BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK
Peace has broken out at last on West Dunbartonshire Council.
Not so much peace really as surrender by the Labour group, who have lowered the red flag and hoisted a white one in its place.
It was all “after you. No, after you Jonathan”, at the Budget Meeting in Clydebank Town Hall today.
Pity there were so few members of the public there to witness this, although they have experience of being locked out previously.
The fact that the rain was hosing it down on the old, grey shipyard town, and a bitingly cold wind was howling up Hall Street off the River Clyde, may have been the reason for the poor public attendance.
The usual good citizens may not have wanted to risk being left standing out in the rain.
However, there were only about four spectators in the chamber.
Every councillor was present, apart from Labour’s Gale Casey, who seldom makes much of an impact on the proceedings anyway.
Martin Rooney and Cllr McColl – mutual admiration society at Clydebank Town Hall.
Where have all the people gone, I wondered, as I sat into the public benches to cover my first meeting since the Christmas holidays.
Provost William Hendrie, Clydebank’s best known referee since Gibby Bowman officiated in the old Scottish First Division, seemed to be still steeped in the Season of Goodwill.
It was yellow cards all round from him before the kick off.
Everyone in the chamber was admonished to be good boys and girls and told to stick the boot into no one during council meetings this coming year.
Even I didn’t get a red card and, thankfully, was allowed to stay on the pitch for the duration. That’s quite remarkable. I even had a cup of coffee and a biscuit in the foyer cafe.
No one attempted to usher me towards the door this time for any offence, real or imagined, which would have merited no more than a ticking off for “industrial language” at Kilbowie Park.
And anywhere else where sanity might prevail.
Don’t you just wish we had VAR (video assisted refereeing) at Council meetings?
Budgets are so boringly complicated that it was no surprise that this one got off to a slow start.
The SNP administration set out their stall, incomprehensible and inaudible in the manner we have come to expect from Cllr Ian Dickson, their finance guru.
The SNP leader, Jonathan McColl, puzzlingly talked about a No Cuts Budget, which is what he said the people of West Dunbartonshire would receive come the big budget day on 4th March, when the final figures would be announced.
This was the equivalent of Labour receiving two penalty kicks in the first five minutes. Since there was not and never has been a No Cuts Budget that involved people losing their livelihood, the Red flag should have been flying high. Labour could have wiped the floor with the SNP. They didn’t.
Their leader, Martin Rooney, was metaphorically down on his knees, positively effusive in his praise for the Council officers [and indirectly the SNP], who are the real authors of this Budget.
I got the impression that there had been a pre-meeting arrangement for Labour, the SNP and the council officers to bury the hatchet.
The officials are the ones who are guilty of coming up with the austerity plans over the past three years of SNP rule in Dumbarton, Clydebank and the Vale, so if they merit praise for the good work they do, then they also merit criticism for the bad.
And there has been plenty of it.
That is why we are in the state we are in. The only thing councillors appear to be good for is signing these reports off and acting as facilitators to bring West Dunbartonshire to the state it now finds itself in – completely skint and multiply deprived of competent and visionary talent in its management team.
It was as if Labour had stayed back in the dressing room, polishing their boots. Do elected members never come up with solutions and good ideas for the future?
It was hard to believe that in the Town Hall in Clydebank we were sitting only a few hundred yards from Simioni’s Café, the meeting place of thousands of workers gathered with their shop stewards during the Upper Clyde Shipyards crisis.
These representatives of the workers were radical and vocal with it.
Today, this Labour group had only nice things to say about their Opposition and the officials who constructed their cost-cutting strategies for them.
No vim, no vigour, no stomach for the fight.
Where are the Jimmy Reids, the Cyril Bences, the Findlay Harts, the Jimmy Airlies and the Sammy Barrs?
What we saw here in Clydebank Town Hall was one of the many reasons why Labour were nowhere at the General Election, and where they couldn’t beat Boris Johnston.
Surprisingly, Bankie Danny Lennon, bestowed on the SNP what was tantamount to a peon of praise from the Labour benches, although it wasn’t half as bad as Martin Rooney’s.
It’s hard to believe than in our lifetime, the Labour and other parties of the Left have inherited such poor successors from Corbyn down.
Only one left winger appears to be on the ball here. Predictably, that is Cllr Jim Bollan, of the Community Party, who has been reported to the Standards Commission for knowing what he is doing.
I pulled him up on that after the meeting.
He had of course noticed that this wasn’t a No Cuts Budget from the SNP after all. That was a lie, it was the Nats being economical with the truth.
Cllr Bollan said: “Don’t be fooled. The administration is still looking at cuts, and they will be implemented by the SNP unless something is done about it now.
“They have a list and pin-pointed exactly where they hope the axe will fall.
“One of those austerity measures – they are not, nor ever were management adjustments – will involve no less than 25 people having to lose their employment with the Council.
“To tell the public this will be a No Cuts Budget is a disgrace. I am keeping my powder dry on this until the real meeting about our finances takes place on March 4, when I’ll make certain the truth will out, and hopefully we can achieve a real No Cuts Budget.”
And what of the other councillors who keep the SNP in power here – Conservatives Brian Walker and Sally Page, Independent Bailie Denis Agnew? None of them uttered a word at this meeting. I think that sums them up.