Councillor could pay the price of not toeing line

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A councillor’s future within the ruling administration at Newtown is in doubt after he defied its instruction to support the financial backing of a Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre at Tweedbank.

Watson McAteer, returned as an Independent in Hawick and Denholm earlier this year, was a notable dissenter on December 18 when Scottish Borders Council voted 21-10 to spend £3.5million on the project.

The former divisional police commander – a member of the SNP/Lib Dem/Independent ruling group led by David Parker – backed a motion from the Conservative opposition group calling for no action.

Asked about his future affiliations, Councillor McAteer told The Southern this week: “That will be a matter for me and them [the administration] to decide in the new year, but falling out of line on this issue is not a big deal for me.

“When I agreed to join the administration, I made it clear that as I was an Independent member there would inevitably be times when I would not be able to support it.

“That is what happened with the tapestry centre as I could not agree to spend £3.5million in capital, with significant revenue costs of over £200,000 a year for 30 years, at a time when council taxpayers are suffering reduced services.

“We will have to see what the new year brings regarding my future, but I remain less interested in the politics of the council and more committed to helping those who need representation and support.”

While backbencher Mr McAteer stuck to his guns in opposing the tapestry, the same could not be said of his fellow Hawick Independent David Paterson.

Two days before the vote, Councillor Paterson, the £25,000-a-year executive member for environmental services, emailed to say he would defy the administration regardless of the consequences. He claimed the tapestry investment could not be justified when “people are struggling to pay their council tax, mortgage or rent ... and many people in the town have to go to foodbanks to survive.”

But come the debate, Mr Paterson fell into line and deferred to the administration’s whip.

When asked to justify his change of mind, he told The Southern: “I was deeply concerned when one leading councillor at the very end of the meeting mentioned the Heart of Hawick [cultural centre]. I was gobsmacked and worried for the long-term funding of the Heart of Hawick.”

Mr McAteer was incredulous at the inference that the council’s ongoing support for the Heart of Hawick could in any way be linked to the tapestry vote.

“The only reference to the Heart of Hawick at the meeting came from Councillor Parker who said 6,000 people had signed a petition not to progress the project and that if we had listened to them, the site would still be a car park.

“I have certainly not been made aware of a funding threat either now or in the future to any project in Hawick.”