Party politics on the way back as more confusion reigns in Argyll and Bute Council

It appears that the legal rules obtaining on multiple group memberships in Argyll and Bute Council have been confused by an ad hoc decision made by senior officers some years ago – and which appears not to have been previously or, until now, communicated to elected members.

The Local Government Act stated that:

‘No person shall be treated as a member of more than one political group at any given time and, accordingly, if a person changes the political group of which he is a member by a notice under regulation 8 or 9 he shall from the date of delivery of that notice be treated—
(a) in the case of a notice under regulation 8, as a member only of the new political group which is constituted in accordance with that regulation; and
(b) in the case of a notice under regulation 9(b), as a member only of the group named in the notice.

This position was also the understanding of the councillors who, on Wednesday 22nd May, formed the Argyll, Lomond and the Islands group, dissolving three groups which had severally housed them up to that point:

  • the Liberal Democrats
  • the Conservatives
  • the Argyll and Bute Independent Councillors group.

The second new group formation

The following day, 15 minutes before the council meeting, official notification was circulated within the council that a second new group had been formed – Argyll and Bute for Change – listing councillors by name only.

This group was composed of 8 members of the Alliance of Independent Councillors, 3 SNP members, 3 Argyll First members and four solo independents.

The revelation

On Thursday evening, Argyll First made it known to Council officers that it had been internally agreed that they would retain their Argyll First identity within the new Argyll and Bute for Change group, saying: ‘All three Argyll First members remain as a group within the new group. This should have been relayed to you within  the correspondence that was sent to your office. Please amend accordingly.’

The 3 SNP councillors  – Robert E MacIntyre, Isobel Strong and Gordon Blair -  do not appear to have negotiated for the same position within the new group.

When Argyll First’s understanding of their own situation was made known, procedural queries on the legal position were raised with senior officers.

The result was the information that the legislation on group memberships was repealed some years ago – which would make it multiple simultaneous group memberships perfectly legal – but council officers had simply decided to carry on as before. The gloss is: ‘… this Council has for political and other convenience continued to recognise the concept [Ed: of single group membership only] in terms of reporting on any whip being applied after group discussions and as detailed for approved duties.’

It does seem extraordinary that officers may choose to ignore legislative change and carry on as before, regardless of their view of which legal position – the former or the current – is the most logical.

Officers remain unclear whether Argyll and Bute for Change is, as was Argyll, Lomond and the Islands,  a new group with other previous affiliations abandoned or an umbrella for various groups and individuals. From the information they had been given in the way its membership was stated, apparently and reasonably understood it to be a new group with previous group memberships abandoned.

The legal position

Regardless of the informal continuing application of the old rule by council officers since the repeal of the Local Government Act’s provisions on group memberships, it would appear that it is perfectly legal for a councillor to have simultaneous memberships of more than one group.

This is bound to mean the return of party politics to Argyll and Bute – a move that will not now be welcomed by a substantial majority of voters.

This also sees the SNP group back in formal chaos, with 8 of them never having varied from their party group identity but with the ‘Russell group’ becoming members of the Argyll and But for Change group.

If this group of 3 now make it known that, like Argyll First, they are  now choosing to retain their SNP group membership, that is now, formally, a split group, with a majority group of 8 SNP councillors retaining their single membership of the SNP group, as reported in our position summary of yesterday.

Consequences of belonging to more than group at a time

With simultaneous multiple memberships being legal, there will now be group hierarchies – with a range of individual groups, alongside individual elected members, being members of umbrella groups.

How will internal voting work in such a situation? Will a veto system be necessary where an umbrella group decision on a specific issue might necessitate an opt out or a veto by a member group that is party-based?

A key issue is that the electorate would need to know from each individual councillor and from each group in an umbrella group:

  • Whose interests take precedence – Argyll’s, the umbrella group’s or the party/group?
  • Who calls the shots on what they do – their party/group or their umbrella group?

The Argyll First position

Yesterday evening we received the following position statement from Argyll First:

‘The Argyll First group will work with and within the newly established ‘Argyll and Bute for Change’ group. We will continue to pursue our own established aims and objectives.

