Scottish National Party councillors in the region claim they are being left out in the cold and have been as good as gagged after losing out to the Conservatives at this month’s local election.
It has now been confirmed that there will be no opposition representation on Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee despite a plea last week by new SNP councillor Heather Anderson for her party to be given more of a say.
One of nine SNP members returned on Thursday, May 4, Tweeddale West councillor Mrs Anderson led her party’s assault on plans by the incoming Conservative-independent ruling coalition to exclude opposition councillors from its 11-strong executive.
That, she said, was a departure from the policy of the last SNP-Lib Dem-independent administration as it had made three executive places available to what was then the Conservative opposition.
“The executive committee is where all the action is in terms of policy and decision-making, and for opposition voices to be silenced in this way is galling,” said Mrs Anderson.
“It does not augur well for this council that the first key decision it is being asked to make is to effectively diminish democracy.
“To the Conservatives, I say ‘what are you afraid of?’, given that, by including three members from the opposition, you will still have an inbuilt majority on the executive, and to the independents, I say ‘you should respect the core values of this council, which include openness and accountability’.”
Outgoing Tory group leader Michelle Ballantyne defended the new set-up as a better way to do business, though.
“For this council to be effective – and reflect those people who voted for change in the way we do things – there needs to be clarity between the administration and the opposition,” said Mrs Ballantyne.
“However, there will be places for opposition councillors on our committees, and I can assure you their voices will be heard.
“When good ideas come forward, they will be listened to and considered by this administration.”
On a division at last Thursday’s full council meeting, Mrs Anderson’s amendment to include opposition members on the executive was defeated by 19 votes to 10.
Later, SNP group leader Stuart Bell, a Tweeddale East councillor, assembled the party’s other members for a photocall wearing gags to reflect their dissent at being excluded from the executive.
“Unlike the Conservatives, SNP councillors were elected to follow up a clear manifesto which was presented in advance to the Borders electorate,” said Mr Bell.
“We have the ideas and initiatives for building a better Borders, but at the first meeting of the council, we have been gagged by the Tories and effectively prohibited from presenting our proposals.”
The Tories made five gains at this month’s election, taking their tally of seats from 10 to 15 of the 34 available in the council’s 11 wards, and independents claimed one extra seat, taking their haul to eight.
The SNP stayed steady with nine, and the Lib Dems’ share of seats fell four to two.