Park election

Call for more democracy in Loch Lomond National Park elections

Park board

Willie Nisbet, David McCowan (second left), Bob Darracot and Billy Ronald

By Nick Kempe, of Parkswatch

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority local member elections, which takes place by postal vote, have now been published.

While the LLTNPA has only published the names of the successful candidates, the full results can be found on the Stirling Council Website Election results-2018.

This post takes a look at the results in the light of my earlier critical commentary on the deficiencies in the National Park election process.

The most interesting result was in Ward 5, Balloch and West Loch Lomond, where David McCowan held his seat with almost 40% of the vote.

There were five candidates, including the father of WDC Council leader, Jonathan McColl, who has just done an about turn on Flamingo Land, former Councillor Ronnie McColl.

It is possible that with a more proportional electoral system there might have been a different result.

The interest comes because winner David McCowan has business interests which are likely to be affected by any Flamingo Land decision.

And because of this, Mr McCowan may well be unable to vote on the Flamingo planning application despite the strong views of most of his constituents.

Set against this, he has probably been the locally elected member most prepared to speak out on the last Board.

He was, for example, raising issues about the LLTNPA’s failed approach to litter before any other Board Member.

Maybe that ability to think independently is recognised and valued locally and will be brought to bear on the Flamingo Land planning application?

That all the successful candidates were once again men is a reflection of the fact that only 2-3 out of the 24 candidates were women.

This raises two questions.  What is it about the LLTNPA which puts women off standing?   And, given the Scottish Government’s oft stated commitment to a gender balance on Boards, will this mean that all the new Ministerial appointments will be women?

At the last LLTNPA Board meeting, concern was expressed by some locally elected members that two former Councillors who had been on the Board were standing for election.

Their concern was that, while there is nothing in the rules to prevent councillors standing as local candidates, it had not been the intention of the Scottish Parliament in setting up the tripartite structure of our National Park Boards – Cllrs nominated by local authorities, Ministerial appointment and directly elected candidates – that they should be dominated by local councillors.

In the event one of the Councillor candidates, the Tory Martin Earl (missing from photo above) was elected, and the other, independent Councillor George Freeman was not.

Having heard all the Councillors on the Board argue at the September Board meeting last year that their number should be abolished because there was so little for LLTNPA members to do, I found it incredible that either had the gall to stand.

In Ward 1, Cowal and north Loch Lomond, Bob Darracot won with 113 out of 677 votes or with less than 17% of the vote, a reflection of the large number of candidates and the first past the post system.

Whatever Bob’s merits as successful candidate, I suggest that this provides all the evidence the LLTNPA needs to recommend to tell Ministers that the first past the post system needs to change.

In Ward 2, Billy Ronald saw off the challenge from the disgraced Owen McKee – but not by a large majority.

 Since my last post on the elections, the Standards Commission have confirmed that where a person has avoided being suspended by the Standards Commission by resigning, a suspension cannot be imposed at a later date and that they are looking at the issues.

The Standards Commission recently undertook a review of the ethical standards framework in Scotland, when responding to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s consultation on ethical standards in local government in England.

It was identified, during the review, that certain aspects of the statutory provisions governing the Standards Commission’s powers in respect of sanction may be problematic / a weakness in the framework.

We (Parkwatch)intend to advise the Scottish Government, in due course, of our concerns and suggestions in respect of certain aspects of the framework in order to determine whether there is any scope for amendments or improvements to be made.

You may wish to contact your MSP to advise them of your own concerns.

For information, a copy of the consultation response is available on at www.standardscommissionscotland.org.uk/about-us/news/response-to-committee-on-standards-in-public-lifes-review-of-ethical-standards-in-local-government-in-england.

This is most welcome as was their confirmation that the LLTNPA had sought advice from them about Owen McKee standing for the LLTNPA Board again.

Owen McKee’s case involved allegations about trading in trading in Scotgold shares.

In Ward 3, former Councillor Member Martin Earl was elected beating Chris Martin by 29 votes and getting less than 30% of the vote.

This is another case where proportional electoral system might have had a very different result, with third placed candidate John Watson also attracting a significant number of votes.

In Ward 4, east Loch Lomond and Port of Mentieth, where there were only two candidates Willie Nisbet again won.

Willie hardly says a word, so it’s difficult to know what he believes, but he did vote with two other locally elected Board Members against taking a fee increase at the last Board Meeting.

In the light of the election results, it will be interesting to see how far the LLTNPA will be prepared to have an open debate about the adequacy and fairness of its local election processes at its next meeting.

And whether it is then prepared to make representations to the Scottish Government on the need for those electoral processes to be reformed.

A more proportional electoral system would be a good start but I believe a more fundamental review of the current system, looking at how to make it more democratic, is required.

With a bit of imagination, our National Parks could provide an opportunity to try out new models of democracy such as voters being given a right of recall or say two member seats, with one man and one woman elected in each ward.

END

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