Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Governing without policies? Surely not

Our Guest Writer J.D. pontificates on a revealing leaked email

Residents of the Scottish Borders who bothered to vote in May's local government elections presumably cast their 'Xs' fully realising activists campaigning for the Conservative & Unionist Party and its candidates had only one policy to offer the electorate.

There was no manifesto setting out Tory priorities for the Borders should they perform well enough to take control of the authority's £267 million budget by ousting the rainbow alliance which wielded power up to May 2017.

Not a mention for local government essentials like education, roads or even the vexed question of waste management which the last lot fouled up big time.

Just a one sentence mantra repeated ad nauseum about avoiding a second Scottish Independence referendum even though the topic had nothing whatsoever to do with getting the bins emptied or making sure other local services would be delivered efficiently.

On the face of it the Conservatives have always seemed dab hands at slogans. A relatively recent selection plucked at random from cyber space includes 'No Indyref Two', 'Strong and Stable Government' and 'The Big Society'. But the last two certainly could hardly be regarded as vote winners!

However, 'No Indyref Two' both locally and across Scotland generally certainly did take a trick. So far as the Scottish Borders was concerned the motto hit home and as a result theTories now hold most of the levers of municipal power.

But there is no indication two months on from polling day as to their policy choices or even their priorities for the area they now govern in tandem with a collection of mainly 'Independent' councillors who prefer to keep their political lights under the proverbial bushels.

Even before the council elections there was no trace of a Tory blueprint for Scottish local government to set beside the offerings of the Scottish National Party, Labour or even the Lib Dems - once the big beasts in the Borders political jungle, but now sidelined and virtually irrelevant.

Perhaps the Borders Tories didn't expect to be part of the new administration at Newtown St Boswells. Or if they did harbour ambitions of power and influence then they appear to have been ill-prepared for such an onerous responsibility.

The Borders press corps has this week uncovered the contents of a meant-to-be confidential email from brand new council leader Shona Haslam in which she invited suggestions and ideas from colleagues of every political persuasion for consideration going forward.

Instead of a preelection manifesto we are to have a post-election Governing Document which is due to be finalised for submission to a full council meeting in late August. A new way of doing local government in one corner of Scotland? Or a desperate plea for help from an administration without much of a clue on how to proceed? The choice, dear reader, is yours.

Maybe this has become global Tory policy for it smacks of Theresa May's recent appeal to her opponents to be constructive rather than destructive, and to provide her with ideas on how to fill an apparent policy vacuum. It looks as though Councillor Haslam isn't the only one who may have been staring at a blank sheet of paper over the long hot summer.

In her message seeking consensus Leader Haslam declares: "Party politics rarely comes into local government" [really?], adding that her offer to work together was "not just words".

But from the reaction so far from the SNP opposition on SBC it would appear Councillor Haslam's blandishments may have fallen on stony ground while her 'no politics' message simply lacks credibility.

The Tories' "No Indyref Two" chant could not have been spiced more liberally with political invective, so perhaps the Borders local government scene will not be as anodyne over the next five years as many of us had feared. No sign of consensus breaking out just yet.

It is hard to imagine what might have happened if the SNP and the others had joined the fun and helped the winners of the election to finalise their Governing Document with its 'high level priorities, expected outcomes and impact, and key performance indicators'.

The Plain English Campaign would have had a field day for a start, given that sample of impenetrable jargon.

But with all 34 members of SBC singing from the same hymn sheet (a.k.a. Governing Document) there would have been no need for scrutiny and no opportunity to lambast proposals.

There was certainly little or no opposition and a decided lack of scrutiny when the previous administration embarked on a vanity project or a daft scheme unwanted by local taxpayers.

Perhaps by refusing to participate in a one-party local government state the group of SNP councillors still sitting on SBC can provide the Borders with a worthwhile and representative opposition in the event of that Governing Document holding out the prospect of any crackpot notions. Watch this space.

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