Yesterday, 11th May, SNP Constituency Association Convener, Robert Allan, sent out the following email.
Sent: 11 May 2013 20:01
Subject: Message from the Constituency Convener
Dear Fellow Nationalists,
It has not proved possible to organise a CA meeting for tomorrow but, along with the CA Organiser and the CA Secretary, I will continue to monitor developments and we will call a CA as soon as is practicable.
I think it is important that all members know what is taking place and therefore I am happy to provide this update.
On Wednesday 8 May 2013 the Argyll & Bute SNP Council Group were informed, through their Leader Cllr MacCuish that the NEC, acting through its nominated sub committee, had refused permission for a new coalition involving the Liberal Democrats and Tories.
Concern was expressed that the negotiation for such a coalition had taken place without informing HQ and indeed without informing many Group members, until Tuesday, at the Group meeting during a discussion from which the CA liaison officer was excluded.
HQ only discovered what was taking place because one group member was very worried about the breach of the party rules that was taking place and acted accordingly.
None the less HQ was prepared to offer help and advice to the Group and suggested that a minority administration continue in office.
Despite the information about the NEC position which was given to Cllr MacCuish and communicated to all councillors the Group decided on Thursday morning, by a majority, to enter into such a coalition. Cllr Robb told the Group that approval could still be sought from HQ and brushed aside objections which drew attention to the NEC communication. It is clear however that some members agreed to the coalition only on the basis of Cllr Robb’s assertion and on his assurance that approval would be given.
HQ told Cllr MacCuish later that day that the formation of the coalition should not be announced as permission had been refused and informed him, that if an announcement was made, the group would be suspended. Cllr Robb went ahead with the announcement which included a press release and a list of those appointed to posts which included the Leader of the Lib Dems, Cllr Ellen Morton, as Deputy Leader of the Council. Other Lib Dems and Tories were given positions, some of which had previously been held by SNP Councillors. In addition an internal email was also issued to all Argyll & Bute Council staff announcing the coalition. Cllr MacCuish and the other members of the group were then informed by HQ that the Group had been suspended by the National Secretary.
The matter was put to the NEC of the SNP on Friday. A paper from Cllr MacCuish was also given to the members of the NEC later in the day which delayed the process. None the less the NEC confirmed on Friday evening the decision of their sub group and refused permission for the coalition to be formed. There is no appeal against that decision.
Cllr MacCuish and all members of the SNP Group have now been told that the Group must abandon the planned coalition with the Lib Dems and Tories. HQ has asked for confirmation that this action has been taken by end of play on Monday. If it is not forthcoming, then each individual Councillor will be asked if they abide by the decision of the NEC and wish to continue as an SNP Councillor. If they refuse to do so then they will cease to be an SNP Councillor and will no longer be a member of the SNP.
Cllrs Blair and MacIntyre have already indicated that they do not support the new arrangement and will not be part of it. Cllr Strong, though still in hospital, holds the same view. Cllr Trail, though outwith our constituency, voted against the proposal and is assumed to be unwilling to back it. Cllr Glen Lee has informed Cllr Robb that she cannot support the decision either. The Argyll First Group and Independent Cllr Iain Angus MacDonald have also withdrawn from the coalition which means that Cllr Robb no longer commands a majority of councillors.
It is to be hoped that no SNP Councillor will choose to separate themselves from the party by backing such a politically inept and constitutionally illegitimate failing enterprise, which has been rejected by the Party in due process. All SNP Councillors will be welcomed back from suspension with a sigh of relief by every member and I would appeal personally to each of them to confirm as quickly as possible that they will not back a Tory/ Lib Dem /SNP / Independent coalition in Argyll & Bute.
However it is clear that there will be major questions to be asked of Cllrs MacCuish and Robb about how this situation arose , and in particular why Cllr Robb undertook secret negotiations with the Lib Dems and Tories, why he excluded many of his own councillors, most of his coalition and the whole of the local party and why he made the announcement whilst fully aware of the HQ instruction not to do so.
In addition he and the Council will have to answer why a press communication in his name was issued yesterday just before noon to a very large press list in which he described the process of seeking NEC approval as a “formality” when he knew that it had already been refused. Information was also given to the BBC which implied that NEC approval was “expected” to be given when that was clearly not the case. Such actions are not commensurate with the standards of honesty, openness and transparency that must be expected from a local authority and its leader.
No one ever wanted to be in this position but it is clear that the actions of Cllr Robb since he became leader three months ago – and before – have been deeply damaging to the party and its interests. What has happened could have been avoided if he had worked with the membership and the party at local and national level.
I hope these events will now draw to a speedy conclusion, our recent very difficult and unpleasant experiences, and that we can return to the very productive and purposeful joint working which was the norm up until January. I need hardly add that every councillor who confirms, that they want this, to happen and are prepared to accept the NEC decision will be welcomed with open arms and that all of us, will then work very hard together to put these matters behind us.
Yours for Scotland
At the same time as we were passed this communication, we received an email from a local party worker telling us that Richard Trail [Helensburgh and Lomond South] was likely to ‘stay with the SNP’ and that, before her major health problem, Isobel Strong [Bute] has also indicated that she would ‘stay with the SNP’?
The central question that arises here and in the Constituency Association’s email is ‘What, now, locally, is the SNP’?
The reality is that there are two factions.
One is based around the local MSP whose interventions in the management of the SNP-led administration have been a major driver of this mess.
One is based around a group of ‘independent’ minded SNP councillors, who have found the interventions worrying and troublesome to the good governance of Argyll they were attempting to deliver.
In thinking about this, we all have to set aside decisions that each of us personally has disagreed with.
The externally manipulated situation inside the SNP group has seen the unhorsing of two leaders – and it is the difference between those two leaders that makes the real issue clear.
People may like both, one or the other – but the simple fact is that BOTH, different as they are – have suffered the same fate in being shaken from office by external and party political intervention.
The unarguable consequence of the constant upheavals around those manoeuverings have left councillors unable to concentrate on their jobs and made Argyll look like exactly what it has been throughout this episode – a political hicksville.
Councillors and electors must now decide on their view of the role of party politics in local government.