THE leader of the SNP group now sharing power as part of the new Scottish Borders Council ruling administration claims there is no intention of using the local authority as a vehicle to help promote their national party’s campaign for independence.
John Mitchell, the council’s new deputy leader, made the pledge following remarks earlier this week from Borders Conservative MSP John Lamont.
The Tory provoked anger when he said that by falling in behind the SNP, councillors from the Lib Dems, Independents and Borders Party had given the nationalists a platform to promote their agenda to tear the UK apart.
Councillors are due to meet today to carve up the remaining executive positions for various SBC portfolios – it has already been revealed that Independent David Parker will continue his nine-year run as local authority leader.
The new rainbow coalition includes every colour but blue, after the Tories were frozen out following last week’s hectic round of negotiations. The Conservatives may have returned more councillors than any other party – 10 – but failed to fashion a deal with any of them to allow them to keep a share of the power.
The new administration now boasts nine SNP members, seven from the Independents (nine including Borders Party councillors) and six Lib Dems.
Mr Lamont claimed the people of the Borders would not accept this. He said: “I am sure a lot of those who voted for the Lib Dems and the Borders Party will be dismayed by the shoddy deal they have struck with the SNP. The SNP’s sole political aim is to separate us from the rest of the UK. It would be naïve to think that the SNP will not now use the council as a way to promote their plans to break up Britain.”
But Mr Mitchell dismissed this, saying: “There is no intention of doing that. I think this is just sour grapes from Mr Lamont, to be honest, and totally unnecessary.”
Mr Mitchell explained that a heads of agreement is now being thrashed out which will encapsulate the future structure of the council, along with ideas on vital areas such as economic development.
Mr Lamont’s criticism of the Borders Party also brought a fierce backlash from the party’s leader, Nicholas Watson.
“We are an independent party and the Independents group is a completely normal group for the Borders Party to be part of,” said Mr Watson. “With Sandy [Aitchison] and I on board it is now the biggest group, otherwise the administration would have been run by a national party. We felt it was very important to help decide the shape that the council chamber would take for the next five years.”
Speaking on behalf of the Independent members, East Berwickshire member Michael Cook commented: “We are pleased once again to be part of the administration of Scottish Borders Council and it is a mark of our success that David Parker is to lead the council for an historic third term.
“I am also pleased that Nicholas Watson and Sandy Aitchison have agreed to join the independent group and that nine independents will now contribute to the work of the new administration.”
Conservative group leader councillor Jim Fullarton said the balance of the different groups after the result of the election had made the outcome of the new administration “extremely unpredictable”.
He said: “We are disappointed not to be part of the new administration and saddened by the decisions of our former colleagues in the Independent and Liberal groups.
“We have always put the best interests of the Borders above party politics and will provide a constructive contribution to the administration as we go forward.”