Last Thursday, I attended the Scottish Borders Council debate on the proposed ward boundary changes, and what was clear from the start was that no matter how well our councillors spoke (and some did speak admirably) or how many counter proposals were put forward, the two existing Hawick wards were always going to lose out. One or two non-Hawick members expressed sympathy, but tears shed were of the crocodile variety.
The paper was introduced by [council leader] David Parker, and clearly it was a case of what David Parker wants, David Parker gets. The points about geographical and social ties in the Callants Club letter were dismissed as being no more than support for a “celebration”, while one Galashiels councillor proferred the advice that if it was okay for Gala to have a Braw Lad who came from Clovenfords, then it was okay for Hawick to have Hornshole in Jedburgh.
Veritable pearls of wisdom from two men who clearly do not have a clue what Hawick is about!
Had Hornshole been only an electoral boundary, perhaps there might have been some logic in their argument, but Hornshole can never be just an electoral boundary. History and tradition make it an emotional and spiritual boundary for Hawick and it should be acknowledged, respected, and upheld as such.
The ward issue, however, is not just about Hornshole; it is also about Hawick and the communities in its hinterland. If Councillor Alastair Cranston is to be believed (and after his performance at the meeting, that is a big if), all the surrounding community councils have expressed a desire to remain part of the Hawick wards and consequently the Teviotdale and Liddesdale council area. Their wishes need to be respected by both Scottish Borders Council and the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland.
Despite its remit to consider geographical and social factors, the commission has chosen only to work on the principal of elector parity when it comes to the proposed wards. Scottish Borders Council is also similarly-minded, although some other wards somehow appear to have escaped close scrutiny.
There is, however, a solution to the Hawick situation. Appendix four to the council papers, although rejected, showed a Hawick ward stretching from Newcastleton to Denholm. It was rejected because with four councillors it would give insufficient elector parity, but if it had five (a reduction of one from the present set-up), elector parity would be achieved.
Mr Parker made it clear that he didn’t think it was worthwhile the Council getting in touch with the Boundary Commission about councillor numbers, so it won’t happen at Newtown St Boswells.
However, if our six Hawick councillors want to retrieve the situation, then I would suggest that they arrange for the chairman of the boundary commission to attend an area forum, and listen to the concerns being expressed by a (hopefully) large attendance.
The Parker attitude does not have to prevail. Compromise may, of course, be necessary, but giving up one councillor is a gesture of compromise. So, too, is any necessary tweaking of ward boundaries which may emerge from the discussion.
Mr Parker took to quoting Churchill when he introduced his paper. Well, here’s another bit of Churchill Mr Parker might care to reflect on: “If we are together, nothing is impossible.” At this time of year, Hawick does come together. To defend ourselves from the spoiler, we need to keep it that way.