[Updated below 22.30] The full meeting of Argyll Bute Council this morning, 27th June, spent 90 minutes debating the relative merits of a motion from the Argyll and Bute for Change group and an amendment to that motion from the SNP group.
These were effectively two opposing motions – a rather arcane device which does have the merit of deciding comparatively between two – or possibly more? – proposals in a single vote.
We will progressively provide all the details shortly, flagging these up in an ‘updated’ note at the head of this article.
Put rawly, the Argyll and Bute for Change motion:
- was not competent in providing properly for the council to exercise its due legal responsibilities properly from today until the August meeting;
- and was markedly exclusive of a major group of councillors in its proposals.
The SNP amendment:
- allowed for the ongoing management of the council without let or hindrance;
- and was inclusive of all groups in the chamber.
The amendment carried the vote, which will see:
- the Leader and all current senior councillors continue to exercise their responsibilities until the August meeting of the Council
- a fully cross-chamber Short Life Working Group of 12 members established to deliberate and consult and bring to the August meeting a proposal to take forward constructively political management arrangements and structures of the council.
Three councillors were absent, the Provost, Councillor Isobel Strong [Depute Provost Douglas Philand was in the chair]; Councillor James Robb of the SNP group; and Councillor Donald Kelly of the Argyll First Group. That left 33 to vote.
In the vote, the two SNP councillors – Gordon Blair and Robert E Macintyre – who belong to the Argyll and Bute for Change group, proposers of the motion, registered ‘No’ votes.
Councillor Michael Breslin, now an independent, elected as an SNP councillor but resigning from the party in a particularly slapstick incident in the last year’s pantomime, hesitated for a pronounced period before voting for the motion. He is a leading member of the Argyll and Bute for Change group.
The two Argyll First councillors present, Dougie Philand from the Provosts’s chair and John McAlpine, voted for the motion – and that group now has serious questions to answer about the credibility of its stance.
The Argyll Lomond and the Isles group supported the amendment unanimously, with Councillor Ellen Morton, in the preceding debate, raising a laugh in saying that she ‘could not be accused of hanging on to power since, sadly, I have none’.
The 14 who voted for the motion were Councillors: Breslin, Dance, Hall, McAlpine, Macdonald, Macdougall, D Macintyre, Macmillan, McNaughton, McQueen, Marshall, Philand, Scoullar and Walsh.
The 17 who voted for the amendment were Councillors: Colville, Corry, Currie, Devon, Freeman, Glen-Lee, Horn, Kinniburgh, McCuish, RG Macintyre, E Morton, A Morton, Mulvaney, Robertson, Semple, Taylor, and Trail.
Both those who supported the amendment and some who supported the motion spoke voluntarily in respect and support for Council Leader Roddy McCuish and what they described as his strong and trustworthy leadership – to a flurry of ‘Hear hear’s’ and desk thumping.
Indeed, a few of several moments of comedy in the debate saw the Argyll and Bute for Change group attempt, in midstream desperation, to steal the clothes of the amendment and even to adopt Councillor McCuish as Leader within their notion – which had proposed to dispense with him.
It has to be said that this last novel notion was not put forward by Councillor Duncan Macintyre who leads the Argyll and Bute for Change group but by Councillor Scoullar from Bute, who, in the heat of the moment, had clearly forgotten about his group leader’s personal ambitions.
The other thing to record at the outset, and before working through notes to add the detail here, is that the Argyll Lomond and the Isles group, who were summarily excluded from the proposals in the Argyll and Bute for Change motion, showed their intrinsic merit and worth in no small measure.
Councillor Ellen Morton, currently Leader of the Opposition, produced a concise series of points of order which absolutely demolished the credibility and utility of the Argyll and Bute for Change motion which under scrutiny, was surprisingly unable and frankly shambolic. Council law and governance officers supported the authority of Councillor Morton’s point.
Councillor Gary Mulvaney, in a skillfully ameliorating contribution, noted that what was unifying was the wish of the entire chamber for change, crediting the motion with getting that ball rolling before going on to note the impossibility of supporting a motion which would see the council at genuine risk of of being unable legally to function for two months.
Councillor John Semple who proposed and spoke to the SNP amendment was concise, focused and measured. He began by offering the chamber the observation that Zebra fish share 85% of the genetic make up of humans. Members clearly wondered where he was going with this. He wasn’t. Hen wanted simply to give them an opportunitiy to laugh together – and succeeded. The atmosphere lifted.
Council Leader McCuish, spoke with his usual authority and noted that he was not burdened with ambition but ‘just wanted to see the right thing done’.
The vote for the amendment and the many personal testimonies to his leadership were a long-overdue victory for fidelity as well as for leadership.
Councillor McCuish has fought for his party to deliver on the responsibilities to Argyll and Bute they were elected to accept rather than run away from them for party political reasons. In this he has been immovably faithful to the electorate and to his party – a spirit that was not reciprocated. He has also been faithful to individuals across the chamber whom he has personally seen, in private negotiations as well as in public actions, work to be constructive in the interests of stable governance of this council.
