Hawick Community Council secretary resigns

Pauline Tottman. Photo (C) Magic B/BBC Scotland
Pauline Tottman. Photo (C) Magic B/BBC Scotland

The secretary of Hawick Community Council has resigned after six months in the role, claiming her tenure has been blighted by harassment, threats and vicious personal abuse.

Pauline Tottman was made secretary of the community council following a by-election in January, and was re-elected to the role at the annual general meeting in May.

She joined the council at the start of the year to work for the common good of Hawick.

However, she says that her time on the council has become untenable following months of “unfounded criticism”.

Announcing her resignation on Saturday, Mrs Tottman said: “It is with regret and sadness that I resign as a Hawick Community Councillor and my position of secretary, with immediate effect.

“I joined the community council in good faith, ready to commit to working within a team dedicated to strengthening community throughout the town and working for the common good of all the people of Hawick, to making our town an outward looking, thriving place with equal opportunities for all, particularly our young people.

“Running an effective community council is vital to ensuring that the town flourishes, both economically and as a community, and for this to happen the workload is necessarily broad, can be complex and covers many important issues.

“However, it has proved an impossible task. The constant conflation of ‘community council’ with ‘a particular section of the local community’ has meant that our wider work has suffered greatly as those with vested interests in one event which takes place once a year have ensured that this has dominated all proceedings.

“As a result, myself, some of my family and other community councillors have become the focus of unfounded criticism, including misrepresentation, harassment, threats and vicious personal abuse; in the town, across various social media platforms and in the local paper.”

Mrs Tottman made history last year when she and Lisa Mackay became the first women to ride in the traditionally all-male chase during the 2018 Hawick Commun Riding. She was also one of a handful of woman to take part in the key ceremonial ride-out during this year’s Common Riding Friday.

Referring to the historic debate over whether women should be able to take part in all aspects of Hawick Common Riding, Mrs Tottman added: “It is patently obvious, that the antipathy towards some community councillors is not related to their volunteer work as community councillors, but rather their personal positions on the issue of gender equality.”

She said that the situation had become untenable and she had therefore made the “difficult decision” to resign.

“It is my sincere hope that the community council and the town can move forward constructively. That their work can be for everyone in Hawick and not just a small, vocal minority, and that they can go about their duties without fear of vilification, intimidation or abuse,” Mrs Tottman added.

“I wish Hawick Community Council success in dealing with these issues and moving their work forward in a positive and inclusive manner.”

Under the chairmanship of local cafe manager Gillian Morgan, the community council has courted controversy since eight new members joined in an uncontested by-election, called after membership fell below the minimum number required, at the turn of the year.

The first meeting of the new-look council in February saw Mrs Morgan narrowly beat long-serving vice chairman Cameron Knox to the chairmanship, with another new member, Graham Marshall, voted in as vice chairman.

It later emerged that that vote should never have taken place, as the position of vice chair was not vacant. However, the community council refused to backtrack, instead making both Mr Marshall and Mr Knox co-vice chairmen until the AGM in May, when Mr Marshall again beat Mr Knox to the role by six votes to five.

Over 200 townsfolk attended the last meeting of the community council in June to protest about the decision by some members to present this year’s cornet Connor Brunton and his lass Victoria Campbell with a donation in their name to the Borders Rape Crisis Centre, rather than the traditional keep-sake gift.