Vision for the region split by party politics

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam.
Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam.

The Conservative-independent administration running Scottish Borders Council has rejected a plea to set out its position on Brexit in its policy vision for the next five years.

That call came from Scottish National Party councillors during a debate last week on Connected Borders, a 14-page document outlining what the ruling coalition at the council aims to achieve between now and 2022.

Its 22 policies include support for the southern extension of the Borders Railway, a commitment to improve broadband and a pledge to deliver “significant road improvements”.

SNP group leader Stuart Bell highlighted the absence of any reference to Brexit in the document, saying: “How can a vision statement for this region say nothing about the farming and fishing sectors and completely ignore Brexit, which has the potential to have the biggest impact on our rural economy in the last 50 years?”

Mr Bell’s motion was opposed by the council’s leader, fellow Tweeddale East councillor Shona Haslam, who said the specifics of any Brexit deal were not yet known, adding that the document is underpinned by a commitment to deliver economic growth.

She was supported by Kelso councillor Euan Robson, one of two Lib Dems on the council, who felt the SNP motion was premature.

Mr Bell’s motion was defeated by 16 votes to eight.

It was one of a series of votes which saw the administration reject the SNP group’s suggestions for additions to the document which would “constructively broaden, enhance and embolden the administration’s vision”.

Mid Berwickshire councillor John Greenwell said afterwards: “I was very disappointed by the opposition’s response to the administration’s vision document.

“The opposition was given every opportunity to have their say by the council leader but chose not to, so coming to the council meeting with a raft of amendments was extremely disappointing.

“The vision document is a change of direction which will allow more freedom of thought and allow us to tackle things like child poverty, school attainment levels and a host of things that the public want us to do, from maintaining bus services, road repairs and giving them ownership of some budgets for their community.

“We now have an administration that is moving away from big spending projects to ensuring Border residents are kept safe and that we provide the best services possible within the settlements we receive from the Scottish Government.”