‘Our new colleagues have expressed a desire to see commonsense and stability returned to the Council after what can only be described as a period of unacceptable and avoidable turmoil.We will work  together to promote change within the council, ensuring better practice is achieved at all levels with the objective of appointing the most talented Councillors  to the lead roles, regardless of their  political backgrounds. This would ensure that the most able Councillors  would be in the right roles for the right reasons. The residents of Argyll and Bute deserve the best possible representation and this cannot be achieved by Argyll First alone -  we therefore welcome the opportunity to work with our new and experienced colleagues to achieve this goal.’

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55 Responses to Party politics on the way back as more confusion reigns in Argyll and Bute Council

    • The reading rate is high – but this saga is like being sandbagged by a black pantomine with more false endings than a Z-list thriller.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4

  1. Please wake me up when it’s all over. How can any of us comment when the councillors can’t make their minds up on what they’re doing? They are behaving more like kids in a nursery school (with respect to all toddlers) and they have certainly lost any credibility from me.

    What I find most galling is the fact that they’re getting paid to behave like this and it’s coming out of our council taxes.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 24 Thumb down 4

    • Sadly Lowry I must agree, and am personally disappointed by the lure of cash as the only incentive for many hitherto respected councillors.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 6

  2. Clootie it seems you are correct, the extremely complicated convulutions of this disgraceful Fiasco have robbed some of the will to live. Thanks are due to Newsie for having the tenacity and determination to attempt to decypher this for the residents and voters of Argyll&Bute Nobody else did the Job!!!!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 6

  3. Lowry,
    Please don’t insult the kids in the nurserys, at least they are innocent of adult stupidity.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  4. How sad to see Cllr McCuish in the Herald this morning trying to explain why a coalition with the Tories and lib dems is the best option for Argyll and Bute.
    He then admits in the national paper that he is breaking the rules that he signed up to only last week.
    He is obviously out of his depth and is being manipulated by others but in fairness he did not mention Robb and Semple. I think it has went over his head. Who contacted the Herald on his behalf?
    It is inevitable that even if he does “lead” in the future he will not be in the SNP nor his side kicks. I hear that 1 or 2 councillors may break away from this coalition as they wish to remain in the SNP (although why the SNP would still want them is a mystery)
    So the Only SNP Group will contain the provost, Cllr’s McIntyre, Strong and Blair with the 2 recent resignees including Breslin returning to the fold and the 2 ex McCuish followers. 8 in total max.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    • I have to agree with H2O regards the nominal nature of Mr McCuish’s leadership and the inevitability of a further schism.

      Casting an eye back over the years I notice councilor Mary Jean Devon in particular has been in more parties than Prince Harry. As far as I can make out the list runs SNP, Lib Dem, Independent, SNP and now Independent again. The way things are going she could form a Rainbow Coalition with herself and seize power! Just a thought.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 4

  5. How about if all the councillors were to relinquish their party affiliations and become Independents? They could then align themselves freely with whoever they wished without fear of repercussions or interference from On High.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 7

    • I understand your frustration Lowry however, a council election in Argyll and Bute is about £330,000. A bye-election in a landward ward is about £33,000 and an island ward (wards 4 & 5) is about £48,000. The money has to come from somewhere within the existing budget. My guess would be that some old folks home or leisure centre would have to close. I wonder where that might be!

      An alternative, avoiding such a waste of public money, would be to combine a local council election with the Government sponsored Independence Referendum on the 14th September 2014. Additional costs would be negligible involving only the inclusion of additional ballot papers in the Argyll and Bute constituencies.

      Those who have glibly called for various councilors to resign should consider this. Resignations and the additional costs involved could result in the closure of the very facilities they are trying to defend. I am sure our more astute, principled councilors are aware of this and have chosen to battle on much as they could be forgiven for wanting to turn their backs on their self serving peers.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. So as we stagger along from one mess to another the SNP councillors who agreed to back Ellen Morton for Leader at there meeting last week must surely look at themselves and explain why they changed course in a matter of hours. If they are serious about being part of an Administration which the people of Argyll take seriously they have to stop being Russell,s puppet. Roddy put himself forward to try to help the situation and let them vote for a way forward out of this mess or do we want Duncan MacIntyre who was the other alternative to be in charge. So do we want Walsh,s puppet or do we move forward to try and make some kind of sense of this mess and forget the political crap from Russell and the SNP who are really just focussed on what looks bad for next years referendum although how anyone can think this shambles reflects well on the SNP really are dillusional.
    Roddy has been far to loyal and has kept his silence while the Bravehearts have attacked him under there stupid nicknames which speaks volumes for there quality and bravery
    But just a quick question why is seemingly acceptable for a SNP\Tory Administration elsewhere in Scotland but not in Argyll. Is it solely down to Russell?
    Roddy did not want the job and if he is expelled from the SNP will still try to work for the best for everyone as an Independent although he should put himself forward for a bye-election the way I see it.
    So when the real stuff comes out including the personal insults he has received to his family it will be time to rock and roll.
    Cheers Neil.

