Wooed Pender calls for ‘younger, fitter’ councillors to take the reins

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A FORMER Lib Dem councillor revealed this week he has been approached by both the Borders Party and the SNP with a view to representing them as a candidate at the local government elections in May.

But Norman Pender, who earned a reputation as a maverick when he represented the erstwhile Hawick ward of Burnfoot and Mansfield on Scottish Borders Council from 1998 to 2003, says he is “highly unlikely” to put his name forward.

And, if he does go for the three-member Hawick and Denholm ward, it will be as a non-aligned independent.

“I have respectfully declined an expression of interest from the SNP because, while supporting more devolved powers to Scotland, I have never been a separatist and I made it clear I was against Scottish independence because we have far too much to lose,” Mr Pender told us. “I was told that would not be a problem to my candidature, which I felt was rather unprincipled.

“The Borders Party made a polite approach which I felt was flattering because I think they recognise that I am a free thinker.

“We actually agree on many things, but I cannot really understand the need for people of independent mind to come under any party banner.”

And he confirmed his “total disillusionment” with his former party which currently has 10 of the 34 members of SBC and has, since 2007, shared power at Newtown in a coalition with the majority Conservatives and the three aligned Independents, notably council leader David Parker.

“Notwithstanding the utter abandonment of political principles we have seen from the Lib Dems at Westminster, the present crop of Lib Dem councillors has, for the last five years, propped up a council administration which is patently moribund.”

Mr Pender won a by-election in 1998, two years after becoming chairman of the Hawick Lady Riders Association which controversially and, as it turned out, successfully, championed the rights of females to ride at most of the equestrian events associated with Hawick Common Riding.

As a councillor he was often at odds with the Lib Dem whip, most famously refusing to withdraw a 2002 motion of no confidence in leader Drew Tulley.

The party’s blushes were spared when Mr Tulley, beleaguered by the infamous education department overspend, resigned ahead of the no confidence debate.

And Mr Pender also attracted headlines for once suggesting that Borderers over 60 should declare themselves too old to stand for election to the council.

“I admit, with the benefit of hindsight, that this was a ridiculous proposition. I remember thinking that Drew, aged 62, was positively ancient and that many of the old guard on the council were totally out of touch.

“I’m 64 now and feel I have much to offer, so I was definitely wrong about a cut-off point, but the fact remains that the present council contains too many members – and they know who they are – who appear just to be marking time and happy to go along with policies which are, frankly, out of date.”

Mr Pender, who was recently refused planning consent to build a bungalow hear his Cavers home with easier access for his disabled wife, admitted he was most concerned about planning policy at SBC.

“The intransigence of denying the people of Jedburgh a supermarket because the optimum site is reserved for industrial use when the whole world knows it will never be used for that purpose, and preserving empty shops for class one retail use on high streets which are full of ‘for sale’ signs, show a remarkable lack of vision.

“On May 3, there is little point in voting for Independents who are happy to jump into bed with the councillors of any political party just to grab a higher paid position on the council.

“It is time for younger, fitter, more intelligent councillors without political affiliations.”