MORAY COUNCIL ELECTIONS: WHICH WAY TO VOTE?


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Please forgive this somewhat parochial post, which is important to me and 75,000 other voters living in the Scottish shire of Moray. Welcome in particular to readers of The Northern Scot and The Press & Journal newspapers!

NB: I have amended the original post on this subject to reflect feedback from a Moray Councillor on the facts of the current structure of the Moray Council Administration (for which, thank you, sir).

Politics – The Big Screen Scene

Politics has always been an adversarial spectacle. These days politics has become an anarchic bunfight of almost epic proportions. In the UK, the US and on the European continent, all bets are off as to how the political landscape might shape up over the coming decade; perhaps over the next generation. Who knows? For some people this is all terribly disconcerting.

For others, like me, it’s a breath of fresh air after a generation when politics eventually became a system whereby politicians told us what to think, what to do, how to behave, what to say, what was acceptable, what was unacceptable and so on and so forth. Politics was not so much about politicians listening and responding to what people wanted from their lives, their communities and their societies, but rather what politicians did to people.

That approach of ‘doing politics’ to people appears to be unravelling, thankfully, albeit not quickly enough for some of us. Quite where politics is heading is anybody’s guess; however, I’m one of those folk who’s relishing being unshackled from the yoke of what Peter Oborne called in his eponymous book, the triumph of the political class.

Here where I live in the beautiful shire of Moray, in the north of Scotland, local politics is on the agenda for the coming weeks as we prepare for council elections next month. This post focuses on the question, how do I decide for whom to vote as my local elected representative?

Who’s Standing?

On 4 May, about 75,000 of us living here in Moray will have the opportunity to vote for our local council members. Forty-five candidates are standing for 26 ward member appointments. Fifteen candidates are Independent; 13 candidates are Scottish National Party (SNP); 8 candidates are Scottish Conservative and Unionist (Conservative); 3 candidates are Scottish Liberal Democrats and the remaining 6 candidates are either Scottish Labour Party (Labour), Scottish Greens or undeclared.

Currently, Moray is governed by a minority Conservative/Independent coalition; there are 11 councillors in the Administration who are either Conservative (2) or Independent (9). Outside of the Administration there are 11 SNP councillors, 2 Labour councillors, one Conservative and one Independent. Operating Moray Council, or any council for that matter, with a minority Administration makes it difficult for the Administration to pursue its objectives.

Voting: How To Decide?

If, like me, you live in Moray, on what basis should you and I cast our votes next month? What messages from the candidates should we be looking for which would encourage us to vote for them? I said earlier that politics had become somewhat anarchic in recent years. To be clear, I have no dogmatic political affiliation: I’m not a Conservative, nor a Labour man; I’m neither Liberal nor Green; I’m not a Scottish Nationalist. I’m a Libertarian by instinct and will vote for whichever candidate(s) persuade me that they will contribute to the governance of Moray responsibly and in the face of economic realities in particular.

Where Do You Start?

The starting point, surely, must involve looking at the current situation within Moray Council and asking how is the Council performing? Then, one should ask to what extent do candidates’ manifestos reflect the reality of the Council’s situation? If a candidate puts forward a manifesto which bears little or no relation to the reality of Moray Council’s situation, then that candidate if elected is unlikely to be of much use to anybody. Conversely, if a candidate puts forward a manifesto which demonstrates some connection with the realities of the Council’s performance, and how that candidate intends to make a difference to how we’re governed locally, then that candidate must merit consideration for my vote – and yours too, I would suggest.

Best Value – How Is Moray Council Performing?

Since 2003, all of Scotland’s local authorities have had a statutory duty to provide ‘Best Value’ to their taxpayers. This requires Moray Council to ‘demonstrate accountability through the use of public performance reporting, so that stakeholders are told what quality of service is being delivered and what they can expect in future.’

In the critical area of how Moray Council uses taxpayers’ money, the Council must under the law, ‘demonstrate a framework for planning and budgeting that includes detailed and realistic plans linked to available resources, to achieve the authority’s goals, including community planning commitments, at service delivery level.’ In other words, Moray Council is expected to live within its means.

