The old Empire, the ad hoc grouping of Independents, the Alliance of Independent Councillors, is, with its former coalition partners, the LibDems and the Conservatives, refusing to accept its defeat at the recent local authority election.
As things publicly stood after the election in the Dunoon ward on 10th May, the coalition for progress announced by SNP Leader Councillor Roddy McCuish then had 21 seats, with 15 held by members of the former coalition administration, the Alliance, the LibDems and the Conservatives.
The Alliance aim is to get to the best position they can hope for – a tied council, with 18 seats for each of two factions. Some are claiming that they have already achieved this.
Tomorrow’s council meeting
Whether or not this is the case, the first meeting of the council tomorrow (Tuesday 22nd May) will see cards on the table.
If the Alliance claim is true – and the rumours are substantial if not verifiable, the election of the Provost becomes centrally critical.
This is, at Item 2, the first substantive issue on the agenda.
Assuming that voting would be en bloc, whichever group of 18 formed a coalition administration would see every key decision go to stalemate at 18-18, requiring the casting vote of the Provost, who must be voted in by a majority of the entire 36 councillors.
If this vote too is not to be a stalemate, there will be insupportable politicking going on in all quarters right up to the off tomorrow.
This situation, however it ‘resolves’ itself tomorrow, is fully against the best interests of Argyll and Bute.
We would see continuing instability with whichever faction was in power maintaining a necessarily obsessive focus on their own survival in ‘power’, living in constant fear of the immediate possibility of a successful vote of no confidence.
Regardless of who came out on top in this, Argyll and Bute would be back to the politics of brute force and ignorance.
No decision would be made on the merit of evidence, rational argument and the interests of Argyll. It would be pork barrell politics and voting on automatic pilot, not on the issues.
To be prepared to force Argyll into this situation is typical of an Alliance whose sole unifying agent is the self-interest of each of its members.
It is equally typical of the administration it has led in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. They have no common political philosophy and are certainly not distinguished by general competence.
Any Councillor minded to support an Alliance attempt to wheel a paralysing tie into the mix for Argyll should consider what the Argyll electorate voted to see.
It voted for change, the hope for probity and a culture of transparency and openness.
Would the proposed new administration of the SNP-led coalition for progress be any better in efficiency and policy-making than was and might be the Alliance-led coalition?
We have no idea – but it’s a very low benchmark.
They cannot be worse. We’re looking at a record of grandstand failure on financial management, economic development, roads and transport, urban regeneration, education, social services, procurement…
At least the coalition for progress would will clearly work to be honest, to take decisions with integrity and transparency and to work for competence. These positions alone would be an almost heady improvement capable of delivering serious benefits to Argyll.
The gold standard in either potential coalition is the Argyll First group who have put integrity and the larger interests of Argyll back into local politics.
Their decision to form a coalition with the SNP group is a political kite mark and, should the coalition for progress form the administration of the council, Argyll First’s continued presence in it or departure from it will be the indicator of its moral health. That is the responsibility Argyll First carry.
There is no other such a certain indicator except the new Independent from Oban North and Lorn, Iain Angus Macdonald, a very able man and another person of unassailable integrity.
A left field suggestion
This would see the SNP-led coalition for progress manage to get their candidate for Provost elected.
They would then give the Alliance coalition what they want, putting them in in to bat and farming them, controlling absolutely every move they made, between their own block vote of 18 and their Provost’s deciding vote.
They would work hard, research the issues, insist upon reasoned debate and test with rigour every proposal put forwards by the Alliance-led coalition and by the council officers under their instruction.
They would be the effective policy creators and drivers of Argyll and Bute.
They would vote on the merits of each issue.
This would be a wonderfully interesting and creative solution to the stalemate, a modern day judgment of Solomon.
Would they do it? Never. No political party can see beyond the possession of the moment, however insecure and all political parties lack this sort of imagination.
Argyll looks due for difficult times it does not deserve and has not chosen.
The history of the figures
When all wards were declared the position in seats was as follows:
- 13 – SNP
- 9 – Alliance of Independent Councillors
- 4 – Liberal Democrats
- 3 – Argyll First
- 3 – Conservatives
- 4 – Independents
Argyll First announced that they were to go into a coalition for progress with the SNP group, giving the coalition 16 seats in the 36 seat council.
Councillor Elaine Robertson, who had previously been a member of the Alliance, decided to join the coalition for progress, taking the Alliance membership down to 9 and the coalition membership to 17.
The four Independents progressively joined the coalition for progress, giving it 21 seats – hence its apparent 21-15 majority.
If the Alliance claims are correct, of having ‘turned’ three of these, the identity of the particular individuals involved will be known tomorrow.
Will we be there? That’s another issue.