Holyrood centralisation warning as Hutton reveals plan to quit SBC

Councillor Alasdair Hutton presents the scroll to Lt General Andrew Graham.
Councillor Alasdair Hutton presents the scroll to Lt General Andrew Graham.

SCOTTISH Borders Council will become a “hollow shell” if political power in Scotland continues to be centralised at Holyrood.

That is the view of Alasdair Hutton, SBC’s convener for the past eight years, who announced this week that he would not be seeking re-election for the Kelso and District ward at next May’s local government election.

Selkirk Vintage Rally. Alistair Hutton (left) and Morris Manson share a joke during the vintage rally.

Selkirk Vintage Rally. Alistair Hutton (left) and Morris Manson share a joke during the vintage rally.

The 71-year-old former broadcaster and paratrooper also revealed he had been a reluctant candidate when, in May 2002, he contested a by-election for the Conservatives after the death of Lib Dem Bob Jack.

“I had assumed the Kelso central ward, as it was then, was a Lib Dem stronghold and I approached the contest with no real hope, having really been talked into standing because the Conservatives couldn’t come up with another candidate,” reflected Councillor Hutton.

Within a year of his election, however, Mr Hutton was appointed convener of the council – the civic-head role previously held by the late Alistair Hewat.

“I may have been a reluctant candidate at first, but since assuming the apolitical role of convener and representing the Borders at events across the world, I can honestly say it has been a wonderful privilege and I have no regrets whatsoever.”

Mr Hutton said he had made his decision to step down some time ago.

“I have always believed that in any job, you have to be aware of your sell-by date, because it’s too easy to become stale and complacent.

“I’ve decided to go before I reach that stage. If people hang around too long, not only do they cease to be effective, but they stop new blood, which this council desperately needs, coming in.”

Mr Hutton believes fresh faces are required if the 34-member SBC, whose youngest councillor is 37-year-old leader David Parker, is to withstand what he describes as “the Holyrood-orchestrated attack on local government”.

“In eight years as convener, I have seen this council wrestle with budgets, driven not just by local needs, but by edicts from the Scottish Government which, increasingly, seems hellbent on sucking power to themselves,” he said.

“This is because, in my view, MSPs do not have enough to do. Governance should not be centralised in Edinburgh, but devolved downwards and it is little wonder Borderers feel disengaged from democracy.

“I believe the governance at Newtown, particularly relating to financial matters, has never been stronger than it is today, but if the march of centralisation is not halted, local government will become a hollow shell.”

Mr Hutton, who was the South of Scotland’s first Member of the European Parliament, from 1979 to 1989, says he has no intention of reaching for the pipe and slippers when he gives up the council.

The former journalist and broadcaster, who served as a volunteer with the Parachute Regiment for more than 30 years, is perhaps best known as the commentator at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, having recently celebrated his 20th year behind the microphone at the world-famous event.

“I’m going to be writing more scripts and presenting more concerts and shows around the world to raise money for service charities,” he said,

“But my heart and home will always be in Kelso and, wherever I am, I will be promoting the Borders at every opportunity.” The Borders Conservative Association has confirmed that two candidates will contest the three-member Kelso and District Ward next May.

One will be sitting councillor Tom Weatherston, who joined the party earlier this year after being an independent councillor, while the other is former journalist Simon Mountford, a corporate communications consultant, from Yetholm, who, like Mr Hutton, spent an early part of his career writing for newspapers in Australia.

z The roles of leader and convener of the Borders Regional Council, which began life in 1974, were combined with John Askew, Tom Hunter, George Dorward and Lord Minto at the helm.

With the inception of Scottish Borders Council, the dual role was taken on by Drew Tulley.

The duties were split in 2001 when John Ross Scott was elected leader, with Alistair Hewat taking the post of civic head and chairing full council meetings.

That civic head position became known as “convener” in 2003 when Mr Hutton took over. In the same year David Parker was elected as leader.