The question is, has Moray Council been living within its means? Perhaps more specifically, have the elected members been providing ‘political and strategic leadership’ as they’re required to do under Moray Council’s published guidance on the role and responsibilities of councillors? Have councillors been working collectively to ensure that our local government is effective and efficient, and delivering services economically?

Now, like so many local authorities across Scotland, Moray Council is not in particularly good shape. How do we know this?

Well, Moray Council has been on the receiving end of Best Value Audits for the past decade or so, the first Audit having taken place in 2006. The most recent Audit was in 2013, and Audit Scotland published a progress report in October 2015. At the time of the Audit, the expectation was that, in order to live within its means, Moray Council would be expected to deliver £30 million of savings by the end of the 2016/17 financial year. In the coming year to March 2018 Moray Council will be expected to further reduce its spending by £16 million. Why so much financial pressure?

Well, Moray Council’s budget for 2017/18 is just under £200 million, of which £120 million, or 60% will come from the Scottish Government. Council tax will provide Moray Council with £38 million, or 19% of its budget with the remainder to come from Non-Domestic Rates and, increasingly, from the Council’s financial reserves. This latter point hints at the fact that Moray Council might not be living within its means.

Moray Council is, in effect, having to raid its savings not to invest for the future, but simply to keep the wheels on. This isn’t good. Indeed, Audit Scotland notes that ‘councils are increasingly relying on the use of reserves to bridge projected funding gaps. [There is] a dependency on incremental changes to services, increasing charges and reducing employee numbers in order to make savings. These are neither sufficient nor sustainable solutions for the scale of challenge facing councils.’

What’s Really Going On?

So, what’s really going on here? Why is it that local authorities across Scotland are faced with being squeezed until the pips squeak?

Well, there are a number of issues at play, but one wonders if the Scottish Government is on the one hand deliberately lowering the priority of council funding (perhaps in favour of more eye-catching, national initiatives supporting the SNP’s cause at Holyrood government level), whilst on the other hand refusing to use its new tax raising powers potentially to the benefit of Scotland’s local councils and indeed other public services. Incidentally, as a Libertarian I’m in favour of the lowest levels of taxation consistent with government sticking to the provision of services that only government can and should provide. Over the last 5 years or so, there’s no question that the Scottish Government has been reducing the funds made available to local authorities in real terms.

Part of the problem also is that Scotland’s new funding deal agreed with HM Treasury directly links the Scottish Government’s income with Scotland’s economic performance and, therefore, its tax receipts. So, Scotland’s economic performance will come into sharper focus in future years. However, Scotland’s SNP Government is making a hash of the economy and, given the wider circumstances described above, is clearly unable and/or unwilling to fund local councils to the extent that councils would wish to be funded.

It’s beyond the scope of this particular post to dwell on Scotland’s economic performance other than to say that it’s weak (understatement) compared to the rest of the UK. The SNP Government is devoting most of its energy and time to being fixated on the issue of Scotland’s independence – at the expense of governing the country responsibly. Whilst governments cannot and must not see themselves as wealth creators, they can – and do in Scotland’s case – act as wealth destroyers.

Bear in mind that this is against a backdrop where public spending per head is higher in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK, other than in Northern Ireland. In other words, despite Scotland benefiting from British taxpayers’ largesse more so than any other region in England and Wales, the SNP Government still manages to make a dog’s breakfast of the economy and the prioritisation of public services’ funding. Let’s leave to another day the question of how Scotland would fare as an independent country if it were obliged to stand on its own two feet and live within its national means. Notwithstanding, perhaps this is why Scotland being governed by the European Commission and subsidised by the European Union is such an attractive ‘independence’ option for the Scottish Nationalists?

It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Scottish Government is planning to reduce its funding of local authorities in the years ahead; you can’t allocate money which you don’t or won’t have, and Moray Council, like all other Scottish councils, will be squeezed year on year indefinitely. When all’s said and done, for this lamentable state of affairs, for the most part you can thank the SNP.

