Yes – we know this is surreal but, as usual in Argyll and Bute Council these days, surreal is the new reality.
Last Sunday the SNP group apparently agreed unanimously to produce and distribute to all households in Argyll and Bute a leaflet explaining how successful the SNP-led council has been.
The matter is clearly of interest only to the SNP but we do not know whether this indulgent exercise is to be paid for by the party, by a whip round from those who have agreed it – or from public funds.
It is unlikely that officers have the authority to block such a move but the excursion will hardly be regarded as evidence of responsible governance by the Audit Scotland commissioners, whose report on member-to-member and member-to-officer relations will be out in October.
One reality is that since February this year the SNP has been a minority administration – and sometimes a minority within its own party group.
A parallel reality is that there is a coalition in office, with a range of members of other groups still holding and being paid for posts of senior responsibility.
But this is a coalition that does not meet and does not act as a coalition.
This resembles nothing so much as a spacecraft hit in space by a meteorite [the SNP party hierarchy], smashed to smithereens by the impact and with its constituent parts orbiting independently as space junk.
The fact that council services keep on trucking reflects no credit of substance on the political leadership group. It is the officers and staff who see to these – and their lives have been extremely difficult in the continuing paralysis.
There is no certainty that we are even nearing the endgame here.
The SNP group meets this Wednesday afternoon for a final vote on a coalition agreement with the Argyll and Bute for Change group, led by Councillor Duncan Macintyre. SNP members, however, will have no sight of the proposed agreement until they are in the meeting.
There appears to be no guarantee that agreement will indeed be reached, with some saying that, as matters have progressed, agreement has become less rather than more likely.
Should this prove the case – and, job done, the external SNP party would be delighted at last to see their councillors out of power here altogether – Councillors Macintyre and Walsh are unlikely to want to waste more time negotiating with the SNP group. They will turn to the Argyll, Lomond and the Isles group to seek coalition partners.
The Argyll and Bute for Change group has 16 members. The Argyll, Lomond and the Isles group has 9. Of these, Councillor George Freeman is certain, on the grounds of principle - not to agree to go into coalition with the Argyll and Bute for Change group; and Councillor Elaine Robertson is unlikely to do so.
Other members of the Argyll, Lomond and the Isles group are likely to agree to coalition in order to try to bring some stability to the governance of Argyll and Bute This group, with the same focus on stability, had been constructive in its previous attitude to coalition with the SNP group – but the external SNP party formally forbade such an arrangement.
Assuming that this group agreed to coalition with Argyll and Bute for Change – but without independent councillors Freeman and Robertson, such a coalition would muster 23 members, with the opposition numbering 13, 11 SNP members and 2 independents. This would clearly be a workable majority and the core of the two potential partners worked harmoniously in coalition up to May 2012.
The SNP would then lead the opposition, with the external SNP party looking forward to the ease of such a role – objecting, criticising and looking for headlines.
That may have worked last time out during the school closures war. It will not play this time. No one has reason to give the slightest credence to any predictable howls of horror from the opposition seats in the chamber in this scenario.
The big unanswerable question is: ‘Why did you put them back into power? We voted you the lead role. You ran away from it.’
We have also established that there appears to be no authority anywhere for the calling of an election in a local authority area, in any circumstances. This is clearly a constitutional omission which requires attention.