DEMOCRACY AND OPEN GOVERNMENT ARE ANATHEMA TO SNP IN WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE

The Sheep Hill quarry which is at the centre of the planning dispute in Milton and Bowling.

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

I have said in this Notebook umpteen times exactly what I think of West Dunbartonshire Council which most of you will have gathered is not much.

However, listening to former First Minister Alex Salmond giving evidence to the Holyrood committee looking into the background of the failed sexual harassment cases against him gave me pause for thought.

Mr Salmond’s pitch was that there was something rotten poisoning the atmosphere around Holyrood, which he knows and loves.

He rebutted suggestions in the media and elsewhere that the there was something extremely malodorous in the Civil Service at St Andrew’s House.

It was not the Civil Service per se, however, that brought about the bourach involving his prosecution for things he has been cleared of by the highest court in the land. It was the leadership.

The SNP too has been excoriated for their hand in this dirty business, but it wasn’t the rank and file membership that brought that about. It was the leadership.

As for the Scottish Parliament itself, it was not the MSPs who caused opprobrium to be heaped on the devolved institution. It was the leadership.

It was the same reason again that led to the Crown Office, Scotland’s criminal prosecution service, to be hauled before parliament to explain its actions. It was the leadership.

Perhaps it’s the same at West Dunbartonshire Council. It’s the leadership.

We have Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration, ignoring the rules that have dictated how democracy works in this country.

He has been thumbing his nose constantly at the concept of Freedom of the Press which is an integral part of this country’s unwritten constitution.

So, not only does he make no provision for the press to cover meetings of the council, Cllr McColl instructs publicly paid officials to refuse to speak to members of press whose long-standing role in British democracy has been to hold public bodies to account.

The public face of Cllr McColl and members of the SNP locally has been to give the impression that their dealings with the press and public are open, honest and transparent.
Well, that’s a lie. Cllr McColl is a bigger liar than Cut the Bag, and we have written evidence for that.

Let’s forget about the serious allegations he made against me.

Let’s look at what has been happening in the council this month.

The planning permission for a housing estate on the land formerly occupied by the council offices at Garshake has left residents dismayed.

They are unhappy about the overall design of the project but also about the impact on trees in that area which will be cut down without consultation.

McColl and his cronies, desperate to get their hands on the money to square the council books and fund projects that will reflect well on the SNP, assured them it would be okay.

Resident Linda Spier, a community councillor, said: “We’ve lived where we are for over 35 years and have looked out on glorious apple trees, silver birch trees and other lovely trees and shrubs. Today we’ve witnessed the start of many of these trees being felled to make way for yet more houses.

“So much for West Dunbartonshire Council’s Green Policy – it clearly exists in name only. This is just sheer vandalism.”

The view over the grounds of the old council offices at Garshake is about to change.
The Dumbarton Reporter, whose journalists are still welcome to cover council meetings and even to talk to officials and SNP members, revealed this week that up the road in Milton village, residents say they feel “badly let down” by the decision to instruct councillors to rethink the refusal of planning permission for a quarry near their homes.

The planning committee at West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) agreed last month, by a 5-4 vote, to refuse permission for the extension of Sheephill Quarry near Milton.

The committee also agreed to grant a Review of Minerals Permission (ROMP) to modernise the terms and conditions under which the quarry operates.

However – and where is the democracy in this? – the un-elected council chief executive Joyce White has used her powers under the authority’s standing orders to refer the committee’s decision to a full council meeting to be reconsidered.  The ruling means the application will go before all 22 West Dunbartonshire councillors on March 3.

Councillor McColl previously told the Reporter the matter had been referred to the full council because of the financial implications of the committee’s decision.  He said WDC could lose out on a seven-figure sum as a result of the refusal to grant permission for the extension.