Moray Council – Living Within Its Means?

So, in this coming financial year Moray Council will need to use £8 million of its reserves just to support the provision of general services, ie not for investment in future service improvements. In other words, 4% of the Council’s 2017/18 budget will be funded from reserves. According to Moray Council’s Convener, Councillor Stewart Cree, at current expenditure levels the Council will have exhausted its reserves by the autumn of 2018.

Now, does this sound to you like a Council living within its means?

Whatever you think about the SNP Government’s economic and governance incompetence (for that is what’s at the heart of this issue), the fact is that like most, if not all local authorities across Scotland, Moray Council is faced with operating under excruciating financial pressure in the years ahead. The questions at this stage then are, what does it take to be a Moray councillor under the circumstances? What should you and I be looking for in terms of casting our respective votes in favour of one candidate over another on 4 May?

Identifying Worthwhile Candidates

In deciding who best deserves my vote, I’ll be looking for a number of signals in the candidates’ manifestos. I’ll want to see evidence of the following:

Understanding Reality. An understanding of Moray Council’s financial situation, not least recognition that a ‘more of the same, but better’ approach will simply not the cut the mustard. If a candidate shows no sign of realising that Moray Council is, to all intents and purposes, heading for insolvency, then that candidate is putting himself/herself forward under false pretences. I would also question to what extent the candidate had done background research into undertaking their potential role as a councillor if their manifesto makes little or no reference to Moray Council’s parlous condition.

Taxpayers Matter More Than Politics. A willingness to set aside factional political nonsense in the interests of the collective responsibility of the Council as a whole. Moray councillors have a track record of putting their petty political differences over and above our interests as taxpayers. So much so that Audit Scotland noted that, ‘basic building blocks for Best Value, [which] are now well developed in many councils, are still in their infancy, or only now being effectively applied in Moray’. This after almost 15 years of a statutory duty for Moray Council to deliver Best Value to us, the taxpayers. One wonders what the elected members have been doing for the past decade and more?

Practical Proposals. Practical proposals for turning around Moray Council and developing a strategy founded squarely on a requirement for the local authority to live within its means. For as long as Scotland is governed by the SNP, the country’s economy will almost certainly go from bad to worse to dire. So, any candidate who puts forward airy-fairy proposals for taking Moray forward to a land of milk and honey should be treated with extreme caution. Chances are they know less about the Council’s situation than you do by reading this post.

It’s The Economy, Stupid

It was President Bill Clinton who once said on the subject of politics, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’. How right he was and remains to this day. So, in preparing to cast your vote in a couple of weeks’ time, you may wish to reflect on this post and in particular on the fact that Scotland’s economy is in a bit of a mess. There’s no escaping this nationally and, therefore, locally since the greatest proportion of local government funds come to us by grace of the SNP Government in Edinburgh (taken from you as taxes in the first place, don’t forget). Since the SNP is hell-bent on making the case for a second referendum on Scotland’s ‘independence’ from the UK (the Scots provided the wrong answer for the SNP in 2014), then don’t hold your breath for an economic turnaround, nor the SNP’s capability to govern responsibly.

What this means when you step into the polling booth on 4 May is that if you vote for a candidate whose manifesto is at odds with the tenor of this blog post, then you’re probably voting for a political shambles in Moray over the next 4 years. It will be interesting to see how many candidates demonstrate a proper understanding of Moray Council’s condition and, moreover, how they intend to contribute to its good governance in the coming years of increasing financial stringency. If I spot such a candidate, he or she will get my vote – regardless of political persuasion.

Thanks for reading this rather lengthy post. It’s important stuff because it’s about the most important form of politics: local politics. Oh, and please share this post with your friends if you live here in Moray (click on the relevant button(s) below).

See you at the polling booth! Love democracy; they don’t do it in the European Union (SNP please note).


