Lib Dems left feeling blue as Tories take charge of Borders council

John Greenwell, Donald Moffat and Mark Rowley, Mid-Berwickshire's councillors.
John Greenwell, Donald Moffat and Mark Rowley, Mid-Berwickshire's councillors.

Former Mid Berwickshire councillor Frances Renton, a representative of the ward on Scottish Borders Council for the past decade, says she is “disappointed, but not disheartened” after being ousted at last week’s local government election.

In a six-cornered contest for the three-councillor ward, the Lib Dem, of Fogo, executive member for social work in the last administration at Newtown, lost out to two Conservatives – incumbent John Greenwell and newcomer Mark Rowley – and the Scottish National Party’s Donald Moffat.

Carol Hamilton, Jim Fullarton and Helen Laing, East Berwickshire's councillors.

Carol Hamilton, Jim Fullarton and Helen Laing, East Berwickshire's councillors.

The Lib Dems, who had shared power with the SNP and independents since 2012, have had their representation on the council cut to just two and now find themselves in opposition to a new 22-strong Tory-independent ruling partnership.

“Obviously, the result was a bitter pill to swallow, both personally and for my party,” said Mrs Renton yesterday.

“Sadly, I have to reflect that this council election was not fought on local issues, but turned into a battle on national issues, especially the question of a second Scottish independence referendum – a battle perpetrated by the Conservatives and the SNP and dominated, to a large extent, by the forthcoming general election.

“But while I am disappointed, I am not disheartened, and my message for the voters of Berwickshire is that the Lib Dems may be down, but they are certainly not out.”

Former Mid Berwickshire councillor Frances Renton.

Former Mid Berwickshire councillor Frances Renton.

First elected in 2007 and given the social work portfolio the following year, Mrs Renton admitted to being emotional this week when she visited Newtown to bid farewell to the officers who had supported her during her tenure.

“It has been a challenging and rewarding experience in an area of local government which makes a real difference to people’s lives,” she told the Berwickshire News.

“I have received tremendous support, and I’m particularly proud of what has been achieved.” She cited the creation of the region-wide home-care service SB Cares as being among her most notable achievements in her executive role.

“I am also satisfied that the last administration did much to benefit Mid Berwickshire, not least this year’s provision of a new £8m primary school in Duns and our commitment, backed up with £500,000 in funding, to extend the Jim Clark Memorial Room, which will hopefully open next year,” she added.

“With an extra care housing facility also due to come to Duns, I believe the Lib Dems made a real difference on the council and, when the national political issues are settled, the party will re-emerge as a progressive force for good in the Borders.”

Mrs Renton faces a busy few weeks in her role as the agent for Lib Dem hopeful Caroline Burgess who will contest Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk at the general election on June 8.

She will also be canvassing on behalf of fellow former Lib Dem councillor Catriona Bhatia in the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire by-election for Holyrood on the same date.

“After that, I want to spend a wee bit more time with my family and particularly with husband David, who has recently retired. We are both so grateful for all the support we’ve received from the people of the ward over the past 10 years. It has been humbling.”

An announcement on who will occupy executive positions on the new council is expected tomorrow.

It is understood that Mr Rowley, a Lammermuir community councillor living in Longformacus, will be appointed executive member for business and economic development, and Eyemouth’s Carol Hamilton, elected in East Berwickshire along with Conservative incumbent Jim Fullarton and the SNP’s Helen Laing, is being tipped to take over as executive member for children and young people.