Notebook

Embittered SNP council’s risible attempt to gag The Democrat

Bill for book

BILL HEANEY

West Dunbartonshire Council refuses to recognise me as a bona fide journalist entitled to ask questions through their Communications Department.

They refuse to answer my legitimate questions unless I join IPSO, the post Leveson successor to the lame duck Press Council, in order that they could complain about anything I wrote if ever I wrote anything they disputed, which I haven’t. They have never asked me to withdraw or correct anything I have written, which indicates it was true or simply a matter of opinion.

This attempt to gag me has not been applied so far as I know to other news organisations and prestigious journals such The Observer and The Guardian which do not support IPSO.  I have been singled out and discriminated against.

The SNP administration, led by Councillor Jonathan McColl, whose modus operandum at council meetings is to call the opposition liars, disrespect and insult them, has made himself unavailable for comment.

Presumably, this is because I have been critical of a number of SNP decisions in relation to their hugely unpopular and unnecessary budget cuts, including a so-called biodiversity plan for parks, cemeteries and open spaces.

Even First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told them these cuts were unnecessary at this time.

I attacked their decision to effectively place a closing order, against the wishes of the parents, on St Martin’s Primary School in Renton.

They are also unhappy about an article I wrote about the sale of Langcraigs old people’s home in Dumbarton to a company with a questionable history when it comes to looking after old folk.

And the fact that I ignored their request not to write about the resignation of Bonhill Primary School head teacher, Ms Maria Seery, after a dispute with parents, which was unquestionably a matter of public interest.

They were far from happy when I highlighted and campaigned against the unfair sacking by the Health and Social Care Partnership, which is integrated with the Council, of a popular GP at Dumbarton Health Centre.

The GP’s case is ongoing but far from over. Bonhill will have a new teacher taking charge after the holidays. Langcraigs has been left lying boarded up and vacant since the sale for £1 million and is rapidly becoming an eyesore. It is now a target for vandals and fire raisers. It was set alight last week.

I have also been critical of the council’s decision to cut back on the hours when our local libraries are open to the public and to make some staff redundant.

Councillor Iain McLaren (SNP) who backed the Langcraigs deal has refused to inform the public as to why he recommended this company and claims the transaction has been completed to the Council’s satisfaction. Whatever that means.

I also wrote an article which told how the public gallery in the new offices at the Burgh Hall was not big enough to accommodate all the members of the public.

They were left outside and denied their entitlement to access to meetings in order to witness what was being done in their name with their money.

Needless to say, the SNP administration was not pleased about that report either.

Now, I accept that there has been a great deal of criticism, but there is a great deal to be critical about at West Dunbartonshire Council.

I raised the matter of their refusal to communicate with the public through The Democrat again this week.

The following was the curt response I received from the Council when I asked if they could confirm a report that a grass cutting machine caught fire when tackling an overgrown space which had been subject to their biodiversity strategy:

“If you can provide me with confirmation that you are regulated by IPSO, I can ensure you are included in our media distribution lists.  Any member of the public is entitled to ask questions of the Council or seek clarity on any matter relevant to the Council’s operation and can do this by contacting our customer services team or if applicable by seeking a response through our Freedom of Information team.”

I may have touched a raw nerve there since their initial grass cutting decision – before they did a U-turn – made the Council a laughing stock in the community. They had to abandon it.

It would appear that freedom of information is an oxymoron in West Dunbartonshire.

It is my duty as a journalist to report on, and be critical of, matters which affect the public and which are of interest to them.

I am an award-winning journalist; a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists, and an Editor Emeritus in the Society of Editors, and the Council is well aware of this.

They know who I am.

This risible decision to attempt to shut me up, which has not been ratified by the full council or ever gone to a committee, requires to be challenged.

I intend to do that myself because someone has to stand up to these tin pot dictators and tell them where to get off. But I need your support.

There will be no support for me from our MP though. Martin Docherty Hughes is part of this mean spirited boycott.

I think that tells you all you need to know about his attitude, and the attitude of his SNP colleagues in West Dunbartonshire to free speech and a free press.

One comment

  1. Shocking censorship Bill which as you rightly state is not Council policy. When you sign up to be a Councillor who agree to be accountable and accessible to your Constituents and one of the most common ways of doing this is through the local media.

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