Two Hawick councillors have resigned from Scottish Borders Council’s independent alliance, triggering their expulsion from the authority’s ruling administration.
Councillors Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall have resigned from the loose-knit coalition of independents over what they consider to be decision-making bias.
They contend that the best interests of Hawick are not represented by the leading coalition partner, the authority’s Conservative group, and that independents from other areas are turning a blind eye as investment is poured into Galashiels and Tweedbank.
At a meeting of the council’s executive on Tuesday morning, both councillors were asked to leave the chamber following a motion to expel them from the executive put forward by Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar.
Members of the press and the general public were also expelled from the chamber while councillors debated in private whether to accept the independents back into the ruling administration.
A decision was made to bar the two councillors from the executive, but Hawick and Hermitage councillor Mr McActeer refused to leave his seat, prompting a plea from council leader Shona Haslam that he excuse himself from the bench.
Eventually, Mr McAteer was relegated to the public benches, and members of the press were allowed back in to the council chambers.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr McAteer explained his rationale for resigning from the independent alliance, saying: “We’ve resigned simply because it doesn’t work. It was always going to be difficult because you’ve got a group of independent minds representing their communities.
“For us, we found it quite difficult to get any traction to get the independents to come together and form any kind of strategic plan.
“If I’m being perfectly honest, as the group that was providing the nucleus for the administration, as without the independents the Conservative group couldn’t function. You’d expect that to then secure leverage around what we’d like to see in our areas, and we couldn’t get that.
“We’ll continue to fight for Hawick and the communities around there, looking for a fair share of the economic pot at the council. So far, it’s all been focused on Galashiels and Tweedbank, and, of course, there are councillors within the independent alliance who represent those communities who don’t want any change.”
Fellow rebel councillor Mr Marshall added: “For me, the last year has been extremely difficult. I’ve felt that I’m here making numbers up. That’s not why I was elected. I’m here to fight the corner of the people of Hawick and Denholm, and I’m getting no traction as part of the independent alliance.
“I’m very disappointed this morning that the administration has taken the decision to kick me out, but that’s their decision and they’ll have to live with that decision.”
The two councillors contend that during a meeting with Mrs Haslam, they received positive indications about their roles on the executive.
Mrs Haslam said their positions on the executive might be reconsidered in future, explaining: “This a legal decision. The initial coalition was set up between the Conservative group and the independent alliance, so when the two Hawick councillors resigned from the independent alliance, they necessitated their resignation from the current administration.
“That is the current position. We’ll have a look at it. We’ll have discussions within the groups, and we’ll move forward on it.
“There is this huge thing in local government about being in administration. You can either be in administration or you can be in opposition. I think, as a council, we need to look at that a bit more. We need to think a bit more creatively.
“The people out there don’t care. This is local government. Everybody wants to achieve the same things, so we’re going to look at how we move forward with that and we’re going to look at how this council is set up to ensure we don’t have this black and white dichotomy between administration and opposition councillors.
“I would like to place on record the recognition of the work these councillors do for their constituents in Hawick, and I know they will continue to represent the interests of their constituents in Hawick and contribute to the ambitious wider goals we are trying to achieve here in the Borders.”
This isn’t the first time that Mr McAteer and Mr Marshall have resigned from the council’s top table. In January 2015, they quit the then ruling administration following a vote to spend £3.5m on a Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Tweedbank, later relocated to Galashiels.