Some days, the good guys win. This was one of them.
Audit Scotland commissioner were in attendance and cannot have been blind to the fact that the two key planks in Councillor Duncan Macintyre’s summing up for his group’s motion were both genuine features of instability of governance – and were both ‘managed’ from outwith the council.
Councillor Macintyre instanced:
- instability in leaderships – correct – with each SNP leader since May 2012 undermined by his own party machine;
- abdication of responsibility – correct – with the SNP party hierarchy, local MSP at the helm, driven to get its local councillors out of power and into the happy irresponsibility of opposition as fast as possible.
With the unedifying year at the SNP-led Argyll and Bute Council as evidence, Audit Scotland cannot avoid its own responsibility to provide guidelines governing the relationships between ‘political’ groups in local authorities and their political party principals elsewhere.
The determining principle in creating such guidelines must be the interests of good governance of the local authority in question.
We would suggest that such guidelines be embedded in the Code of Conduct of Councillors.
22.30 updated material below
We are including the texts of the motion and the competing amendment below, with a note on the characteristics of each that were highlighted by members and council officers at this morning’s meeting. These illustrate the reasons why the vote today went the way it did.
We will deal with the analysis of the emerging situation, along with significant detail of the meeting, in a separate article to be published later this evening or tomorrow morning.
Argyll and Bute for Change Motion – and embedded problems
31. NOTICE OF MOTION UNDER STANDING ORDER 13
That the Council confirms the Argyll and Bute for Change group as the new Argyll and Bute Council Administration group.
That all the senior political positions currently held within the Council with the exception of the Provost and Depute Provost, are removed with immediate effect.
That an interim arrangement of nine (9) elected members is put in place to liaise with the Chief Executive, Executive Directors and Heads of Service on Council business and to take forward a review of the political management structure of the Council with a report back to a special Council meeting in early August.
That a review of the senior member structure is carried out,with proposals for change being presented to the special Council meeting in August.
That the interim nine (9) Member arrangement comprises of the following members:-
Duncan MacIntyre; Vivien Dance; Dick Walsh; Michael Breslin; Gordon Blair; Iain Angus MacDonald; Dougie Philand and two members to be notified.
Moved by Councillor Duncan MacIntyre, Seconded by Councillor Iain Angus MacDonald.
Agenda Item 31: SNP Amendment
This Council recognises that it is the wish of members to see change in the political management arrangements and structures of the Council.
This Council also recognises that fundamental change to political management arrangements and structures of the council is an important issue for all members, and that all members should have an opportunity to influence the forming of new structures.
The Council agrees the following:
- A short life working group shall be established to consider proposals for new political management arrangements and structures.
- Membership of this group shall be 12 drawn from across the Council in order to represent as closely as possible the political make-up of the council.
- The Chair will be the Leader of the Council who, in consultation with the Chief Executive, will identify resources and schedule meetings in order that the findings of the group are reported to the August meeting of the Council.
- As an interim measure, there will be no change to the political management arrangements and structures of the council until the Council has considered the findings of the short life working group at the August meeting of the Council.
Moved by Councillor John Semple. Seconded by Councillor Sandy Taylor.
Relative strengths and weaknesses
The motions strength was that it broached the agreed need for change.
Beyond that it proved insupportable on competence grounds.
Councillor Ellen Morton demonstrated this in short order before the debate even began. She put a series of forensic points of order, accurately identifying serious deficiencies in the motion. They were:
- That a council ‘administration’ has no legal status [as For Argyll recently discovered in scrutinising Argyll and Bute Council's constitution where the term does not appear] – yet the motion proposed that Argyll and Bute for Change should be confirmed ‘…as the new Argyll and Bute Council Administration group’. The constitution mentions only the Provost, the Leader and senior responsibility positions.
- That in proposing to remove the Leader and all senior responsibilities, the Chair of the Planning, Protective Services and Licensing Committee would be removed, leaving the council with no legal authority to approve, for example, occasional licenses for alcohol over the months of July and August.
- In the absence of any authority the envisaged circumstances would dictate, delegated responsibilities go to the Council CEO but in the frame of the motion any emergency situation would require the recall of the full council for a meeting to deliver the required decision taking authority.
- The proposal ‘does not secure the rights of all members to participate in decision taking’. The motion proposes a delegated group of 9 – 7 of whom are named and from the proposing group, wiht two to be added and one large group of councillors [Ed: Argyll Lomond and the Isles, with 10 members] simply disregarded.
- This group of 9 would be delivering none of the council’s necessary senior responsibilities [which the motion would have left vacant for the duration] but would purely be looking at proposals for political management arrangements.
The amendment – or the alternative proposal – left the Council Leader and all senior responsibilities in post for the duration, covering the council’s ability to function legally in all eventualities; and the degree of cross-chamber inclusivity in its planned composition of the Short Life Working Group was a constructive change away from the adversarial traditions of local government.