James Robb, as the cordite clears

In the midst of the debris of the ill-fated first SNP led administration at Argyll and Bute Council, James Robb, the most recent of its two internally downed leaders, is still standing.

He has tried to hold the ring against external political intervention and a level of personal electoral vested interest that was willing to destroy his party’s credibility in government rather than stand by the collective responsibility for cabinet’ decisions that underpins our democracy.

He says, and the evidence supports him: ‘The decisions I took forward were always those of the Administration. I just accepted it was my job to promote and defend those decisions.’

What has it been like to be caught up in the tornado of abuse that has been orchestrated against him – with headlines screaming ‘Axeman Robb’ and ‘Madman’ – in efforts to use the media to force him to abandon a considered administration decision?

There’s a shrug, then a succinct: ‘The personal abuse has taken a heavy toll on my family and there was jubilation when I could leave.’

What had he expected when he agreed to take on the leadership of the council administration when Councillor Roddy McCuish stepped down?

‘I always saw it as a temporary job as I expected the resignations that happened but could do nothing to stop them. I was blocked from doing a deal with Councillor Walsh’s Independents Group.

‘I didn’t even get business cards printed.

‘It seems that some who wanted democratic accountability couldn’t handle it. Some refused to accept collective responsibility.’

What is his view all of the external interventions that are  now on the record as having come from many elements of his party, the SNP:

  • the local SNP MSP,
  • the SNP ‘Compliance Manager’  -  a grim title also known as ‘group whip’, who is not a member of the group nor even a resident of Argyll and is based at party HQ;
  • the SNP Constituency Association Convener;
  • the national party executive.

‘There is a spectrum of view as to the influence the MSP and local SNP officials should have on SNP Council Group decisions. My view is  elected SNP Councillors accepted certain responsibilities and arrangements through a formal agreement with the party but are primarily accountable to ALL the people of Argyll & Bute.

‘The SNP Council group was largely autonomous but was open to hear views from all individual and groups, SNP or otherwise. It was always my position that if anyone else wanted to be Council Leader from within the SNP Group I would stand down. It didn’t require the drama.’

We assume that Councillor Robb’s remark that all SNP Councillors ‘accepted certain responsibilities and arrangements through a formal agreement with the party’ refers to the practice of their being required, before taking office, to sign a copy of the SNP’s Standing Orders for Council Groups.

This is another required ceding of authority we knew nothing about until recently.

Interestingly, these Standing Orders require any SNP councillor who decides to cease representing the party in local government to offer themselves for re-election.

Obviously the party cannot enforce compliance with this requirement once a councillor has resigned from the party. It is, though, effectively a matter of honour in the relationship between an elected councillor and their electorate that they should do so. It also demonstrates a residual fidelity to a party that once served a beneficial purpose to the councillor as a candidate.

What does James Robb see happening now in the formation of another administration, the third in a year?

He says he is not involved at all in the current horsetrading and sees only three stable cores of a new administration.

  • The first is the current SNP-Conservative-LibDem-A&B Independents Group-Elaine Robertson coalition. This is what in fact remains in place at this moment, until such time as the SNP to give notice to the Council via Douglas Hendry, that they have withdrawn or resigned from administration.
  • The second is for the SNP and ‘Councillor Walsh Independents’.
  • The third is an ‘everyone but the SNP’ coalition.

In our own view, the electorate would have reason best to trust the third option, after the experiences of the past year.

Councillor Robb says of these options: ‘With the first being vetoed by a national SNP sub-committee, that leaves the Councillor Walsh Group (8) and the SNP (11) coalition with a working majority. This would also see Councillor Walsh emerge as Leader and the SNP back in office but not in power.

The ‘everyone but the SNP’ coalition will require a resolution to some historic personal grievances but is not impossible. The SNP would be an opposition of 11 in a 36 member council and Councillor Walsh would again be Council Leader.

Mr Robb points out that Argyll First’s opposition to a deal with either Dick Walsh or the Conservatives may lead to their being left on the sidelines; but feels that others may compromise and that Councillor Vivien Dance would be a certainty to join this second coalition option. He sees the Argyll & Bute Independents Group and Elaine Robertson as a welcome addition to any coalition.

How about the finances, the budgetary decisions that were at the heart of the internecine warfare?

‘The policy problem was that having started with a stable democratic coalition that was taking a long term strategic view, insufficient individuals were able to stick to it under short term pressure on unpopular but necessary decisions.

‘The £40m budget deficit won’t go away and the reason for smoothing is that, without it, the council faced £10.7m of cuts in 2016-17. That compares to averaging which gives £5.8m per year.

‘That smoothing effect and the “excess savings” taken this year follows through, so 2014-15 will look very easy to balance. However, even on previous practice of balancing the budget over 3 years, the £10.7m funding shortfall in 2016-17 can no longer be ignored by Councillor Walsh.’

