SBC’s tapestry rebels quit ‘unhealthy’ administration

Councillors Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall have resigned from the Indepedent group
Councillors Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall have resigned from the Indepedent group

The coalition which has run Scottish Borders Council since 2012 has been rocked this week by the resignation of two councillors from its 10-strong Independent group.

Last month, Hawick backbenchers Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall broke ranks with colleagues on the Independent/SNP/Lib Dem ruling administration at Newtown and voted against spending £3.5m on a visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland at Tweedbank.

According to council leader and fellow Independent David Parker, all elected members had a free vote in the debate.

But Tuesday’s letters of resignation from Messrs McAteer and Marshall to Independent group leader Sandy Aitchison allege that both felt under pressure, not for the first time, to support a policy with which they did not agree.

“I have a growing concern in my ability to execute by role as an Independent councillor when any lack of alignment is met with shouts of dissent from within the group and others in the council’s administration,” wrote Mr McAteer, a former divisional police commander.

“This may well help expedite council business, but I consider it at best unhealthy.

“In addition I find myself working alongside some in the [Independent] group that I do not trust and respect and I have witnessed behaviour, excused as ‘politics’, that I will not be associated with.”.

Mr McAteer cited an article in last week’s Hawick News in which Independent councillor David Paterson, executive member for environmental services, was reported as claiming the two rebel councillors would be in “hot water” for voting against the tapestry.

“Once again I am being tarnished by an alleged Independent colleague,” said Mr McAteer.

He later told us: “I cannot represent those who elected me in an open and transparent way without fear of petty censure.”

In his letter of resignation, Mr Marshall stated: “I find it difficult as an Independent councillor to constantly hear members of this administration, some of whom are portfolio holders, repeatedly calling for me to be brought into line simply because I have a different opinion on matters which I deem to be of the highest importance to those I represent.”

He said Mr Paterson’s reported comments had merely reinforced his decision to resign and to “vote on matters…without being party to any three-line whip arrangement.”

Both councillors stressed they would not be joining the Conservative opposition group.

Councillor Aitchison said he was “naturally very disappointed” at the resignations and intended to travel to Hawick today (Thursday) to meet both men.

“These are two dedicated councillors who will be a loss to our group and I will do my best to convince them that they can achieve more for their constituents within the administration rather than outside it.”