[Updated below 15.00] In transit yesterday from Western Ross to Argyll, we did not see until this morning Councillor James Robb, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council’s, email announcement of yesterday [9th May 2013]. This makes it clear that the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Groups have joined the Administration at Argyll & Bute Council.
The announcement says, verbatim:
‘ Councillor Robb said “There needs to be consensus and stability to deliver for the people of Argyll & Bute. I was happy to respond in a positive manner to the recent public statement from Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors who were willing to take the responsibility of working together in the best interests of our communities. I am delighted that we are able to put aside party politics to further those aims. I am hopeful that other councillors may wish to engage with this refreshed consensual approach.”
‘ Councillor Ellen Morton, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group said “The approach from James came as a surprise and it was not an easy decision for the members of the Liberal Democrat Group to make, but our first responsibility is to ensure that Argyll & Bute Council is properly run with a secure, steady Administration. I hope we can help to bring that stability about. We have always had a commitment to working positively with other groups.”
‘ Councillor Gary Mulvaney, Leader of the Conservative Group, added “In the current economic climate there are very difficult decisions to be made. We have never shied away from our responsibilities and will not do so now. Argyll & Bute needs an Administration whose Members will work together to agree the best way forward for the Council and then have the integrity and political courage to deliver the agreed policies.”
What we know and do not know
We understand that the Argyll First group of three councillors, which had been part of the previous coalition, has decided not to be part of this one.
We also understand that the Argyll and Bute Independent Councillors group of two councillors has decided to stay in the administration.
We do now yet know the positions of individual independent councillors who were coalition members but we believe that Councillor Elaine Robertson remains as an administration member.
We do not know which SNP councillors remain in the administration. We have no reason to doubt that all of those who were members of the administration at the last council meeting where the most recent chapter of the pantomime took place, are amongst its members. There is a question on how stable each of their commitments may prove to be, as they face internal party pressure to withdraw.
The rumour factory
All sorts of rumours are circulating – chief amongst them that the SNP hierarchy has suspended the SNP members who are part of this new coalition.
This may well be true – for the simple reason that SNP party central’s conduct and decisions since the SNP-led coalition took power has been confused and lacking in any clear and consistent principles.
Anything is clearly possible from this quarter. Its repeated failures to impose the leadership and discipline its supporters expected of it has left it too suffering profound reputational damage.
Other rumours relate to the back-room goings on which, if only a tenth of these are true, show that lessons have not been learned.
Whose interests come first?
This will not be an SNP administration. It will be a coalition administration with SNP councillors in it.
In the light of what we know of the SNP’s actions and inactions in the horror story of the internally beleaguered former SNP-led administration, SNP councillor members of this one may well be free to perform much better than before – and to focus on the job they have to do.
Before anyone starts taking positions, wait and see the final shape of the new administration when it is formally announced. All that matters is the interests of Argyll and Bute. Whether these are to the fore will be clear in what is eventually made known.
THe SNP group’s utterly undisciplined internecine warfare has left party politics in local government, in Argyll and Bute at least, utterly discredited.
In Argyll and Bute this was seen to be actively against considering first the interests of the region. Councillors and their decisions were shown – on documentary evidence – to be subject to external intervention from the local SNP Constituency Association, in the perceived interests of the party.
If the new coalition pulls together a local government of all the talents, with a defensible expert in each post, and where every one of them gets down seriously to the business of getting Argyll in shape, businesslike and focused on growth – and with an intelligent social conscience – this has a chance of being a good thing.
Councillor Morton’s focus on the need for stable government and Councillor Mulvaney’s above, on the integrity and political courage needed to steer Argyll through the most difficult economic circumstances, would indicate a constructive attitude with the necessary priorities in place.
Now he and they will need to put the talk into action.
Political parties are curate’s eggs, good in parts and unable to put up a comprehensively capable team – but coalitions can create one.
If this turns out to be a ‘buggins’ turn’ job, with political payoffs to the fore, the jury’s out.
Of course the plots – one cannot call them ‘politics’ – are fun, at the level of the Dandy and the Beano.
The serious issue – and the only one that matters - is whether what emerges can be good for Argyll and will be so.
15.00 update: We understand that Councillor Robertson’s position is not in fact known. She is currently away on holiday and is not expected back until next week.