SNP wants council to tour region

MEETINGS of re-established Scottish Borders Council committees will be held at venues throughout the region if the SNP gains control after the May 3 election.

In its manifesto published on Monday, the local party confirmed it will seek to abolish the current executive/scrutiny decision-making system and replace it was with “a fully democratic committee structure”.

“Rather than an elite executive making decisions that impact on Borders communities, we are determined to seek more transparent and accountable systems delivered through all [34] elected representatives,” said Donald Moffat, leader of the six-strong SNP opposition group on SBC.

“We also want to improve public engagement in council affairs by bringing some committees and meetings into venues in towns throughout the Borders ... we fundamentally believe residents should have the opportunity to see the council at work in the local area.”

Elsewhere in the manifesto, the SNP says it will help community councils “develop their own empowerment” and encourage the creation of development trusts and social enterprises, even suggesting SBC could purchase strimmers and garden tools for such grassroots organisations to look after their own amenity areas.

On transport, the SNP pledges to “make a success” of the new Borders railway and campaign for its reinstatement through Hawick to Carlisle, but Mr Moffat adds: “We recognise the entire region needs road improvements, better bus interconnectivity and a fully-integrated transport strategy. We will work for that.”

The SNP believes the wind is in its sails following last year’s Holyrood triumph, while the Conservatives, currently the largest grouping on SBC with 12 members, go to the polls proclaiming a five-year record of achievement.

But the prospect of these two parties combining to form an administration after May 3 appears to have been strangled at birth this week with the Tories launching a blistering attack on the SNP programme.

Tom Weatherston (Kelso & District) said the SNP manifesto was “a total embarrassment”, while Peter Duncan, the former Tory MP fighting Leaderdale and Melrose, claimed it was “a complete sham”.

“It’s no use promising to improve transport when you know your colleagues in Edinburgh have already said they will provide no funding for it,” said Mr Weatherston. “It is also deeply ironic the SNP are trying to improve public involvement in decision-making when it was their group who proposed the abolition of area committees.”

Labour’s Michael Grieve, contesting Hawick and Denholm, said: “The SNP’s conversion to localisation of power is hard to credit while their party at Holyrood is centralising power much like the Tories at Westminster.”

Lib Dem Catriona Bhatia, seeking re-election in Tweeddale West, told us: “While I agree that decision-making at SBC should be reviewed, to put that at the top of your manifesto is, quite frankly, ridiculous when the general public is much more worried about jobs, education and potholes in the road.

“In contrast to the Lib Dem manifesto which has key policies to support business, including a £1million business loans fund and a reform of SBC procurement, the SNP programme is scant on specific commitments which will create economic opportunities.”

Mr Moffat countered: “Investment in the local enconomy will be encouraged through the natural synergy between an SNP-lead council administration and the SNP-led Scottish Government. We will ensure we receive our fair share of development funding.”

And local SNP MSP Christine Grahame has endorsed her party’s SBC manifesto claiming: “In the Lib Dem/Tory/Independent administration, accountability was ditched in favour of an executive taking important decisions. Power in the hands of a few is not what Borders people voted for.

“It’s important all councillors have an active part to play, so returning to committee structures to hold the council administration to account is a start.

“Just as important is making sure development trusts and community councils have clout and the pledge to hold council meetings out and about in this dispersed area should make that a reality.”