Milton Hill resident Brian Mooney, who attended the planning committee’s meeting in January, said: “I feel badly let down by the planning officers and council chief executive for ignoring the decision of their own planning committee. I am frustrated that the council continuously seems to follow a preferred path which is not the due process. It seems to be an attempt to avoid responsibility.  The chief executive seems to me to be holding a gun to councillors’ heads.  I have lost faith in the council. This puts the councillors in a difficult situation.”

Section 20 (a) (iii) of the council’s standing orders states that a decision of the council made within the last six months can be altered, deleted or rescinded “where, as a matter of urgency, having regard to the potential loss of life, risk of substantial economic loss to the council or any third party (including potential loss or material under-utilisation of funds or resources not available at the time of the Decision of Council), it is deemed by the Chief Executive that the matter ought to be reconsidered by the Council.”

So, what’s up? Where’s the financial loss going to be? Why are the people of this community going to have to go on suffering the detrimental impact of this quarry on their village, the noise, the filth and flooding?

2 comments

  1. Copied below is a letter Jim Sillars sent this week to the permanent secretary to make a formal complaint about the First Minister turning over nine minutes of Wednesday’s public Pandemic briefing into an attack on Alex Salmond.

    These briefings are supposed to be for the express purpose of dealing with the COVID emergency – not for attacking the name of an ex First Minister.

    Mr Sillars in his letter summarises the time the First Minister spent attacking Mr Salmond as well as enclosing a link to the television briefing.

    Today, Ms Sturgeon, not the Permanent Secretary, has written back to Mr Sillars to say that she will not be entertaining his complaint about the breach of the ministerial code and
    that she was perfectly entitled to respond at the Covid briefing in the way that she did on matters unrelated to Covid.

    Tells you very much about the integrity of the office of the First Minister. These COVID briefings, as we have long suspected, are no more than air time spin to promote Nicola Sturgeon.

    Anyway, here’s Mr Sillars complaint, and the link contained the letter can be used to view the i.player video of the Sturgeon outburst. Readers can make their own mind up

    LETTER OF COMPLAINT BY JIM SILLARS.

    “ Dear Ms. Evans,

    FIRST MINISTER IN BREACH OF THE MINISTERIAL CODE ON 24TH FEBRUARY 2021

    I wish to lodge a complaint of breaches of the Ministerial Code by the First Minister on Wednesday 24th. February, 2021. The substance of the complaint and the facts it is based upon, are set out below.

    As the complaint could be seen as being in the context of matters being examined by the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry, to which you have given evidence, you may think it inappropriate for you to be the official dealing with this complaint. If that is so, then I request that the next person in seniority should take this as addressed to them. I would like to be informed of who will deal with this complaint, should it not be you.

    In her daily press briefings on the pandemic, the First Minister has consistently refused to answer questions on issues other than Covid-19. Yesterday, however, instead of refusing to respond to questions on matters irrelevant to the purpose of the press briefing on Covid-19, she deliberately chose to do so. Not once, but five times. It can be seen here:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/mOOOspr6/coronavirus-brefing-reaction-24022021.

    You will note, “coronavirus briefing.” The national broadcaster was in no doubt of the purpose of First Minister’s appearance. These briefings have all along had only one purpose. The timings show her response to questions which were asked as the briefing continued. I have had them double-checked as to times:

    30.20 Question from James Matthew (SKY News) – First Minister spoke for 48 seconds on what can fairly be described as the Salmond issue.

    32.57 Question from Peter Smith (ITV) -First Minister spoke for 5m 16secs on Salmond issue.

    52m 49scs Question from Simon Johnson (Daily Telegraph) – First Minister spoke for 1m 36scs on Salmond issue.

    1h. Question from Michael Blackley (Daily Mail) -First Minister spoke for 52 seconds on Salmond issue.

    1h 02m “Question from Richard Percival (Daily Express) – First Minister spoke for 59 seconds on Salmond issue.

    In total, she spent over 9 minutes of a meeting called to inform the public, through the media, including BBC television, of the government’s continuing action on the pandemic crisis, not to express her views on clearly separate matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry.

