In my nearly five years at the Comhairle, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at many things, frustrated by many others, but never as consistently disappointed as I have been by the behaviour of elected members for whom the notion of ‘serving the public’ and ‘working together in the interests of the Western Isles’ is as far removed from their day-to-day ethos as Jeff Bezos is from Neil Armstrong.
And before I proceed, let me make one thing (again) very plain: my disdain for the actions of (some of) the locally elected SNP councillors should not be interpreted as any kind of commentary on the wider party, either locally or nationally.
I’d be very surprised if they haven’t/didn’t, collectively, engage in a ‘rolling of eyes’, several times this past half-decade.
In fact I’ve witnessed it at meetings.
From the outset (May 2017 for me), I was somewhat confused at the notion of any particular group being in ‘opposition’ to the remainder of (almost the entirety of, 24 of 31) the Comhairle.
Why would anyone choose to be ‘anti’ the aims and ambitions of the vast majority of members; folk elected, presumably, on their promises to fight for and try to deliver the best outcomes for these islands, and their people, against a backdrop of diminishing resources and funding?
If your stated position is to be against ‘us’, for it can only be logically concluded that it must be so, how is it expected that ‘you’ can have any legitimacy at all in the decision-making process?
Be a party by all means: a separate, identifiable, entity. But surely agree to work with the rest of us, constructively debating and discussing, to try to make things better for all?
The rest of us are not, despite attempts to portray the reality differently, in any way a political ‘collective’.
Most of us never brought any kind of party politicking into the chamber.
We can, and often do, robustly disagree on many things: items of policy, spending decisions, responses to national government diktats; yet we can find consensus (almost always) before agreeing our position and proceeding.
The next thing that then most assuredly happens, as sure as sgadan are sgadan, is that the SNP ‘group’ will ‘oppose’.
I’ve said this before: it’s a very different situation knowing that your decisions will actually be implemented and carry serious, far-reaching consequences for many, than to propose some far-fetched, jelly and ice-cream for all, ideas that will never see the light of day.
Attempting to hoodwink, to pander, to a much more intelligent public than they give any credit to is, and I believe has been seen to be, a huge tactical mistake.
We might be a majority SNP voting electorate when it comes to our dreams and ambitions; but when it comes to our bins, our schools and our day-to-day services we need to remain focused, practical and inhabit the real world hammering at our doorstep.
The constant attempts to undermine, to query all decisions, to demand further pointless reports in an attempt to justify their own, often baffling, stance on everything from the banal to the absolutely critical, has been as tiresome for those of us who move swiftly on, as it has been wearying, pointless and soul-destroying for our hard-working staff at the sharp end forced to comply with ‘requests from an elected member’.
They are forever scouring every single ‘pertinent’ document relating to any decision for mistakes, errors of process, factual inaccuracies, and ‘evidence’ of wrong-doing.
Their success rate is, thankfully and as it should be, miserable.
Never mind the cost in wasted hours.
The very many wasted hours.
Somehow thinking that they are the Comhairle’s own ‘Internal Investigations’ branch, they are more the Garra Rufa fish nibbling on the dead skin of the hard-trodden feet of our valuable employees, hoping to one day find a tasty verrucae, than they are forensic chiropractor helping them to walk comfortably.
In short, and I do not include the majority of the SNP group in my observations; some of the behaviour has been a disgrace.
That we’ve come to a situation where we are having to deal with alleged unacceptable behaviour by elected members at a Comhairle level, really is a sad state of affairs: sadder still the behind the scenes machinations to obfuscate the real issues at hand here.
Headlines like “Comhairle Leader and Chief Executive slammed over ‘kangaroo court’ investigation” and “Calamitous state of affairs at the Comhairle, warn councillors” are so spectacularly far from the mark as to be easily seen for exactly what they are.
When others pile in with “murky goings on at Western Isles Council”, it further proves how well disinformation works in an increasingly digital age.
The core purpose of the report concerned has been entirely forgotten and now we see the spin machine working overtime to deflect from its original purpose.
That the Chief Executive, himself a vastly experienced lawyer, would get sucked into a process that is in any way flawed, particularly when trying to establish whether accusations of improper behaviour by elected members towards council employees have any merit, is as ludicrous as the attempts to discredit it.
It has been clearly stated that the intention is to establish the facts, address any ‘issues’ with members concerned and hopefully reconcile, learn and move on.
That these accusations have come from council employees, apparently across no fewer than nine pay grades (we have nine?) proves the broad scope of any investigation.
I’ve never seen any report, and no information has been bandied about, because it’s important that a review is conducted within the privacy of the Comhairle and with sensitivity and decorum.
That those being investigated have been ‘named’ is through some detective work done by Radio nan Gaidheal.
The council buildings are no different to any other office environment anywhere in the world.
Folk talk, gossip, discuss ‘goings on’ and generally disseminate information amongst themselves on a daily/hourly basis.
Does anyone really think that there was ever going to be a chance of keeping quiet about ‘rogue councillor behaviour’ ?
A visit to the Crit would probably have secured the names, or at least the names of those ‘most likely to’, in the time it would take to say ‘large one for my friend here’.
If you’d asked any of us elected members (and genuinely we didn’t know anything other than ‘unacceptable behaviour’ had been reported); we could probably have guessed with educated accuracy who was involved.
Now they are screaming ‘witch-hunt’ and claiming some kind of ‘political bias’.
“We were only doing what we were elected to do” they claim, “Fighting for our constituents and our ward”.
As if none of the twenty eight other elected members are as passionate, focused or as driven as them.
That the rest of us manage, without resorting to (alleged) ‘unacceptable behaviour’ towards our own staff, to hopefully do what we were elected to do and fulfil our ‘contract’ with the electorate, is the very least they should expect.
To make this issue now about the ‘poor’ councillors concerned is to forget one very fundamental point: the original complaints were about their behaviour, their conduct and their attitude towards ‘their’ staff.
It is the duty of the Comhairle as their employer, the Chief Executive as Head of Service and the Council Leader as the figurehead, to ensure that any and all complaints of this nature are taken very seriously indeed.
The process can be dealt with ‘in house’ and if those named have a case to answer, then so be it.
Instead of bleating about the ‘injustice’ of it all, for them to be even ‘in the frame’ for this type of (alleged) behaviour should be a huge embarrassment.
Maybe they should consider a bit of humility and possibly an apology?