Argyll and Bute: where now – experiences and choices?

In the unprincipled goings on of the last administration, led by the Alliance of Independent Councillors, we hoped that a party-led administration would bring a discipline and a set of principles that would be stabilising and restore trust to local government.

The opposite has been the case. Nothing could have been worse than the shenanigans and shambles Argyll has lived through since May 2012. It seems like a full term of a mess, not just one year.

The non-political junior partners in this administration have behaved impeccably throughout its 12 month existence. They have been loyal, fuelled no palace revolutions and refrained from briefing the media.

The party-political senior partner, however, has been an object lesson in indiscipline of the most flamboyant order, with the trouble-making faction, mainly outside the group, busily feeding public frenzy against their own party’s latest leader of the administration. This was most obvious in Cowal, where they found a handy cause to use.

At its unprincipled and macchiavellian worst, the Alliance of Independent Councillors under leader, Dick Walsh, at least provided consistent and internally stable government. Even as they hit the storms of their own making over school closures, internal discipline largely held.

And we knew no one was pulling their strings. The buck stopped with them.

Alliances of independents – and there are many variations of how this sort of independence in local government can be delivered – are now seen to have real merit.

Argyll should never feel it can only choose between the two low-grade models it has recently experienced:

  • one an old fashioned stalinist version of central control, no transparency and deals done on the back stairs;
  • one an ego driven frenzy of the shrilly party political, laying waste several good folk of their own persuasion in the process  – and paying no attention whatsoever to the needs of Argyll.

We have several years to come to steady conclusions before the next local authority elections.

This is not the time for more political experiment. Argyll needs to settle down and the experienced ‘settler’ is the Alliance of Independent Councillors, which will inevitably lead what is to come. This is no bad thing, for the time being.

For now

A very immediate predicament  – deadline Monday 13th May – is that faced by the SNP councillors who remain with the coalition administration: They are:

  • Mary Jean Devon [Mull]
  • Anne Horn [Kintyre and the Islands]
  • Roddy McCuish [Oban South and the Isles]
  • James Robb [Helensburgh Central]
  • John Semple [South Kintyre]
  • Richard Trail [Helensburgh and Lomond South]

On their party’s ultimatum, they have to decide by tomorrow whether to ‘stay with the SNP’.  This requires them to walk away from any part in local government administration, driven by the local party’s desperate drive to get well away from any responsibility before the 2014 Independence Referendum.

The assumption is that the choice is a binary one:

  • ‘stay with the SNP’ and refuse to make any contribution to the good governance of Argyll;
  • stay with the desperate current attempt to nail together a coalition between the remaining SNP members the 4 Liberal Democrats and the 3 Conservatives and any seducible independents.

The last option will not now work. The numbers were, by last  night, already impossible and with Richard Trail and the unwell Isobel Strong said to be about to ‘stay with the SNP’, the proposal may not even be put to a vote it can only lose.

The third option

There is a third option – and an interesting one.

It is the option of putting first the interests of Argyll, leaving the SNP – continuing to vote personally according to political conscience and preference – and joining Councillor Dick Walsh as part of a new coalition led by his Alliance of Independents.

The Argyll First group and Independent Councillor Iain Angus Macdonald, have the same decision to make and have already withdrawn from the proposed coalition with the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

Councillor Walsh has seen his group abandoned by the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, his former allies in the previous administration, in a personal rush to grab some goodies when the time was ripe in the vulnerability of current Leader, James Robb.

Why should Dick Walsh not be happy with to collaborate with fellow independents, ex-members of the SNP who at least stayed quietly with the ship, worked to hold stability against external party-based wrecking attempts and tried to govern Argyll?

And Argyll First, whose founding principle  – which is shared by Independent Iain Angus Macdonald, was to put the interests of Argyll before everything else, would be likely to see the wisdom of such a coalition.

Of the two SNP resignees, we predict that Michael Breslin will ‘stay with the SNP’ to which he will be welcomed back; and that the genuinely independent minded Fred Hall may consider his options – which, rationally, would include the sort of alliance we suggest.

This initiative would have a chance of bringing together the most effective and the most principled of councillors.

 Key choices

Of the six SNP councillors above:

  • James Robb must choose to leave the party which he has worked to make responsible in local government;
  • Richard Trail appears to be jumping ship – and by that we do not mean jumping ship from this administration but jumping ship from personal responsibility for his actions;
  • Mary Jean Devon, faithful only to Mull and otherwise serially seducible otherwise, may do anything.

Roddy McCuish’s, John Semple’s and Anne Horn’s personal decisions by tomorrow are the most interesting and the most potentially powerful.

Each has acted so far with responsibility to Argyll, to colleagues and to principles.

Each now has the power to make a stand for the sort of politics the Argyll electorate wants to see and which Argyll itself desperately needs – non partisan, hard working, strategic and focused on doing a good job – leaving Argyll better than they found it.