Postscript

According to the SNP, the 2014 referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent nation was a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Unfortunately for the SNP, Scotland’s voters delivered the wrong result. So now, in the backdraft of a UK-wide referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union, the SNP have decided that the UK’s voters delivered the right result as far as the SNP is concerned. The UK’s decision to leave the EU allows the SNP to say, ‘But Scotland doesn’t want to leave the EU, so we need to have another shot at securing independence (where ‘independence’ means Scotland being governed by a foreign oligarchy – the European Commission) and being able to suck on the teat of the EU.’

Let’s be clear though: there is little or no chance of Scotland breezing back into the European Union should it ever achieve independence. Nor is there the slightest guarantee, far from it, that an independent Scotland – governed from Brussels or Edinburgh – would cakewalk into prosperity. Generally, the SNP is consistently and wholly disingenuous on the matters of the attractiveness to the EU of an independent Scotland, and Scotland’s economic prospects under Scottish nationalist-socialism.

Personally, I’m keen for there to be a second referendum (IndyRef2) on Scotland’s independence – primarily because of my democratic and Libertarian instincts – albeit the SNP’s reason (Brexit) for demanding another referendum is flaky. However, as part of any IndyRef2, we would need some way of putting to bed for at least a generation any notions of IndyRef3, IndyRef4, IndyRef 5 etc.

How would I vote in IndyRef2? If genuine independence was on offer – Scotland’s own head of state, own currency, own central bank, own foreign policy, own armed forces, own border controls and so on, and with the whole shebang governed not from Brussels, but from Edinburgh – I’d vote for independence. If such independence were to be achieved, I’d emigrate to England the next day simply because I’m too old to endure the socio-economic consequences of a genuinely independent Scotland. Starting again from 300 years back would be a young man’s game.

However, genuine Scottish independence will never be on the table. The SNP don’t have the guts for it.

13 comments

  1. reallyoldbill · · Reply

    Slightly off track here, but I have to confess that I am bemused by your position on independence. If you would really vote for it should it be “the real deal” on offer, why would you then wish to emigrate to England if it was achieved? What, in your view, would improve for Scotland that you wouldn’t wish to enjoy? And given that the ramifications of a UK break-up would be felt in England as much as Scotland, yet its people would have had no opportunity to vote on it, simply be expected to suffer the consequences of your vote to go, isn’t it then slightly hypocritical of you to expect England to provide you with sanctuary from the implications of your decision? Perhaps I am simply too English to understand the Scottish mindset, despite having a very proud Scottish mum from the lovely Highlands.

    I am not wishing to appear combative here, just having difficulty in understanding your logic, which I normally find to be impeccable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Yes, a fair comment Bill!

      I guess you have to look at the subtlety of my argument. I believe strongly in democracy and self-determination. If a Scottish independence offering was shaped in the way I suggested, ie for the formation of a new and indeed totally independent Scottish nation, then that would appeal to me. So, on the one hand I would be very tempted to vote for Scotland to become a truly independent, self-determining nation of 5 million or so people.

      On the other hand, I’m pretty certain that such a ‘new’ nation would need a generation or more to get its act together. Now, if I was twenty-something rather than fifty-something I would stick around and work to support the establishment of a new Scotland. However, I am indeed fifty-something and so having helped deliver what so many Scots seem to want (NB ‘seem’ to want), I would have to protect myself and move to a mature nation state (England would do nicely).

      However, here’s the subtle bit. A truly independent Scottish nation state will never, ever be offered to the electorate. The SNP have neither the guts nor the competence to promote, still less implement such an outcome. So, it’s really quite easy for me to say that I’d vote for independence and then bugger off – because independence will never, ever be offered. The ‘independence’ that will be offered will be ‘dependence’ in some shape or form: dependence on the UK, or dependence on the EU. And I’d never, ever vote for that form of ‘independence’.

      So, what my somewhat convoluted thesis above means is that, in my opinion, the majority of Scots will NOT vote for sham-independence should it come to IndyRef2. And, in reality, I’d be one of those Scottish voters voting for the United Kingdom – to prevent a sham form of Scottish independence.

