The simple fact that no fewer than eight Community Councils in Oban, Lorn and the Isles have agreed to create and submit a joint response to ‘the consultation’ on proposed changes of the boundaries of council wards in Argyll and Bute is a stout indication of the strength of opposition to these changes in the local electorate.
The Community Councils involved and who had representatives at a meeting in Oban on Thureday 8th October, are:
- Avich and Kilchrenan;
- Kilninver and Kilmelford;
- Seil and Easdale..
We understand that a ninth Community Council, Glenorchy and Innishail, which was unnable to send representatives to the meeting, also opposes the proposed changes.
No local Community Council is in favour of the proposals.
The consultation from the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland, which closes on 22 October, follows a decision last year to cut the number of Argyll and Bute councillors from 36 to 33. The proposals within Oban, Lorn and the Isles would see 5 community council areas which are currently part of the Oban North and Lorn ward being transferred, all or in part, to the Mid Argyll ward. The map below demonstrates the proposed picture.
The joint community councils are adamant in their opposition to these proposals.
- They decrease the numbers of councillors representing the views of local people.
- They also sever the links between local communities which are reflected in the current ward boundaries.
The official press release fom the 8th October meeting points out: ‘The communities directly affected by the transfer; Avich and Kilchrenan, Glenorchy and Innishail, Kilninver and Kilmelford, Luing, and Seil and Easdale, all use and rely on a wide range of council services, health facilities, local businesses, social clubs and transport links located in Oban. Other areas of the proposed Mid Argyll ward are much closer to Lochgilphead, or even Dunoon, and as such do not share these links with Oban. Councillors representing the new Mid Argyll ward would therefore likely be not as familiar with the needs of local people, as well as being more remote and less able to attend community events and meetings.
‘Public services locally, including doctors surgeries, hospitals, schools, police and social services are all based largely around the current ward boundaries. Historically, following boundary changes, the council has generally also changed the boundary for services it provides, and local people fear the consequences if this were to happen in the future. Transport links between the areas directly affected and Lochgilphead are poor, with travel times of up to an hour and a half by car, and much longer than this by public transport if it is possible at all.
‘Outside of the areas directly affected, communities in the remaining part of Oban, Lorn and the Isles are concerned over the loss in representation for the area. This will lead to the local area having less of a say in decisions being made by Argyll and Bute Council, and transfer of areas away from Oban could lead to a reduction in services available locally. They are also unhappy over the way the Boundary Commission has conducted this consultation, with little effort being made to publicise it and engage face to face with local people. We will be writing to the Chair of the Commission inviting them to visit the local area, meet local people, and see the full scale that the proposals would have here.
‘The framework which the Boundary Commission operates within does look for electoral parity between wards, but it also emphasises the need to respect local ties, and that these should be paramount if the two aims conflict. Following the recommendation from the Boundary Commission the final decision over this rests with Scottish Ministers.
‘Given that the Scottish Government wants greater community empowerment and to strengthen local democracy, local Community Councils therefore call on the Boundary Commission to reconsider the changes they are proposing, and for Scottish Ministers to take into account the impact cutting local ties would have when making their final decision.
‘We also encourage local people to respond to the Boundary Commission as part of the public consultation [deadlime 22nd October] in order that they are aware of the strength of feeling over this issue.’
A key issue is the inevitability identified by the eight Community Councils which have joint;y issued this press release. As soon as shared concerns and shared representation go, communities are forced to orientate in other directions. Where such rearrangements act flatly against existing topographical and traditional relationships, they sever valueble ties and estrange irreplaceble local knowledge from the locality that bred it.
Argyll has already seen important historic external and geographic bonds severed by local authority boundary changes – Arran and Ayrshire is a forced marriage of opposites. Arran and Argyll have a visceral understanding of the circumstances that enable and disable them. The Morvern and the Ardnamurchan peninsula geographically relate to Lochaber and to Argyll, although the physical separator of the Sound of Mull tilts its local government assigning north. But those links with Argyll were strong, are mourned and have residual vitality.
The severing of internal bonds can do nothing but weaken the connective tissue of Argyll, a place so obstructed by sea and freshwater lochs and by mountains that it already has to work hard to keep that tissue alive.
Looking at the map above and mindful of the way that local affinities work, it would make much more sense to put the Slate Isles of Easdale, Seil and Luing, with Kilninver, Kilmelford, Dalavich and Kilchrenan into Oban South and the Isles. The current assignment of these territories to Oban North & Lorn has always been obtuse and culturally alienating.
Similarly, it would make sense to put the east of Loch Awe-side into Mid Argyll – up to the junction of the B840 with the A819 at Cladich – and leave the rest where it is, in Oban North and Lorn.
If this means shuffling the numbers of councillors between wards – fine. Many of the Councillors in Oban South and the Isles and Oban North and Lorn live in and understand the territories and natures of the sister ward.
There is an imperative for Argyll and Bute Council to insist on an adequately intelligent reflection in its annual block grant of the financial impact of the practical implications of its very specific nature, in topography, scale and dispersal of population across mainland and islands.
There is an equal imperative for the council to insist on the need for the number of its current councillors – for the same reason. They have very substantial distances to travel.
It is patently obvious that Argyll and the Isles faces continuing financial, organisational and representational demands by dint of its physical nature. It is in every possible way quite unlike any other local authority in Scotland.
To penalise Argyll for that difference by failing to support it appropriately, to try even to make it feel apologetic for being different – and to allow it to decline, are together incomprehensible and unforgiveable.
These related battles must be fought, won – and universally supported. Party politics has no place in this situation although it inserts itself at will.
This is about Argyll, Argyll’s residents and Argyll’s sustainability. Politics and politcians come and go and tims change = but Argyll and the Isles remains as it is – a beautiful, unique and hugely demanding place in which to deliver public services.
The poet, William Carlos Williams, argued that the rigid imposition of form in poetry crippled its very nature. The same is true of any bureaucracy that attempts to make complex nature fit a man-made formula.
The metaphor Williams used could have been written for Argyll and the Isles. He said: ‘A crab needs a crab shaped box’.