Joan McAlpine MSP and local government

I’ve just read an article by SNP MSP Joan McAlpine on the Daily Record’s web site – Local councils do have the power.. they just don’t use it. I wouldn’t normally bother to comment on an opinion piece by her. But I wasn’t impressed when I saw her tweet to a local councillor in Dumfries and Galloway

i called many councillors “unsung heroes” who do a great job – but for clarification I didn’t mean you [name].

One hopes for a little dignity in public discourse from our elected representatives but Ms McAlpine doesn’t always provide it. Nor does she seem capable of focussing on the important issues for the country – one of her more trivial recent campaigns being against the inclusion of the union flag on the UK driving licence.

Several times I’ve tried to start an analysis of the many non-sequitors and half-truths in her article. But frankly it’s just too tedious and others will do the job better than me.

So I thought I’d just have a subjective look at her general, antipathetic attitude to non-SNP local government and how at least some of her SNP council colleagues perform.

She characterises all other parties than her own as ‘anti-SNP’ and says

These parties still control many councils, often in anti-SNP coalitions.

Here’s something she might want to consider. They’re not first and foremost anti-SNP, they’re pro-Labour, pro-Conservative or pro-Lib Dem.

As to their ‘still’ controlling many councils (notice that ‘still’, isn’t there something just a tad sinister about that?) their coalitions may or may not be anti-SNP. Because of the electoral system, parties (and independents) in most councils need to make alliances to form an administration. It’s perfectly normal. In some councils, even the SNP manage to do that, in fact in five of Scotland’s 32 councils:

  • in Edinburgh, with Labour
  • in East Renfrewshire with Labour and Independents
  • in Highland with Lib Dems and Labour
  • in Scottish Borders with Independents and Lib Dems

and, whisper it not,

  • in East Ayrshire with the wicked Conservatives, who at least some of Ms McAlpine’s colleagues want to rid Scotland of forever (information on council administrations from COSLA).

The truth is, local government is more complex, more democratic, and more realistic than McAlpine gives it credit for.

Now the subjective bit of this post.

I worked in local government as an official for many years in councils where one party would never get a majority. The councillors were used to working across party lines but I think virtually all non-SNP councillors, whether Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem or Independent, found many of their SNP colleagues difficult to work with.

They would have to come back (in some cases, sadly, be resurrected from the grave) to say why. My judgement is that it was because they perceived too many SNP councillors as zealots for one cause or another, too concerned with symbols rather than practicalities, simply too quirky, or just too darned awkward. Here are the sort of things that caused irritation.

  • A councillor who had worked abroad for most of his career and retired back to Scotland, and whose main interest in council affairs seemed to be promoting traditional culture, particularly the preservation of the Scots language and the avoidance of its Anglicisation. His sole contribution in meetings was often to criticise a word he deemed inappropriate in committee reports
  • A concerted attempt by SNP councillors to ensure that the council did not adopt a campaign to use plain English in all its communication: it had to be a plain language campaign, thus avoiding use of the ‘E’ word
  • Tussles over which flags should or should not be flown on council premises and when (the flags that concerned them were of course the saltire and the union flag)
  • A council convenor who invited his party colleagues to his room for pre-lunch drinks on council and committee meeting days. If meetings continued into the afternoon some of them were, shall we say, a little the worse for wear
  • A councillor who, on the very day before local government reorganisation, turned up unannounced with a van to remove various items of furniture and regalia from his office that he claimed now belonged to another council
  • A suspicion, I can put it no higher, that the SNP group would come to a joint view on which candidate they wanted to appoint to a senior management post, a responsibility they were supposed to exercise as individuals on the basis of a candidate’s merits
  • On one notable occasion, following pre-lunch tipples, an SNP councillor who fell asleep during a meeting with partner organisations and broke wind loudly to the embarrassment of everyone in the room apart from her party colleagues who giggled as if they were schoolchildren.

Well, I said this post was subjective. My experiences are more than a few years old. Perhaps I’m out of date or just plain wrong. Perhaps Joan McAlpine is right. Perhaps, as she implies, all SNP councils and councillors (and parliamentarians at all levels of course) are wonderful and all the others, those ‘anti-SNP’ elements, are just, well, too intent on empire building. Or perhaps not.

I’d love to exchange views with Joan on this and other issues. Unfortunately, for no reason I can see, she has blocked me on Twitter and so is unlikely to see my notice of this post.

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3 Responses to Joan McAlpine MSP and local government

  1. Not out of date at all Roger, spot on!


  2. NM says:

    I’m sure you’ve since spotted this, ahem, analysis of JM’s article but just in case you haven’t, grab a warm cup of cocoa, hunker down in front of a blazing fire and en-JOY:


    • Roger White says:

      NM – no I hadn’t seen Stephen Daisley’s comments. He’s pretty sharp and usually hits the nail on the head. Thanks for bringing this to my (and hopefully many others’) attention.


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