It transpires that Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government in the SNP Scottish Government advised that the SNP group of councillors – elected to lead in the political management of Argyll and Bute Council – should voluntarily go directly into opposition, rather than the coalition they eventually chose to enter as junior partners.
This was one of several options discussed at today’s meeting of the group, in the presence of two party minders.
Group Leader, Sandy Taylor, wished this to be the option selected and personally backed it.
Don’t laugh – but the ‘reasoning’ was that being in opposition would give them the chance to ‘regroup’.
‘Regrouping’ will certainly be forced upon SNP candidates at the next local authority elections after the prolonged political suicide of the past 15 months.
Many of Councilor Taylor’s colleagues in the group rejected opposition for the comfort of paid senior jobs as junior partners in a coalition – itself a bizarre political move, detailed below . In truth, it makes no difference, except to some of their individual pockets for as long as this coalition lasts.
The immediate hurdle the incoming political management leadership will face is that Councillor Duncan Macintyre has demanded the Transport Brief and Chair of the Area Committee for Oban, Lorn and the Isles.
This has been agreed by his own group and by the SNP ‘negotiators’, inappropriately led by the Provost of Argyll and Bute, Councillor Isobel Strong. She is said to have had the sole objective of retaining the Provost’s position for herself. [Audit Scotland must surely take note of this failure to deliver the objective responsibilities of Provost.]
However, Councillor Macintyre will not find popular support in either role.
The Oban business community is openly aghast at the possibility of his return to power in the town as Area Chair. Under his aegis the town saw the collapse, in evidenced machinations, of the town’s CHORD project. It also saw unrest over the management of the Oban Common Good Fund, with the respected late SNP Councillor, Donald Macdonald openly disturbed by this matter.
Councillor Macintyre’s management of the Transport brief was singularly lax. Who has forgotten the state of Argyll’s roads – like, for example, the vital A83 south of Kennacraig; the A819 from Inveraray to Lochawe; and pretty well all of Mull? Who has forgotten that, after this inexcusable neglect, money was thrown at our roads – in the run up to the 2012 council elections? And who can forget the mess made of Oban Airport?
Representations from Oban are known to have been putting pressure on the trusted Councillor – and Council Leader for three more days – Roddy McCuish, not to ‘abandon’ them to Councillor Macintyre.
This puts Councilor McCuish in a difficult position where his personal integrity may come under challenge if he lets the new coalition go ahead without his overt objection.
His support is crucial to the incoming coalition because of the high degree of personal trust placed in him by voters across Argyll. In this culture of deals, he is therefore likely to be offered all sorts of inducements in exchange for his support – and may be tempted to try to find one that would assuage the anxieties of his own town in respect of Councillor Macintyre who was only just elected last time.
In our view, the Oban business community must openly act in its own interests – if it feels strongly enough – rather than put pressure behind the scenes on a councillor who has already been on the frontline in internecine warfare from his own party for 15 months – as he defended probity and honest government.
At today’s meeting, Councilor James Robb and Councillor Mary Jean Devon are known to have voted against the coalition, both instead voting for ‘No change’. This was an option to see the SNP continue as a minority leadership, surviving on an issue by issue basis, which, as their own party demonstrated at national level in in 2007, is quite feasible. Councillor McCuish is said not to have supported this option because it would have meant him carrying on as Leader and he has really had enough of trying to herd cats.
Councillor Louise Glen-Lee abstained.
Looking back in anger
In passing – and no one should forget that what is passing is the hope for better that drove legions of now betrayed voters to give the SNP the largest number of councillors in May 2012 – let’s look at where we are and what has brought us here.
The SNP has thrown the voters’ trust back in their faces – hard.
The greatest damage from this is that their full flight from the responsibility of power leaves many Argyll folk ready to abandon that hope for better – and accept that the best available to them in local political management is disciplined incapability.
Who outside its members cares if a political party destroys itself? How many more care that an entire area, Argyll, unbelievably beautiful and almost overwhelmingly challenged, is left exhausted, despairing, cynical and hope-less?
We can think of no precedent for what has happened in local politics in Argyll since May 2012.
We have seen a political party group, the SNP, campaign hard for election and power [to bring change] and majoring in their campaign on the multiple failures of the outgoing Alliance of Independent Councillors.
We have seen that same SNP party group, under external party pressure, destroy itself from within, lose members and see divisions and disloyalty amongst the rest – bringing down, all by itself, three council leaderships of its own.