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

  7. He should not have taken the post if he did not wan’t it just the same as keeping the deputes post was his choice.
    Personally, remaining as a councillor with no formal responsibility would have been the best option. Other people wished the post for themselves – he could have stood aside.
    Family and health must come first and no one would argue with that.
    However he chose another course.
    Unfortunately he was part of a clique secretly negotiating with the tories etc without informing ALL of their snp colleagues nor the constituent members and at the same time condemning others who disagreed.
    Those in charge first tried to entice collaboration with offer of posts then threaten discipline when they disagreed. Some chose to resign others fought from within against “Tory” type policies. Disinformation courtesy of For Argyll continued.
    Lets not kid anyone on.
    Robb called the shots and McCuish followed. Once certain councillors in the SNP were excluded Robb negotiated in a local pub in Helensburgh with the Tories and Lib dems. Incidentally the other councillors have families too and have been subject to adverse comments as I understand it from various quarters.
    Maybe Cllr McCuish was too loyal to Robb and Semple and their “management style”. Only he can answer that directly but we all can see the consequences of their action. Ask the residents of Struan.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8

  8. Don’t be getting rid of them all Lowry. There is no story without its heroes and there are, amid this fuss, councillors who have proved their integrity and commitment to the people of Argyll & Bute under very difficult circumstances.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 6

    • Don’t be quiet Anne, tell us all your story regarding the heroes. Perhaps by doing so, it might help us poor electorate’s understanding of the why’s and wherefore’s of these seemingly bizarre actions and return to us some confidence in our elected representatives.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

    • I agree with Anne. Set the party badges aside and consider the actions of individuals. I’m sure all the councilors have found this episode unpleasant and at best uncomfortable, Roddy McCuish included. It is also regrettable that this should, as it must have done, impacted on their families who never sought this sort of attention.

      However, the small number of coucillors, who stood up right at the start when they were expected to set conscience aside and just do as they were told, have had to endure that unpleasantness alone and to far greater degree. They are the same folk who declined lead posts and additional remuneration from the outset in this rather grubby game of musical chairs.

      So I have to agree with Anne that there are indeed heroes. That standards in local politics have reached such depths that such a display of conscience and integrity by these few individuals should be so remarkable as to confer an heroic status, is the real concern.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  9. Graeme called it ” a little local difficulty” while Anne describes it as “this fuss”.

    Thus is the incompetence, factionalism and treachery of the SNP dealt with.

    And Anne also has the audacity to hint at “heroes”….

    Heroes? More like a misbegotten bunch of back-stabbing SNP monkeys, driven by their own selfish egotistical sense of self-worth guilty of attacking their party colleagues in public and in the press with their leaks to the media and all of whom lay claim to having the best interests of the people at heart.

    Heroes? Don’t make me vomit.


    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

  10. Whew! Simon

    you must have been up all night thinking of that response and with the lack of sleep has made you Mr Angry.

    I think Anne was basically saying that there are still good folk who are councillors and could not be bought nor sold. Of course there is debate, arguments etc (ForArgyll would not exist otherwise!)and unfortunately factionalism in the snp. Hopefully those directly involved will leave of their own fruition or be removed.