How many of the financial targets set were achieved in this past year?

‘All of them will be – but adjustment will have to be made for the delay in closing Struan Lodge – probably from reserves as a one-off; and perhaps a tweak for Atlantis Leisure, which will probably lead to a cut elsewhere in the communities budget.’

Where does the current position leave the financial planning for the remaining four years of this term?

‘No effect. We had already started working on next year’s budget with service reviews planned over the coming years. Councillors could hide behind the officer recommendations but if someone starts interfering with the independent financial forecast for a short term popular budget – that is really bad news longer term.’

What do you see as the core financial challenges?

‘The reluctance to address the long term trends in funding and demographics.’

The tendency not to address such issues is one of the many systemic failures of local – and national – government as it is currently constituted. This is a matter for concern and for overdue attention to reform.

The public image deliberately painted of James Robb in office has been one of total isolation. This has been far from the case.

It has been, as he anticipated, a tough and short wrestling match in his effort to convince colleagues of the need in local politics for the discipline of informed decision taking and constancy of support for decisions taken by the majority.

But while his party’s behaviour  – described to us the other day as ‘challenging an anthropologist’ – defies reason, political intelligence, elected responsibility and even consistency, he has had the support of the large majority of his party group – until the national party blew the whistle and ordered them out.

The fact that they obeyed the whistle is not only a matter every one of them should continue to reflect upon but is the nail in the coffin of party politics in local government. Anything in politics where fidelity to the electorate and the assertion of human values are not the priority, is a dangerous distortion.

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21 Responses to James Robb, as the cordite clears

  1. Michael Russell will get his way as the SNP in heading for opposition. I hope the press, the blogs and the SNP fanatics are ashamed of the vile campaign. The SNP council cowards now hiding behind Dick Walsh. Everyone I talk to is finished with SNP in Argyll. Congratulations to Mr Russell for stealing our independence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    • I’m not sure Anne that you have that right, I don’t think that any person in Argyll and Bute will ever listen to what the SNP say when in opposition. They have lost every part off What could have been credibility with the handling of power.

      Can you just imagine. SNP councillor trying to tell Dick Walsh he was doing it wrong. It would take weeks to answer after the laughing stopped. You have to have respect to be respected in opposition and that’s all gone now.

      There is no opposition now?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  2. Quite! The problem is that people have such short memories; as soon as the next administration has to make difficult choices there will be the usual group claiming that the SNP would perform much better, having ‘forgotten’ the recent fiasco.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. Is there not a fourth alternative? The SNP group with a new leader forms the next administration with the same independents (including Argyll First) that supported the previous one? As far as I can see this has been solely a problem of leadership not arithmetic.

    Anyone suggesting that Dick Walsh should be brought back in or that the Con-Dems are given a whiff or power again is clearly suffering from amnesia. They were dreadful while in office and almost caused the bankruptcy of the Council not to mention propel it into one of the largest revolts by voters seen over the schools closure fiasco.

    Let’s put things into context: there has been an unedifying spat within the ruling administration. With Cllr Robb stepping aside it should now be possible to regroup around a leader more capable of keeping the different elements of the administration on board without the need to bring in any of Walsh’s dinosaurs or the toxic Con-Dems. No-one has died, the Council still functions, there is the chance for a better resolution of the Struan Lodge situation, a budget will be passed.

    And what of the 5th option – the New Way. or do you just dismiss that out of hand?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

    • The New Way is wet behind the ears, largely unformed. Out too soon. Argyll is in no state for another experiment with the untried.
      The SNP has made itself a toxic brand in its numbingly irresponsible first chance to leading in local government.
      And saying that this was a fault of leadership means you have paid no attention to the content of the article you have chosen to hang this party political banner upon.
      Who ever said this mess was a ‘fault’ of arithmetic?
      The mess was caused by:
      - highly interventionist behaviour at various levels of the SNP, with no strategic intelligence whatsoever;
      - a systemic fault in the operation of party politics at local government level;
      - and SNP members who have no grasp of the meaning of collective responsibility or responsibility to those who elected them.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

      • This is all in your own head. Self assessments from the man responsible for the leadership crisis are not necessarily objective and nor are you. The SNP are a long way from toxic no matter how much you want to believe that.

        Anyway, too sunny to waste more of my time arguing with someone who has lost all credibility and balance.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 9

  4. Fletcher,
    With now absolute and total failure of the SNP administration having had three punts at it without success in any way shape or form. If your out enjoying the sun ask anyone in Argyll what they think of the SNP. I think you will find laughing stock sums it up for most now after the ferries and land slides not to mention running out of so called leaders.

