The lost leader who made austerity cuts Nicola said he didn’t have to make
Controversy looms as McColl receives the Christmas card he never wanted.
A few light taps upon the window pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again.
He watched anxiously the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the dim lamplight of Church Street, where the old Burgh Hall had been converted into comfortable council offices at a cost of £15 million … and counting.
The time had come for him to make a huge decision. Yes, the weather forecast was right: snow was general all over Clydeside, Helensburgh and the Banks of Loch Lomond.
It was falling on every part of the dark central plain – over Broadmeadow, Bellsmyre, Bonhill and the Vale of Leven.
Over the Carman Hill, Cardross, Renton and the Long Crags and, farther northwards, softly falling into the dark icy waters of Loch Lomond and the River Leven.
It was falling too on every part of the cemetery next door to his old office at Garshake, where observers of local affairs had been convinced for some time that his political career now lay awaiting burial.
The snow lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the angels and spears of the gates at God’s Acre.
He had been portrayed as a mean-spirited, miserly man, the walking embodiment of Charles Dickens’s Scrooge.
Disgruntled opponents and colleagues were shivering in their members’ ermine-trimmed robes. He had been reluctant even to sign the cheques to pay the heating bills.
Austerity was the watchword in 21st century Dunbartonshire.
And he was the gauleiter, the overbearing public official, who was determined to impose the hated cuts no matter.
Some old folk’s houses would be as cold as the ice on the windscreen of his car.
Local children, he was told, had been writing to Santa Claus to tell him all they wanted for Christmas was for their village primary school to be kept open.
And for a Christmas tree to be placed at the centre of their village.
A few angry community activists called his office but received no access and were given short shrift on the telephone.
The editor of The Democrat sent an e mail but he too was ignored.
As were most of the community in Balloch who felt they had made their feelings perfectly clear about the proposed Flamingo Land development they feared would ruin their village.
People were worried about their community centres and the possibility of them being closed by the council, who were in the throes of “consulting” with the electorate.
The pain still lingered from the thorn in his side that was the criticism of the decision of his Conservative-backed SNP administration to reduce the number of Christmas trees.
And then there was that politically suicidal decision to cut back on maintenance, cutting grass and planting flowers in parks, cemeteries and open spaces.
No wonder the leader returned Christmas greetings from people in the street with “Bah, humbug!”
The morning post brought yet another letter begging him to drop the council’s austerity programme.
And to listen at last to the voters who had written him letters and signed petitions.
Even Nicola, whose image should have been the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, was said to be disgruntled.
A nasty rumour was going around that there would be a Christmas tree inside the Burgh Hall this December.
And that there would be watchmen there too, just like shepherds of old watching their sheep.
And Three Wise Men in suits who would be scanning the night sky for the first sign of snow and ice in anticipation of an eye-watering winter payment.
They would be expecting gold, frankincense and myrrh in return for keeping their eyes open.
The leader has a cold coming on and goes home to bed where he has a bad dream, finding himself in that dreaded place for those politicians whose jackets are on an unsafe hook behind the door.
He reads his own name on an election result paper, which shows him bottom of the poll and he prays desperately for his fate to be altered, promising to renounce austerity.
Happily, for the leader, he wakes up suddenly and finds himself safely in a comfortable chair in his well-heated office.
Overwhelmed with joy by this chance to redeem himself, he rushes out, hoping to share his newfound Christmas spirit.
He sends a council van round with a purvey to the worried old folk at the Concord Centre, who fear it might not be there come next Christmas.
He tells the teachers, who are threatening industrial action over pay that he is prepared to restart talks about their requested ten per cent.
He treats local children as if they were his own, provides comfort for the deserving poor and stocks up the Food Bank at St Augustine’s Church, across the road in St Mary’s Way, where things are so bad that the local supermarket ASDA is helping to feed the poor this Christmas (see picture right).
The leader rings Greenspace and orders Christmas trees for every village. Fairy lights too.
And for the families about to experience the horrors of Universal Credit, which he and his Conservative friends have welcomed, he lays on a fabulous Christmas dinner.
The pupils and their parents, who were anxious about their children’s education and the future of their village, can now enjoy their Christmas dinner.
Back at the office, the leader turns up the heat on his shivering colleagues and staff. He orders a new and visionary plan for education, social work and care of the elderly.
Visitors trying to negotiate the ice on Argyll Avenue on the way up the hill to visit relatives in the new Crosslet House are afforded special transport.
He decides to share the milk and the carrots given to him by the children as Christmas presents for his reindeer.
But a letter has dropped on the mat behind his door and it is lying beside the two Christmas cards that have come for him.
It is from Jackie Baillie, the Dumbarton and Lomond MSP.
It contains bad news from Nicola’s little helper, Kate Forbes MSP, pictured left, Minister for Public Finance, despite the fact that the address it is sent from is festive-sounding – Holyrood.
In the topsy turvy world of politics which this leader occupies however, good news can turn bad at the drop of a snowflake. The elfin Kate Forbses’ letter states that West Dunbartonshire Council received more than £200 million in funding from the Government budget last year.
And that there was an additional £9.8million raised by the West Dunbartonshire’s own decision to raise Council Tax by three per cent.
The leader almost spilled his mulled wine and choked on a mince pie at the next sentence in Kate’s letter: “In light of this increase in funding the Scottish Government does not accept that budget cuts, as you have described, were at all necessary”
The leader almost fell of his sleigh.
It was when this matter was raised in the old council chamber that the leader had made the fatal mistake of using unparliamentary language, called his Labour opponent a liar and accused the whole opposition of organising a stitch-up.
Following it being made public, the leader had claimed that the contents of the letter sent by a civil servant on behalf of the First Minister was a mistake
However, in response to these comments, a spokesperson for the First Minister told a journalist: “The letter reflects the Scottish Government position.”
Asked to confirm this, Kate Forbes, the Minister, did just that: “I can confirm that the information relating to West Dunbartonshire Council’s funding settlement for 2018-19, as reported in both instances, was factually correct.”
No politician of public figure – even Santa Claus himself – could remain in office following disclosures such as this.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “Council leader Jonathan McColl simply can’t mislead the public any longer.
“A government minister, not a spokesperson, has now confirmed that the Scottish Government is of the view that the funding allocation given to West Dunbartonshire was sufficient. The Minister has reiterated that the Scottish Government stands by its position that budget cuts were not necessary.
“The people of West Dunbartonshire deserve better than a Council leader who refuses to properly fund the services they need, even when his own government has said sufficient money was given to do so.
“His own party leader has called him out on his decision to make cuts locally, and now another Government Minister has done the same.
“It is time that he prioritised the needs of residents rather than making cuts that are not required.”
Cllr David McBride, pictured right, the person accused by the leader of lying, said: “Jonathan McColl has been undermined already by the First Minister on cuts to the trade unions and Council funding.
“Now he accuses the First Minister of misleading the West Dunbartonshire public on cuts to services.
“Both politicians can’t be right.
“It is time the SNP locally removed this gaff-prone embarrassment of a Council leader”.
The town clock on Riverside Church tolled sonorously outside the window and was almost drowned out by the sound of jingle bells which was turned up loud on the taxi driver’s radio.
A council officer stuck his head round the door of the office where the leader was slumped, head in hands in his chair. “Taxi for McColl,” he called out.
The electorate of West Dunbartonshire are queuing up to second that motion. All they want for Christmas stability with accountability.
- Hat tip to James Joyce and Charles Dickens