    Some of the folk causing the problems have already been exposed as they have put position and renumeration before serving the electorate and the community at large.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8

  11. Heroes is a word that is rightly associated with our armed forces it should not be used in any context to describe what our councillors are doing.
    Sorry Anne but can you give us the names and explain there actions.
    Cheers Neil.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5

    • Surely Anne is confusing Heroism with Altruism.
      There is only one group of Altruists within A&B Council, the other being full of Egoists.
      I doubt many bloggers on this site will agree which group is which.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  12. H2- – no not really – I’ve been away or the weekend so just catching up with the latest instalment of this SNP shambles. And I’m certainly not Mr Angry. Mr Happy (laughing-my-feckin-head-off-at-the-SNP-tearing-itself-apart) maybe but certainly not Mr Angry.

    And of course neither of the SNP factions (are there really only two? )show any signs of stopping this civil war – indeed you yourself have been repeatedly calling for expulsions from the SNP for those you perceive to be in the wrong – Robb, McCuish Semple etc.

    Do you not see that this very public display of on-going enmity and vilification only serves to undermine the confidence of those who voted SNP? You accuse those you perceive to have caused of putting position and remuneration first – without so much as a scrap of evidence. As history shows us civil wars have a tendency to be very uncivil, but you do have to realise H20 that you are part of the problem.

    In fact I’ll repeat what I said in another post – it’s the SNP that is the problem here and it’s the SNP that have caused the problem here.

    This looks like it will run and run…. :)

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

    • …to the detriment of all who live in Argyll and Bute.
      Thanks for showing how to spell the actual act of vomiting. I’ve often wondered about that and look forward to using it in the future!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  13. It appears that whilst we may have the right to vote we do not have the right to a competent administration, even when it is clear that one does not exist. How can that be?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    • Exactly the same way it does in central government. Your right to try and remove a politician comes around at election time. Does anyone honestly think a political system will ever be stable and effective if politicians could be voted in and out on a weekly basis?

      It can of course be possible to put pressure on a politician to resign and, in the case of local government, this pressure would need to predominantly come from the ward electorate. Barring a politician being found guilty of a crime and imprisoned for 3 months or more there is no scope to have them removed, and nor should there be.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  14. Integrity. Interesting post.

    Should a politician who stands under party colours and then resigns/leaves or is expelled from the party not be removed from office?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

    • In the current circumstances maybe some should be congratulated for emerging from their party ‘shell’ to face the music.
      Before you draw an analogy with hermit crabs scuttling from one shell to another before they get picked off by predators, ask yourself how necessary national party policies are to local authority responsibilities?
      I can see how local councillors might believe that to be representing the same party that controls the government would be advantageous to both them and their local authority, but do recent events bear that out?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

    • OT but am I alone in thinking it a bit strange that Lynda Henderson hasn’t uttered a peep on the subject of Castle Toward? No doubt she is busy researching an article but you would think there was enough in the public domain so far to let her make a comment. After all she regularly pontificates on subjects where she actually knows nothing! I would have thought that the heady mix of council senior officers, the former leader of the Council and financial shennanigans would have drawn comment by now.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 14

      • You appear to be trying your utmost to deflect this topic away onto a different subject. I assume this is because it is making you very uncomfortable.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

      • We were tipped off about this a considerable time ago and from a credible and authoritative source. We get a lot of information on all sorts of important issues and, as a small team, we simply do not have the time to keep the news going while researching absolutely everything.
        So some things fall by the wayside – as this did – not by choice but by Murphy’s Law.
        The Dunoon Observer has taken a responsible line on the matter – which we have still not had time to look at and will leave to the local media who have taken it up.
        We are happy that it is now in the public domain and is being addressed.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

      • The rumours circulating relating to Castle Toward are potentially very serious and I think that, whilst they are rumours, it is probably best not to discuss details or speculate publicly as they could damage, if not end, a number of careers. Should they prove to be correct then those careers will fully deserve the damage inflicted upon them however if they prove to be false, or less serious, then it would be unfair for those associated with it to have their reputations tarnished with the rumour rather than the facts.

        They are rumours that require close scrutiny and due process and idle gossip / tittle tattle can only serve to make that process more difficult.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        • Integrity: It is surely not a rumour that a serious complaint has been made against named senior officers and Mr Walsh and that this complaint is being investigated by Audit Scotland?