What will it say if they choose to put party first, a party that has shown that it simply cannot deal with the responsibilities of government – and has worked assiduously to get its local councillors out of power.

The SNP is finished in Argyll as a force in local government. Who could find any reason other than blind tribalism to vote for a councillor standing under that banner?

If these councillors – or any number of them – were to choose to leave the party [continuing to vote as they wish in national elections and in the 2014 Independence referendum] and to offer themselves for election as Independents at whatever time in the future, it would be a signal strike for integrity in local politics here. prioritising the interests of Argyll – which they are each elected to serve.

We sympathise with their situation – but actually, it is less of a predicament than it may seem. It’s essentially a stark and a simple decision.

It will be interesting to see what each of the does. They will offer or dash hope.


During the period of settling Argyll – the public, councillors and might-be councillors – need not just to settle for the Alliance, who will lead until the next election.

We all need to think about what we want to see happen after that election.

This is an opportunity for the reinvigoration of local politics, for the reinvention and refocusing of all concerned.

A small cluster of councillors led by the Argyll First group – its own three councillors, Kelly, McAlpine and Philand with Councillors Breslin and Hall [both SNP resignees] and Macdonald [Independent] – have been working up thinking on a new way of delivery local government.

The essence of this is to move to inclusive and consensual local government, based on getting the right person into the right area of responsibility regardless of their political or non-political affiliations.

The focus of the initiative has a great deal to commend it:
•    the end of the waste of ability in the current and outmoded adversarial model;
•    the sense that every councillor – elected to serve, remember – has an active job to do;
•    the creating of unilateral common cause in serving the interests of Argyll.

This is the most exciting development in Scottish politics at any level, local and national.

It is a discussion and a process of refinement of ideas to which the electorate can contribute at will.

For Argyll will energetically promote and serve that process – and we hope to see current councillors of all persuasions contribute to it and engage with the thinking of the public, their electorate, here.

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8 Responses to Argyll and Bute: where now – experiences and choices?

  1. Personally as a friend of Roddy,s he should wait till the SNP expel him and move on as a councillor and put forward his own ideas for Oban and the rest of Argyll.
    His own commitment to the Independence cause or the SNP will not change but being able to sit back and watch how the new regime deliver will be very interesting.
    What this new vision will be is anyone,s quess but for these councillors to regain any respect will be a big task.
    I for one have been a very vocal critic of the management of Argyll and Bute but after this shambles how could any councillor stand up and tell them there standard of performance was poor.
    They would need a brass neck but that wouldn’t,t surprise me with some of the characters that are supposedly representing us.
    I am sure FA will put this new vision on show for us and the councillors involved will not have a better time to put there case for change to Argyll.
    Lets see what big ideas and changes they have for Argyll.
    Cheers Neil.

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    • A very neat solution for Roddy McCuish.
      If he did this, what’s the betting this kaleidoscope of a party machine would find a way of not kicking him out of the party?
      The contortions would be fascinating.
      But the clean thing would be to be proactive and make an end of it.

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    • Neil,

      I agree that Roddy should tell the control freeks like Mike Russell in the SNP where to go. He should then work with the other SNP councillors who join him along with the Libs, Tories and other independent councillors in a new administration.

      Power to the local folk who do not want to be controlled by the party based in edinburgh.

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    • All the information I have is that apart from John McAlpine, the other two Argyll First councillors are feerd to vote for anything that might upset anyone in Argyll. They will never work as a team with the Alliance or any other group of councillors and as for leading anyone, just forget it. From what some councillors have told me about Argyll First, P***ups and breweries spring to mind.

      As for their great idea of delivering politics in a new way in Argyll, these is nothing new there. It has all been tried before. Remember the Rainbow Alliance? that included all political parties and the senior independent members. It did not last long.

      On their performance over the past year, I don’t think that even dictator Walsh would want to touch them with a barge pole.

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    • [Updated] Two of the three Argyll First supported the budge and, consequenty, the Struan Lodge decision. The third, Councillor Donald Kelly, did not and ‘recorded a No vote’on both. They don’t operate an internal whip system and all are free to vote as they see fit.
      Their majority support for both of these matters does not tie them in any way to consent to a new and different coalition – one on which they were not consulted or even informed until the proposal was a fait accompli.
      It is impossible to understand why loyal junior partners in the administration were treated like this [and it was the same experience for others in that category] and yet expected to accept it and stay on.
      It speaks of a bunker situation at the end of what has passed for life in Kilmory under this externally manipulated uncivil war.

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  2. Excellent point Lowry.
    But let’s see what the vision contains but after this shambles anything has to be better.
    The sad point is we are still left with this same mob it doesn’t,t matter what way they jump.
    CHeers Neil.

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  3. “Consensual local government” is the LAST thing Argyll and Bute needs . The way to good government is not some cosy consensus where all are neutered into one mind set , manipulated by the executive and devoid of the examination of an opposition .

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