Councillor Davie Paterson has been roundly criticised over his support for Scottish Borders Council’s proposal to spend £3.5million on a building to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland at Tweedbank.
The embattled Hawick and Hermitage member said he felt it was a “witch hunt” at last Tuesday night’s Teviot and Liddesdale Area Forum meeting in the lesser town hall, and turned his fire on fellow members Stuart Marshall and Watson McAteer who he accused of voting against the tapestry because it was going to Tweedbank and not Hawick.
Mr Paterson, the council’s environment portfolio holder, went on: “The fact of the matter is that you [Messrs Marshall and McAteer] were all for it coming to Hawick.”
Councillor Marshall: “Mr chairman, we clarified that point last week.”
Forum chairman, Councillor George Turnbull, said he thought the tapestry building was “a nonsense” and added: “Sometimes you can smell a rat, and by God this is a big rat.”
Councillor Marshall said it was “the biggest waste of public money he could ever remember”, while Councillor McAteer said there wasn’t a tapestry in the world that made money.
Councillor Alastair Cranston said he supported the tapestry and drew parallels between Tweedbank and Mallaig, the Highland town where he often holidayed and which he said attracted many tourists by train from Fort William.
Local saddler Rodger Hart said: “Councillor Cranston, you are talking about Mallaig, which is a town. You are talking about Tweedbank, which is an industrial estate. So it’s two different things. And for you to [base your] vote on that, it’s shocking.”
Mr Cranston: “Mallaig isn’t a large town, but I think the benefit is that it’s the point where you can go and visit other parts [of the High- lands].
“As far as Tweebank being a business estate goes [and its proximity to other Borders towns], I suppose it’s how far is Galashiels? How far is Melrose? How far is Hawick?”
Alluding to concerns from the public gallery over the Scottish Government’s refusal to release its £2.5million share of the tapestry building programme until a “fully revised business case is received”, Councillor Paterson said: “We were promised we would get this money, and if it’s not now coming, the tapestry won’t be happening.”
Tiler Lawrence Marshall said: “Whether we get the money or not, that money should be spent elsewhere. The same as our contribution to this folly, this white elephant.”
School janitor Linda Deeks said: “My daughter lives in Tweedbank and there is absolutely nothing there.”
Mr Paterson: “At the moment.”
Mrs Deeks: “People will just get off the train, look at the tapestry and go home again.There is nothing there.”
Mr Paterson: “At the moment.”
Adressing Mr Paterson directly, Mr Hart then said: “There’s people losing their jobs with the council and you are are going to spend this money. Do you realise what you are doing to people, the heartache you are giving them?”
Mr Paterson: “They [SBC employees] aren’t losing their jobs.
Mr Hart: “Pardon! There are 100-and-odd people losing their jobs.” Mr Paterson: “No there’s not. There are no compulsory redundancies . . . at the moment.”
Mr Paterson was also challenged on the local authority’s plans to axe 40 additional needs assistants from the region’s schools as part of its recently unveiled budget.
Anne Molloy said: “This won’t just affect the bairns that the classroom assistants help, it will affect all the kids in the class because the teacher will have to spend far more time teaching the kids [with additional needs].” She concluded by asking if a vote could be taken to establish who, in the hall, was in favour of the tapestry building at Tweedbank. No-one raised their hand in support.
In a joint statement in response to Mr Paterson’s claims at the meeting, Councillors Marshall and McAteer said: “It is ridiculous that Councillor Paterson should allege that we voted against the tapestry because it was going to Tweedbank and not Hawick.
“This is absolute nonsense and we made it clear when voting ‘no’ at the full council meeting that the business case did not stack-up and that we were not prepared to saddle the Hawick or Borders public with a massive debt amounting to annual repayments of over £200,000 for the next 30 years.
“Of course it would have suited many had the tapestry been a grant-funded zero-cost regeneration project as part of our textile heritage in Hawick but we were told from day one that this was not an option.
“Townsfolk will recall that Councillor Paterson very publicly stated that he would not support one penny of public money being spent on the tapestry. And they are now asking themselves why he changed his mind.”