by Bill Heaney
Talk about gilding the lily. West Dunbartonshire’s full council meetings will now start and finish in daylight amid concerns about women’s safety, following the horrendous rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer in London.
Perhaps the SNPs local activists against the abuse of women do not understand that their bogus claims that previous council meetings didn’t finish until after midnight and left women exposed to danger have devalued their campaign to make women safer.
There are plenty of reasons why women should not be exposed to the dangers inherent in women going out alone after dark without SNP councillors and others feeling they have to be economical with the truth and exaggerating.
Their claim that until 2018, most full council meetings began at 6pm and sometimes didn’t finish until close to midnight does not reflect what actually happened.
And the suggestion to justify morning meetings by SNP member Cllr Diane Docherty that “as a woman I don’t feel that I should have to make my way home at 12 o’clock at night a lot of the time” is preposterous.
Cllrs Marie McNair, Diane Docherty, Caroline McAllister and David McBride.
Say what you like about the competence or compassion of the Provost or the Chief Executive, but there is no way they ever did or ever would let that happen.
Anyway, members of the council receive expenses to cover the cost of a taxi if and when no other transport is available. There is also an official council car.
The truth of the matter is that the SNP group have forced this change in the rules to suit their own political interests.
They said they hoped the move would encourage more women to get involved in politics, particularly those with family commitments, as well as promoting female safety.
But the Labour group protested that this was “unacceptable” and asked that full council meetings should continue to start at 2pm at the earliest to allow members of the public with work commitments to attend.
Labour suggested the SNP’s proposal was driven by the election in May of Clydebank SNP councillor Marie McNair as the MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie.
She now holds both posts and can’t be in two places at once, which means either the council or the parliament would have had to do without her vote. By changing the start time, Cllr McNair will now be able to vote both places on the same day.
That’s not within the spirit of democracy. There should be a council by-election in her seat in Clydebank.
“Council meetings should not be set to meet the needs of the MSP for Clydebank,” said Cllr David McBride, who added that “10am meetings are simply unacceptable for members of the public to witness activities. The SNP made a huge play when 6pm meetings were changed to 2pm. Why the change here?”
Self-styled women’s champion, Cllr Caroline McAllister, who defected to the ALBA party when she wasn’t chosen as the SNP parliamentary candidate, said: “I have a number of issues with the assertions that are being made with regards to [public] accessibility [to council meetings]..
“Our work patterns have changed considerably over the last decade or so and actually there are a lot of shift workers who don’t get access to these meetings.
“Late night meetings are not conducive to family life and that is a huge barrier for any young woman coming forward to stand for council who has young children.”
Supporters of the early start said they hoped hoped the move would encourage more women to get involved in politics, particularly those with family commitments, as well as promoting female safety.
Attendance at morning meetings would mean the council’s SNP administration could continue to have Cllr McNair’s vote which, along with that of Independent defector from Labour, Bailie Denis Agnew, would guarantee them a majority. And Nicola Sturgeon’s narrow majority at Holyrood would remain intact.
Meeting dates and times can be accessed on the council website.