Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Tuesday 15 May 2007

So-called 'Independents' on Highland Council in coalition with SNP members

Some years ago I railed against the tendency of some people who were previously so-called 'Independent' Councillors on Highland Council who subsequently stood as 'List' candidates (i.e. effectively protected from the wrath of their erstwhile voters) in Scottish Parliament elections and more or less automatically became MSPs for the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats - for example Peter Peacock MSP, who was at one time my 'Independent' Councillor when I lived in Culloden and he in Balloch who subsequently 'came out' as a Labour Party member!

Now I learn that the 'Independents' in the newly-elected Highland Council are forming a 'coalition' with the SNP. For information, the make-up of the 80-member Highland Council is as follows:
- Independent (35)
- Liberal Democrats (21)
- Scottish National Party (17)
- Labour Party (7)

Whilst I accept that, at a practical level, cooperation between the various political groupings is essential if Highland Council business is to be conducted smoothly, particularly as the number of 'Independents' has dropped from 53 to 35 at the recent elections and they do not therefore any longer have an absolute majority (if 'Independents' can ever be said to have had a 'majority' as they were not only supposed to be politically neutral from the major political party groupings, but independent vis-a-vis each other, too), I hope that this 'coalition' does not presage a situation where in fact a political party holding only 17 out of 80 Council seats effectively dominates the policy-agenda because it has a party organisation (SNP) behind it and because the Scottish Executive is under the control of a minority SNP administration.

I find the words of the SNP leader within Highland Council, John Finnie, to be somewhat indicative of the fact this may turn out to be the reality in the 'Brave new Scotland' we now inhabit:

"We have a range of Highland MSPs, which I think people would understand, gives us access to the Scottish Executive which may not otherwise exits.

"I would think and would clearly be calling upon those personal contacts to see what we can do to perhaps look at funding issues."

- either the redaction of this comment is flawed or Mr Finnie's command of English is suspect; I would hope it is the former. In either case, though, I have only a vague idea of the probable meaning of what Mr Finnie attempted to say, but if I have gleaned a meaning it seems to be that if Highland Council wants to 'screw' money out of the Scottish Executive SNP minority administration it will have to toe the SNP line!

In my local newspaper (The Nairnshire Telegraph - there is no online edition) last week one of the two 'Independent' Councillors for Nairn (Ward 19), Sandy Park, opined that the days of an 'Independent' Highland Council are numbered if not actually over. The 'coalition' with the SNP appears to bring this situation one step closer to reality. There has been a fiction for many years (decades!) that Highland Council (formerly Highland Region) was genuinely 'Independent', but in many cases it was an open secret that 'Independent' Councillors did in fact have political leanings of one kind or another (and all the major political parties were involved). Personally I would rather that many of the 'Independents' would abandon the fiction at the next election and have the courage to stand under the political banner they feel most comfortable with if the days of an 'Independent' Council are genuinely over, as one of the Nairn 'Independents' believes. Let's end the fiction!

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