          I agree that uninformed speculation (such as is seen all too frequently on here)can be damaging but I still find it strange that For Argyll hasn’t uttered a peep on this subject despite the very serious nature of the complaint. I do not believe this is down to Lynda Henderson exercising some sort of self-restraint out of respect for process or the potential harm speculation might do to people’s careers as she has shown no regard for others time and time again. So what is going on?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

          • You are right that the investigation is not a rumour. I am referring more to the speculation about what has taken place.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • My personal opinion is that they shouldn’t however I do understand why a lot of people feel differently and there is a clear argument to be made in support of that position.

      For me what would be better is for people to acknowledge the difference between central and local government more. Stop being sheeps and voting for whowever wears the right colour badge, actually cast your vote for the person who you personally feel is the best person to represent your community (the clue is in the proximity of the words ‘local’ and ‘government’!).

      If you feel the SNP, Labour, lib Dems etc have a core policy that you vehemently disagree with (or agree with) then of course that will influence your vote as you would expect a member of the party to largely follow that core policy. However that should only be part of the decision making process.

      If your candidates is anti nuclear because that is their belief, and they are SNP with that as a core policy but they are also downright scoundrels then would you still vote for them? Sdly some people would simply because they wear the right badge (and I am not picking particularly on SNP, that is just as applicable for any party).

      Equally I think political parties should do more to encourage people to think more ‘locally’ when it comes to local government. Allow your members to disagree with the party line without fear of discipline, that way people might start to believe they are electing somenoe to represent their community as much as they are representing their central party.

      That doesn’t mean we should do away with party politics entirely (at a local level). There can still be parties and thay will still influence policy however hopefully there would be more balance in the consideration process.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

      • Well said. Party politics has a lot in common with religion. It can do a lot of good, but an awful lot of harm can be done in its name by those who follow it wearing blinkers.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  15. Simon, I know how you like to bash the SNP but I didn’t actually say SNP councillors. I’m well aware of the troubles we’ve had and it’s been difficult for all involved. That said I see solid hard working and honest people both in and out of the SNP who have remained steady. I therefore don’t think we should demonise all councillors. Some of them do a great job and the hours they put un are phenomenal.

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

  16. I am sure there will be a point when the SNP will remove certain individuals from the party leaving a core group.
    Unfortunately for the “independents ” not only will they have the choice of Robb, McCuish, Semple, Morton and Mulvanney they will also have stalwart Walsh who understandably has gone very quiet over Toward.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

    • I suspect the issue with Castle Toward might end up reflecting just as badly, if not more so, on senior council officers as it does on certain elected members.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

      • Quasi ? Or is it Jock? Not sure what your point is if it is a point? I rather link with Fletcher etc than with close Struan Lodge and unionist apologists
        Please try and explain ?
        Do you think Robb etc should remain as a SNP member or do you think he should go the whole hog and join the Tories and lib dems or join the independent group of councillors?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  17. Anne – you come on here now and again make vague tree-hugging-like references to something or another and then vanish.

    If you have something meaningful to contribute then by all means share it – let’s know which Cllrs you think have done really well. But please, stop with the talk of “heroes” when what you are describing a spat – a particular nasty spat with quite viscous overtones – that started in the SNP group who are quite unable to work with each other – and and has adversely affected the work of this Council.

    Now this is not SNP bashing – this is merely reporting on the SNP members and Cllrs and MSPs bashing each other.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 8

    • What nonsense “Now this is not SNP bashing”

      There has been more than a fair share of misinformation directed towards SNP related issues be it unintentional or deliberate, whichever way, more thorough journalism and at least a modicum of impartiality would help inform us all instead of creating petty tit-for-tat snipes at each other.

      Yourself and sparring partner Newsie at least have one common denominator, a vindictive loathing of all things SNP and use this platform to attempt to influence a ‘No’ vote citing any local difficulties as in some bizzare way evidence that Scotland is doomed to failure if we vote ‘Yes’.
      This of course you and your fellow SNP haters are perfectly entitled to do but to claim SNP bashing is a frigment of our imagination when it is glaringly obvious is inaccurate.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  18. Simon, what would be the point of saying anything meaningful here? I put on the odd fact or short comment and am accused of twisting things or belonging to a particular camp as though I hadn’t an independent thought. For Argyll has made up its mind and nothing will change that. I do ponder why I bother at all and conclude that it’s just that I can’t bear to let misinformation go totally unchallenged. It’s probably a weakness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

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