Thursday, 24 May 2007

Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition for Dumfries & Galloway.

Two parties agree to form a minority administration for South West Scotland Council.

By Liam Bailey

My county council is set to be run by a minority coalition of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. Labour had previously run the council as a minority. As a staunch Labour voter, I can't say I am happy about the council being run by the Lib Dem's and Conservatives. But the Lib Dem's and Conservatives combined have only 21 wards out of 47, and will rely on "constructive opposition" from the Scottish National Party to get measures through. Labour won sixteen wards in the election and the SNP took ten.

Because of the decades long party rivalry a Conservative/Labour coalition was and will never be on the cards. So, obviously the strongest coalition for D&G council, with the capability of passing its own measures independently of the other parties would have been an SNP/Labour or SNP/Conservative coalition. However, leader of the SNP group Robert Higgins said:

"The SNP cannot have a formal alliance with the Tories, that is the bottom line. We will take it on an issue by issue basis."

As it is, the minority council will only be able to pass measures agreed by either the SNP, Labour or both. In some ways Dumfries and Galloway council decisions will be a scale model of decisions at Holyrood -- Scotland's parliament, ran by a minority coalition between the Scottish National Party and the Green Party. Combined the coalition holds 49 seats out of 129, over Labour's 46 and the Conservatives 34. The Holyrood coalition cannot pass its own measures without the support of at least one of the other parties. And the other parties must enlist the coalitions support or put rivalry behind them and seek the each other's support in order to pass their measures. In some ways it is a good system.

Robert Higgins added: "But there are quite a lot of parallels between all groups on what they would like to do for Dumfries and Galloway."

D&G council has been without administration for three weeks since the election, as the first meeting to hammer out a ruling group failed. So, it will be good to finally know someone is in charge of things. Contrary to the theory that the local elections mirrored the Labour backlash of the Scottish Parliamentary elections, Conservative group leader Ivor Hyslop claimed that their winning of 18 wards showed people wanted a change in the way things were run. He also said:

"I'm delighted that a new partnership has been found that can shortly begin work on resolving the problems faced by Dumfries and Galloway Council."

"As the largest group of councillors, Conservatives take seriously our obligation to put together an administration."

"They wanted it to be more local, more accessible, more focused, better value for money and less chaotic."

"With our Lib Dem partners, we will now set about delivering on that agenda."

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Sandra McDowall said she looked forward to working with the Conservatives to "take the council forward".

"I'm pleased that an accommodation has been reached, so that we can now set about facing up to the big challenges ahead," she said.

Leader of the Labour group Ronnie Nicholson ended the impression of a council unified in striving only for what's best for the county. He said the parties involved had put "positions before principles". Adding:

"The Labour group will form a principled opposition, holding this new regime to account at every opportunity."

"Above all else we will fight to protect the most vulnerable in our community who will suffer most from the extremes of a Tory council backed by the SNP."

The full council of Dumfries & Galloway is meeting May 24 to discuss the administration's plans for the county.

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