    They have ran faster than Husain Bolt to get out of the administration and back to what they think is safety as opposition, they will never be seen as opposition again in Argyll and Bute just a group of mouth pieces that failed when they had the chance and ran for cover. Or what do you think happened Fletcher?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  5. H2o
    Is that because I don’t agree with you or is it you just do have a argument against what I’ve said?

    What action do you suggest I take part in? I’m a Argyll voter and my action will be not to ever listen to any SNP all mouth and absolutely no action at all.

    What’s going to happen when life gets tough and Scotland is independent will you just run away and give it back to the English? If you can’t run a small shop don’t open a big one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

    • “What’s going to happen when life gets tough and Scotland is independent will you just run away and give it back to the English? If you can’t run a small shop don’t open a big one”.
      MB
      Life is tough right now never mind your presonal theories of a hypothetical version of an independent Scotland would fall flat on it’s face and rush back to tie the apron strings!
      What with wage increases over the last three years lagging behind inflation (in effect paycuts), a UK economy that has, give or take a 0.5% whimper, flatlined, the humongous burden of over 1 trillion UK national debt, UK’s AAA rating now confined to history, planned year on year cuts to council budgets for the foreseeable future….. the ails go on and on and on, it is about as far away from a flourishing Great Britian we in Scotland should fear departing.
      Some may say that those variants over decades running the ‘big shop’ have mismanaged it resulting in a non-profitable and unsustainable business requiring remedial change, downsizing and/or diversifying?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  6. Gobbells knew if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it.

    That’s why it’s important to stop Fletcher of Buffoon when he lies. For example “Anyone suggesting that Dick Walsh should be brought back in or that the Con-Dems are given a whiff or power again… They almost caused the bankruptcy of the Council”.

    Lie. Untrue. Lie. Fabrication. Lie. Never happened. Lie. Economical with the truth. Lie. SNP. Lie.

    Dick Walsh’s budgets were all passed with no dissenting voice and there was never any question of the Council almost being made bankrupt under the previous administration.

    Fletcher’s claim is a complete and utter SNP lie.

    The Buffoon might have wished that was the case – but it never was. Given the on-going omnishambles of a pantomime that the SNP have visited on Argyll – you would’ve thought the SNP would’ve learned that humility and honesty can go along way – but they haven’t they still lie.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 5

      • Ah – but in earlier postings Fletcher denied being a politician. Could the accusations above (i.e. lying) mean that he really is someone who is supposed to represent the electorate?

        This person seems to support thuggery, appears to be delusional about the SNP fiasco in A & B, thinks women and the disabled are less threatening than men and, would you believe, that wind turbines in Scotland are helping to reduce global carbon emissions.

        He may well be a politician after all – maybe one without qualifications and who simply believes everything that he reads so long as it complies with SNP policies.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

    • Simon: As you are well aware I was referring to the infamous incident when Dick Walsh gaily signed off on COSLA change to the distribution of the block grant that left ABC with a black hole of millions in its finances. Are you now saying this did not occur? It may not have led to bankruptcy – the Council could have imposed swinging cuts to balance the books but in the end this wasn’t necessary because the Scottish Government bailed out ABC. But it was a prime example of financial mismanagement and incompetence by the man who Lynda Henderson now lauds as the saviour of Argyll.

      And for all of who who need to get a life: I’m not a politician and never have been and I never tell lies. Everything I have ever written on here has been true or reflects my opinion. I don’t think I have even spoken to Mike MacKenzie. And yes, Lowry, I don’t find young women and especially ones in wheelchairs particularly intimidating. Why should I? If they had machine guns I might change my view on that. I don’t find that many men intimidating either. My objection was to the term “bully boys”: a description that I feel is difficult to associate with women (on gender grounds) and to people in wheelchairs who are poorly placed to bully anyone. I do condemn violence from any quarter but the protest by some students the other day was non-violent. The students have the right to protest. Is anyone suggesting we remove that right? If they (or indeed anyone else) breaks the law then they are arrested and punished. That is how we do things. But I’m not prepared to put up with Mr Farage trying to label Scots as anti-English racists just because some students (at least some of whom were themselves English) disagreed with him and made their feelings about his party and its policies in a loud and rather rude manner.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 10

      • So, you condone a protest that required the police to protect someone; that person had to stay in a place of safety until a police van could provide transport; a taxi driver was unable to provide transport because of potential damage to his vehicle; and where two people were arrested. What a strange person you are!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  7. Come on folks lets rejoice if indeed Fletcher is Mike MacKenzie surely we all should be happy the SNP have found something for him to do and his close relationship with Dick Walsh will be of great benefit to the SNP councillors when they line up behind him in the new Administration.
    You never know Dick might be a closet nationalist now that would need a fair bit of spin to keep the ground troops happy but I am sure the SNP will help him see the light. I think big Sally has plenty in her executive suite in Kilmory.
    When will anything start to happen in Argyll apart from this farce.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

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