Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bottoms-Up Politics

Yesterday I went first to Edinburgh and then drove back down to Cauldshiels, just south of Melrose. I went to meet Nicholas Watson, the campaigner against the destruction of the wonderful landscape around Abbotsford, Walter Scott's home, where the Scottish Borders Council wanted to build around a thousand new homes. Nicholas's campaign has mushroomed into him starting the Borders Party, along with other likeminded souls, to fight for seats at the local council elections on May 3rd.

I've decided to support the Borders Party in whatever way I can in their bid to inject some real local issue and local action into our rather tired old local council politics. The situation that's developed in local government here in the Borders has become a rather stale and predictable affair. The 'ruling coalition' has been made up of Conservatives and Independents - about as bizarre as the Conservatives and the SSP ever running Sleepy Holyrood. We walked up Cauldshiels Hill, which is the site of an Iron Age, and probably a Roman signal station - the earthworks are still clearly visible. Sitting on top of the hill looking at a 360-degree panorama of the borders it brought home what a magnificent land we are lucky to live in. One that needs protecting from over zealous development and dim-witted government.

We talked about many of the issues that concerned us at the election. Tourism got a good airing – because it is central to the struggling local economy of the Borders. I told Nicholas that when we first moved to the Borders, ten years ago, I was amazed to hear the then head of the tourist board complain that there was no world class attraction for them to promote. Sitting on the top of the hill the attraction was evident all around us. The beautiful, largely unspoilt countryside is world class - in an increasingly fraught and over-populated world that is what will bring back people in substantial numbers; certainly in the numbers that our infrastructure can deal with. We talked of why the Reivers are not celebrated by the tourist board and came up with a few ideas on how we can suggest some positive things that might interest voters and make a difference.

I think that everyone standing for local councillors loves the Borders, it’s just that they seem to find difficulty in expressing it. Certainly I’ve seen nothing coming out of the council in recent years that is anything other than platitudes in this direction. The Councillors seem happy to go along with the ‘management team’ of the council, the department heads and those people who are career local government officials. We even have a Chief Executive who doesn’t even live in the Borders, that’s how much he loves it. He apparently prefers to stay in Dunbar in East Lothian.

I doubt many of you reading this blog live in the Borders and therefore don’t feel like I do. But wherever you live don’t you have a sense that local issues are more and more being subjugated to what national politicians want? While I care what is happening around the world, in Edinburgh, in London or wherever, it’s what happens in my little world-patch that truly affects my life. What any of us can affect is that which happens in our own back yard or garden. Only having got that right can we then move on to deal with next door or elsewhere. It seems to me that we’ve got it the wrong way round.

We need the Borders Party to bring back a real sense of local politics. Not politics run by the big four parties in Holyrood or London. Let’s get our own back yard organized and run in a way that we want it to be, not have it dictated from elsewhere. Of course I’m not naive enough to suggest that national politics don’t take precedent, but if we do nothing from the bottom up, we’ll continue to be ruled from the top down. I hope I can help make a bit of a difference.

For more on the Borders Party clickHERE


Minster said...

The Borders Party could be onto something here.

Some Councillors are fine when it comes to getting a pavement repaired, but where are they when the big threats rear their ugly heads?

Wind farms, megastores, the railway and all those houses - all pushed onto the Borders and not a squeak from Councillors despite loud local opposition.

Let's hope Borderers old and new grasp the chance of change on May 3rd.


r morris said...

Richard, I don't know if I am ruining your blog by giving you American examples. If I am, let me know and I'll refrain.
Tip O'Neil, the great Irish-American Speaker of the House in the Reagan years, was famous for saying that all politics is local. I think those days are gone. In the States, it takes such an incredible amount of money to run a campaign (and campaigning begins the day after an election in this country) that the politicians end up being beholden to the moneyed corporations and individuals who finance them. In a rural state such as Idaho (which I imagine is similar to the Borders), our politicians get the vast majority of their money from the national Republican Party (there is no Democratic Party presence in this conservative state) and are thus basically harlots at the beck and call of the president and the national party. Not to say that they don't occasionally work for their constituency, because they do, but these political PACs do not give these guys money without expecting a return.
A good example of failure to listen to constituents would be the Iraq War. The people have spoken out against it time after time and yet the President seems to think there is no longer any reason to listen, since he is in charge. There is a total disconnect between the people and the leadership.
If you can succeed in getting a party going that deals with local issues, that is a return to the type of democracy envisioned by its creators.
I look forward to seeing how the drama plays out.

Nicholas Watson said...

Thanks for the support, Richard.

It's true, experience of this wonderful region we live in is enough to make one want to look after it properly.

R. Morris perfectly illusrates the harm national politics can do to local government. That's why we are not affiliated to any national party. I think we are the first political party in the UK dedicated to serving one council region only.

A bit like independent candiates, but at least with a Borders Party candiate you now what you are getting. And we have attracted the support and back-up which independents don't get. Two political think-tanks have been to see us and some very up-to-date experts on sustainable development have given their advice, but best of all we have had support from every part of the political spectrum because people are fed up with national politics in local government.

All an experiment, I know, but if it turns out to be a runner then why not a Fife Party, a Highlands Party, a Dumfries and Galloway Party....

We would happily share notes.

Nicholas Watson

Richard Havers said...

Rob, you’re far from ruining it!

I think your point about national politics is correct. No one can compete with the big parties. However for our local council elections (the Borders is a few over 100,000 people) it is possible for councillors to stand outside the 'party system'. Indeed many of the councillors stand as 'independents', meaning they take no direction from a bigger party - or shouldn't!