We are now seeing that same party group voting to put back into power – and support – the very same group of councillors [with some added window dressing from the damaged Argyll First Group and a few stray independents] who they had campaigned to replace.
They had accused that group, with some reason, of culpable mismanagemnt and of breeding a diseased culture of fear – but now they intend to support it back into power.
Local MSP Michael Russell, in pressuring some sceptical SNP councillors to support the return of the undead, is said to have assured them that ‘they’ve changed’. Make what you can of that.
The long political cost
This mess has come about because of external intervention with elected councillors to protect a vote in the interests of a party about to ask the Scottish people for the ultimate power of all – to lead the country into independence and away from a 300 year union.
Realistically, with the Argyll proof of a yellow streak a mile wide down their backs, who would trust the SNP?
Supposing they got a Yes vote and found the actual job a difficult one involving unpopular decisions, many of which they have sworn not to take – all of which is inevitable: why would they not – job done – bolt again and leave it to Labour to make what sense it could of an irrevocably independent Scotland and take the flak as it fell apart in their hands?
The SNP cannot say that they would never do this when we have all seen what they have persisted in doing in Argyll – even when a knowing public was forewarned and was watching them work through their script in full view.
The cost of this mad gig has a long way to run. It is not impossible that the vote for independence has been squandered in Argyll and Bute.
Someday, somewhere, there will be an inquest into this and somehow, someone will be found to have been the source of what others incredibly supported as a smart wheeze.
The honour roll
This is the time to pay tribute to those who tried to do the best job they could for Argyll and Bute as a whole, to take their elected responsibilities seriously – and to stand against the SNP’s politically unhinged will to compel their local councillors to bolt from power.
Councillor Roddy McCuish: first and last leader of the SNP Group in its ‘political management’ of the council. Roddy McCuish has done all he possibly can – and arguably much more than he should – to prop up his party in the hope that some of his colleagues would find reason and a straight spine in time. Many repaid him by voting against him. He did what he did in the interests of Argyll and Bute and out of shame at his party’s betrayal of its voters. He also kept faith with those who offered support in the interests of stability of government for Argyll – and for no negotiated personal reward. These were the councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Argyll and Bute Independent Councillors groups – and independent Councillor Elaine Robertson – who together form the Argyll, Lomond and the Isles group.
Councilor James Robb: whose leadership was sandwiched between Councillor McCuish’s leaderships and who has paid the greatest personal price for insisting on reason as the guiding principle for decision taking. Councillor Robb’s principled approach was a jump too far for a culture of political horsetrading based on giving local fiefdoms their head. Many people have cause to examine their consciences in the public vilification Councillor Robb suffered – to which they actively contributed or supported by their silence. This was a political low point for the already bottom-feeding politics of Argyll and Bute.
Councillor Mary Jean Devon: the Mull councillor who has been in and out of the SNP before but who is renowned for putting the needs of her constituents above all things and carrying a ferocious workload. Councillor Devon has lived through this period of chaotic internal politics, in her second experience as an SNP councillor. She has taken the stress of it – watching colleagues behave like jumping beans, leaping in and out of positions according to the dictates of others – and all the while dealing with the debilitating Multiple Sclerosis with which she is afflicted. She has steadily supported Council Leaders McCuish and Robb in their efforts to withstand their party’s manipulations.
Councillor Louise Glen-Lee: a first time councillor, thrown into the blaze of a party group in full self-destruct mode, who found her feet and her way in turbulent times and who persisted in refusing the pressure to run away from power. She too supported both of her party’s Council Leaders, McCuish and Robb.
Councillor George Freeman and Councillor Elaine Robertson: Councillor Freeman leads the two-man group, Argyll and Bute Independent Councillors and Councillor Robertson is a stand-alone independent. These two experienced councillors steadfastly supported the leaders of the SNP group with whom they were in coalition, through three leaderships and more attempted coups and upheavals than the most inflamed imagination could credit. Their quiet competence in doing their jobs and in offering consistent and principled support has been exemplary.
The Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups: whose obvious competence shone by comparison with the group about to lead in power. This was most evident in the full council meeting in June which eventually voted to set up the now undermined Short Life [ironic?] Working Group on Political Management Arrangements. These councillors suffer from the supposed toxicity of their parties. Their conduct during this period has made such a dismissal unevidenced in terms of Argyll and Bute.