Party political manoeuvres have pushed important local issues into the background in Argyll and Bute after the formation of a new coalition group to run the local council.
Leader James Robb announced on Thursday that a new coalition of SNP, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors had been formed to run Argyll and Bute Council’s affairs after the recent resignation of two councillors from the SNP group left the balance of power in the council chamber on a knife-edge.
Now there are claims that at least part of the SNP group on the council has been suspended by the party over the formation of the new ruling group - to be known as the ‘Consensus Coalition Administration’.
Thursday’s announcement was followed later that day by news that the three members of the Argyll First grouping on the council had resigned from the authority’s ruling coalition - a development confirmed by Cllr Robb in a further statement on Friday afternoon.
Cllr Robb said on Friday: “I can confirm that Argyll First have resigned from the coalition. I have had no reason given for that decision. I am disappointed they have taken that decision and would thank them for their past contribution and hope that the consensual relationship we have with our former colleagues will endure in their new roles.
“The enlargement of the Consensus Coalition Administration does require approval by the national executive committee of the SNP. Given that the we already had a Conservative presence in the administration and that there are existing SNP political agreements with Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour in other councils, this should be a formality.”
That expected ‘formality’ appeared rather less straightforward according to a statement a short time later from Liberal Democrat MP Alan Reid accusing the SNP’s national hierarchy, and in particular party leader Alex Salmond, of interfering in council affairs.
Mr Reid said: “At last May’s elections the people of Argyll and Bute voted in the SNP as the largest group on the Council, but didn’t give them overall control. Over the past year the SNP administration has lurched from one crisis to another.
“This chaotic situation could not continue, and so, when the SNP leader, Councillor James Robb invited the Liberal Democrat and Tory council groups to join a rainbow coalition, our councillors readily agreed.
“I had high hopes that this coalition would bring stable, sensible government to Argyll and Bute, so I am outraged that the SNP national leadership has stepped in to block this coalition being formed.
“National party leaders should keep out of local government and allow local councillors to get on with the job which their constituents elected them to do.
“I have emailed Alex Salmond and called on him to keep out of Argyll and Bute Council affairs. This SNP control freakery must end. It is clearly a foretaste of what an independent Scotland under SNP rule would be like - presidential edicts from Edinburgh interfering in local decisions throughout the country.
“Local councillors must be allowed to tackle the many problems in Argyll and Bute without having to wait for Alex Salmond’s consent.”
In the latest development on Friday afternoon, Argyll First councillor Donald Kelly accused Cllr Robb of conducting business in an “underhand” fashion.
Cllr Kelly issued the following statement explaining Argyll First’s reason for leaving the coalition.
“Since the 2012 elections, Argyll First have worked tirelessly in an effort to make the current administration a success,” he said.
“On many occasions, we have went [sic] above and beyond the call of duty despite being undermined on a number of occasions by our SNP Administration colleagues.
“Last week when realising that the Administration was going into free-fall, Argyll First along with others decided to present the idea of a new innovative model in council working to the council leader in an attempt to put the current administration back on track.
“This was dismissed out of hand by James Robb. We were unaware at that time he had already agreed a deal with the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to join the coalition.
“The underhand manner in which the current Council Leader conducts business made the Argyll First position within the current administration untenable.”