efforts to represent the best interests of the Borders in tourism, economic development and transport are being hindered and dissipated by bureacracy and a lack of co-ordination among national and local politicians.
That was the contention of the Borders Party as it stepped up its May election campaign this week by unveiling its plans for a so-called Border Forum.
Although it has been dismissed as a “talking shop” by Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker, Borders Party leader Nicholas Watson believes the new body, which would include representation from Northumberland and meet regularly and formally, is urgently needed to address the region’s “big issues”.
“Constitutional change such as devolution and proportional representation has fragmented the political scene,” said Councillor Watson. “We now have four tiers of government represented in the Borders – SBC, Holyrood, Westminster and Europe – and coalition at all levels is now the norm.
“There are literally dozens of politicians from different parties representing the area. This may more accurately reflect the wishes of the voters, but it does call for more co-ordination.”
Mr Watson cited the issue of windfarms. “Policy is set partly at Westminster, partly at Holyrood and partly locally,” he told us. “All the main national parties have had a hand in developing policy that has a huge impact on our region.
“Yet only now are their local representatives scrambling to react, often blaming each other now that the implications are becoming apparent. We should have got together much earlier, with people from all parties, and also from Northumberland, East Lothian and elsewhere, to try to influence policy as it was being formulated.
“There are other issues which require a co-ordinated approach. Should we have a national park that extends on both sides of the Cheviots? Should we be promoting tourism in conjunction with colleagues in Dumfries and Galloway as well as Northumberland? Let us look also at transport links and broadband together instead of in isolation. From this should flow efforts to attract inward investment and new jobs.
“There are already some examples that demonstrate how co-operation can help. The South of Scotland Alliance, for example, brings together Dumfries and Galloway Council and SBC with Scottish Enterprise. This sort of model should be built upon to include formal input from our political representatives in the wider region, including Northumberland.”
He said a Border Forum would meet formally and regularly, bringing together councillors and parliamentarians.
“Such a forum need not require any kind of costly new institutions or bureaucracy and co-operation can and should be part of the normal duties of local representatives,” said Councillor Sandy Aitchison, Mr Watson’s only Borders Party colleague on SBC.
“We have a lot in common with our neighbours in Northumberland, Dumfriesshire, East Lothian and elsewhere – matters that are not party political, but are related to shared issues of geography and demography,” said Mr Aitchison. “As an independent party focused just on the Borders, we could be well placed to bring people together in this non-partisan way and it is certainly something we will work towards.”
Councillor Parker rubbished the idea: “It sound like the Borders Party wants one great big talking shop where very little gets done. There used to be such an arrangement called Borders Visions, which pulled together SBC, Dumfries and Galloway and a number of local authorities in England. It talked a lot and achieved little.
“The truth is that SBC is extremely effective in identifying partnerships with others that can make a real difference for our region and deliver results.
“The South of Scotland Alliance to which Mr Watson refers, delivered broadband for the public sector in the early part of this decade and is now working hard to deliver next generation broadband for the whole of the South of Scotland. The alliance has also worked well to secure European structural funding and we have achieved more funding from Europe for a longer period of time than anyone ever expected.
“We have worked with the councils of Midlothian and Edinburgh along with the Scottish Government to deliver the Borders railway which will begin full-scale construction this year, while with East Lothian and Midlothian we are working on a range of economic policies.
“We choose our partnerships carefully so that they deliver things that genuinely make a difference.
“Unlike the Borders Party we don’t need muddled thinking and talking shops that bring together lots of people to talk but achieve very little.”