Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The egos have landed!

DOUGLAS SHEPHERD on the shake-up at Scottish Borders Council

Apparently there was more horse trading than you'd witness at the Doncaster Bloodstock Sales, but less than four days after the last local government result was announced in the counting hall at Kelso we have a brand new multi-coloured administration ready to take over the reins at Scottish Borders Council.

There seems to be fewer shades than last time when every political faction bar the Tory blue had a hand in running the multi-million pound budget which is supposed to deliver efficient, high quality local services. In fact the Conservatives did have strength in numbers after the 2013 polls but failed to seize power.

This time round their 15-strong group may have fallen short of an overall majority on the 34-member authority yet again. But the Independent Group - surely an oxymoron if ever there was one - has come riding to the rescue, ensuring decisions can be carried in the council chamber. More about the Independents later.

It must have come as a shock to many when it was announced that "rookie" councillor Shona Haslam (Con. East Tweeddale) would succeed David Parker (Ind. Melrose & District) as leader, Mr Parker had been at the helm for fourteen years, and after his re-election on Friday he made it pretty clear he was 'interested' in carrying on as SBC's top banana.

Instead, Councillor Parker is set to serve as Convener which commands a £25,000 salary and involves representing the authority at events and ceremonials. He will also be responsible for Health, according to a council statement.

Ms Haslam has succeeded to the leader's job - complete with £33,450 salary - even before dipping her toe into local government waters.

But the former national director of Asthma Scotland obviously has the support and confidence of her Conservative colleagues and those who prefer not to divulge their politics. She is certainly not afraid to speak her mind and express forthright views.

Following her resignation from her high profile role with the asthma charity because of 'interference from London' she told Third Force News: “Management (in England) think they know best and don’t listen to what’s happening in Scotland.
“It’s not so much they don’t understand devolution or how politics work north of the border; they don’t actually want to know. They believe Westminster is the pinnacle of politics and we should learn from them. They just totally miss the point.”
There had been speculation that members from the SNP, Liberal Democrat and Independent ranks might combine to keep the Tories at bay. But if there was such a plot then it must have fizzled out quite quickly.
Seven of the eight so-called Independents have decided to team up with the Tories, the exception being veteran Hawick member Davy Paterson, an executive member in the last set-up.
The presence of one of the newly elected Independents alongside the 15 Conservatives might raise a few eyebrows among local Labour supporters. Robin Tatler (Ind. Tweeddale East) stood as a Labour candidate in the same ward last time round, appearing at a campaign launch in 2012 with Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.
In 2017 he ran for election alongside, and presumably against, Ms Haslam, and both were successful. Before polling day he told a local newspaper: "Independent councillors have held the balance on SBC in the last two administrations and although being elected as an Independent I would work with all like-minded councillors to achieve the best for Tweeddale and the Borders".
As one observer commented: "In the Scottish Borders it wasn't only Labour voters who were zipping straight across to the Tory fold".

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