    Of course, the First Minister was not to know that the first question from James Matthew was not about Covid-19 and government policy in dealing with. But she did not, as on previous occasions, refuse to answer and re-state the purpose the briefing was convened for. Nor did she do that when the second question came from Peter Smith, and the others. The only conclusion that can be drawn from her action from 30.20 on, points to it being no accident; a deliberate choice.

    When I state “the Salmond issue” above I mean what can be seen from the BBC iplayer – a sustained attack on Mr. Salmond on matters relevant to the Parliamentary Inquiry, but not remotely connected to a Covid briefing.

    The complaint is, therefore, based on the attacks on Mr. Salmond in a forum that had been arranged by the Scottish Government to inform the public on a subject, the pandemic, a matter of serious public concern, in which maximum publicity would be given to the words of the First Minister. It is a gross breach of her duty to use that Government sponsored forum, for a public attack on Mr. Salmond in matters not related to the purpose of a briefing to which the media had been invited.

    I submit that it is a breach of the Ministerial Code to allow, and then use, a public health Covid briefing to launch an attack on Mr. Salmond in the context of matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry. By her conduct as recorded by the BBC, she is in flagrant breach of the Clause 1 of the Code, and Clause 10 governing the conduct of Ministers and the Presentation of Policy.

    It is not for me to question a decision by the First Minister to make a public attack on Mr. Salmond. But if she wished to do so, then she could have arranged a press conference on the subject, which would have been the proper and legitimate forum in which to do so. Abusing the Government Covid briefing was neither proper or legitimate. That is where the Code has been breached.

    However, there are additional breaches of the Code which are quite extraordinary, unique in their gravity, and a matter of deep concern for all who understand the implications of what the First Minister said in those 9 minutes.

    During her attacks on Mr. Salmond, she said:

    ​“The behaviour complained of was found by a jury not to constitute
    ​criminal conduct and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality, but that ​doesn’t mean that the behaviour they complained of didn’t happen and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that”

    Unlike the Fist Minister, who did not attend Mr Salmond’s trial, the jury was there for every second. They saw Mr. Salmond, cross examined, precisely denying that the alleged behaviour happened. The jury saw and heard prosecution witnesses under cross examination. The jury’s conclusion, with a majority of women on it, was to acquit Mr. Salmond. If as the First Minister states the jury’s verdict means that the complaints they had before them in evidence did in fact happen, then the only logical conclusion you can draw from her words is that the jury was wrong in its verdict – 13 times.

    Those were weasel words employed by the First Minister, and any reasonable person would draw more than an inference from them that the jury was wrong. The First Clause of the Ministerial Code (1.1) states that “Scottish Ministers are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.” The First Minister’s comment on the trial verdict, breached those standards.

    I have been in public life for over 60 years, and in the course of it studied how heads of state and governments in the democracies have behaved in office. I cannot recall one single incident when the head of a government so egregiously questioned the verdict of a jury or event though it a proper and legitimate discharge of their duty to do so.

    It is vital to the health of a democracy that Government more than any other part of our society maintain a scrupulous distance between it and intervention, even post-trial intervention, in our criminal justice system. That is the standard reflected in Clause (1.1) of the Code. Clause 1.3 states, inter alia, that Ministers “should uphold the administration of justice.” The First Minister, knowingly, breached those parts of the Code with her comments on the trial.

    I submit that there is overwhelming evidence that on several counts the First Minister has engaged, deliberately, in grave breaches of the Ministerial Code.”

    Jim Sillars

  2. A very good analysis of the national and local situations.

    MosT unusual for a chief executive to have the decision of the planning Committee reviewed. But we shall await to see the outcome

    In the meantime like most folk I’d be interested to have conformation on what grounds and or on what representations, made to her, her officers, or in fact the leader of the Council who appears to have indicated a view and or bias, to occasion the CEO to request a reconsideration of the rejection.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: