish will also propose a cross-chamber Scrutiny Committee to oversee the operation of this proposed team.
He will, in the meantime, consult across the spectrum of elected members and will present his proposal to the next meeting of the full council – which is still, today, 29th May, not publicly scheduled on the Council’s Calendar of Meetings.
The Council will vote on this proposal, which will either amend the current set of Spokespersons / Lead Councillors and their deputies and change the way we do local government in Argyll – or leave things as they currently are.
Councillor McCuish is, by nature and philosophy, an inclusive man. He wants to see this approach to local government in Argyll and Bute supported and implemented – and he is right.
It is in the paramount interests of Argyll that we have the best and the most constructive of the abilities available to us, in a position to work for us. The general level of ability and the calibre of expertise and experience councillors can bring to the service of the area is, frankly, poor.
We cannot afford to waste the best we have for no reason other than persisting in governing on the ever-shifting manoeuvering of numbers we have been seeing; nor on self-interested external party political interventionism against the interests of Argyll, as we have also been seeing. The party politics and the numbers games are making Argyll and Bute – again – a national joke, a place of note only for the comedy of its incompetence and chicanery, not for its innovation and success.
The Argyll electorate at large will welcome this proposal and, tribalism excepted, will not be satisfied with groups or individual councillors who obstruct it or cause it to fail.
SNP cross-party collaboration – the picture across Scotland
The SNP hierarchy has formally forbidden its member councillors in Argyll and Bute to enter coalition with, specifically, the Liberal Democrats and/or the Conservatives. Its National Executive Committee [NEC] suspended the majority of its councillors here, in an unprecedented matter of hours, for proposing just such an alliance.
The NEC has given the SNP councillors no explanation whatsoever for this proscription.
Moreover, in no fewer than seven other local authorities across Scotland, the SNP are in coalition with these precise parties, amongst coalitions of every conceivable kind.
- Dumfries and Galloway Council: Conservative / SNP
- East Ayrshire Council: SNP / Conservative
- Highland Council: Labour / SNP / Liberal Democrat
- Scottish Borders Council: SNP / Independent / Liberal Democrat
- Edinburgh City Council: Labour / SNP
- East Renfrewshire Council: Labour / SNP/ Independent
- Midlothian Council: SNP / Independent
Why should what is acceptable to the SNP NEC in other places, be forbidden in Argyll and Bute?
The shameful reason is that it is not permitted here simply because such an arrangement would see the SNP remain in government when the local MSP and the SNP hierarchy – in their own perceived interests – wish to see their councillors here in comfortable opposition.
Councillor McCuish, with superior political judgment, is sharply aware of the reality: that his party will be unelectable here if it is seen to run away from the responsibilities of government.
He knows – and, in sanity and reason, no one could dispute it – that the SNP cannot win anything on the votes of its activists alone. They need to convince a much wider electorate – as their 2007 national minority administration did and as Jim Mather did here in Argyll and Bute – that they are capable, responsible, courageous and collaborative. McCuish is indisputably right on all counts.
Roddy McCuish wants to serve, to govern and to lead – as do a group of his colleagues who have remained purposive and stable throughout a chaotic period without parallel in modern politics at any level. He is not fearful and is straightforwardly prepared to take responsibility, with everything that involves.
He has held out – and is holding out – against all of the combined pressures his party, locally and nationally, has exerted to make him lead the SNP councillors out of office, or allow them to disintegrate; and not to collaborate, specifically with Liberal Democrats and Conservatives – while the party, as we have shown, does just that elsewhere.
SNP collaboration within Argyll and Bute Council
Councillor McCuish pays the warmest possible tribute to the Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors whom, at first hand, he has seen make every possible concession to enable collaboration with them by the SNP.
This has included dissolving their own party political group identities – obviously a huge and uncomfortable decision but one he has seen made in the interests of bringing the best possible governance to Argyll and Bute.
It is inaccurate and ungenerous to characterise their concessions as a grab for power – because Councillor McCuish’s proposal is not about group power but about the harnessing of individual abilities across the chamber.
While there are individuals in the former Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups who are amongst the best in the council, others are not – yet they have all agreed to dissolve their party political identities in the interests of the greater good of Argyll and Bute. They have to be commended for this.
Roddy McCuish says of these councillors – with fervour and in respect for the ground he has seen them give: ‘I will never let them down’.
In our view, that too is hope for better – respect and bonds formed for good reason and not for advantage – again because there is no group advantage to be had. It is about capacity building in the interests of better governance of this place.
Argyll First – theoretically, in terms of what this small group has pioneered in Argyll and Bute – which is the very essence of what Councillor McCuish is proposing, ought to be natural, inevitable and immediate supporters of this proposal.
But while the group can absolutely be trusted to be honest and honourable, they cannot necessarily be relied upon to be wise.
The recent fervid manoeuvering amongst councillors has seen this group falter in its purpose and in its clear sightedness. They cannot be blamed for that. No one has been able to see through the murk, most of it generated by external and determined political forces, with a wrecking ball.
But this is a time for Argyll First to stand up and be counted against the values they themselves were the first to define, not to twist words to try and justify a clear swerve away from them.
There is no defensible alternative to their being an enthusiastic and engaged part of this proposed direction of travel in the council.
It will require every councillor to put aside personal and political antipathies. Those who act on these and persist in holding on to them will be judged negatively by an electorate that has run out of patience.
Argyll First’s slogan is ‘Time for Change’. This is their time and they will be congratulated if they can recognise what it means for where they place their support. If they cannot see – and that would be a substantial disappointment for many, including ourselves – they will be seen to have fallen from their chosen mount at the first really difficult fence.
And a bit of fun
Total immersion in the published Council Constitution has not been without its interesting discoveries. Did you know that – did they and do they? – every single councillor is required to have a Personal Development Plan, designed to bring them to acquire the competencies constitutionally demanded of an elected councillor?