      Blimey, I hope that makes sense. You might need to read it a few times to get my drift …

      Like

      1. reallyoldbill · · Reply

        Thanks for the clarification, MM. (I did read it through a couple of times to make sure that I had understood it!) I have always felt, with my family history being, like so many in these islands, a mixture of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon blood and strong ties all over them, that I am as much British as I am English, although I will confess to being a staunch supporter of English cricket and rugby teams against all-comers, so can understand the lure of nationalism. Where I struggle to find common ground with those nationalists who wish to see the break-up of the UK into its constituent parts, however, is in understanding how they can dismiss the success of that 300 years of joint history (and even longer in respect of the England/Wales bonding) in the hope that it can be exceeded by destroying the very thing that made it possible in the first place. It just seems to my simple mind to be a pipe-dream created by the emotion of the heart over the pragmatism of the brain. Without in any way wishing to diminish Scotland’s undoubted contribution to that successful joint history, I suspect that in the modern world, however, forging her own way outside the United Kingdom with such a small population base (even allowing for the exceptional talent), and large tracts of her land unsuitable (beautiful though it is) for development, would prove to be much more difficult than the SNP would lead Scottish people to believe, and with oil showing no signs of returning to its previous high price levels, from where would the money come? In direct competition with her larger southern neighbour, rather than in partnership with her, for inward investment, where would I as a prospective foreign investor choose to place my cash? England on the cusp of the continent with Heathrow the gateway to the world and the Channel Tunnel to the Continent of Europe, or Scotland divided from the Continent by the English landmass through which goods would have to pass? There is a good reason why, even before the union in 1707, so many talented Scots came south to seek funding and support for their endeavours.

        For her part, of course, England is much happier with her northern land border secure as part of the nation rather than the threshold to a foreign country; the seas to the north of the island open to the Royal Navy as UK territorial waters able to deny access to an increasingly resurgent Russia; and the availability of that talented pool of creative individuals in Scotland as part of the national workforce rather than as foreign immigrants, to say nothing of the disproportionate contribution to the UK armed forces manpower. All in all I see it as a win-win for all parts of the UK, although there is still work to do to impart some equality into the devolutionary settlement for England, who remains the Cinderella of the UK compared to the other home nations.

        Sorry to highjack this thread, but I am unable to help with your dilemma about Scottish politics at a local level.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Robert E Lee · · Reply

    Coming up to 16 years resident in Spain now MM, and Braintree district council informed me last week that me and my good lady were henceforth deleted from from their voting data-base. We had been resident in Wickham Bishops, Essex, prior to our ‘flit’ in 2001.
    I shall continue to read your excellent posts, though shall henceforth be in no position to influence the outcome of any election affecting dear old Blighty.
    As an avid reader and supporter of Peter Hitchens’ work, (as you are aware), I do hope he’s wrong though with his prognostications for the (bleak) outcome for UK courtesy of our ruling elite.
    He advises young people to “flee the country”, as in his opinion, the damage inflicted since the 50s is terminal. Well, at least our 25 and 21 year olds are bi-lingual and have had 16 years growing up in the sun.
    Happy Easter.
    R.E.L.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks Robert, and I’m not sure you’re missing much by being disenfranchised from the UK. Whilst I don’t wholly subscribe to Peter Hitchens’ views about the decline and fall of the Anglosphere (he and I have swapped emails directly in the past; one of my family friends works for him in his Mail on Sunday office in Knightsbridge), much of what he says is depressingly true.

      All the best, and Happy Easter to you too. I’m off to roast a leg of lamb in the Aga – with much garlic, rosemary and salt!

      Like

  3. A very wise post generally, MM; but what particularly interested me was your assessment of why the SNP are so obsessed by joining the EU.

    I had not been able to get past the conundrum of why Scotland would wish to transfer from being a significant fish in a small pond (the UK) to being a minnow in the EU ocean. Your explanation of apparent independence+the possibility of sucking on a far larger teat makes a great deal of sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. flyer · · Reply

    As this is about Scotland, I’ll post this video, that has much to do with Scottish Rite Freemasonry and Freemasonry in general. it takes about 50 mins to watch, but at the end of it you’ll understand much about politics and the evil foundations of the European Union.

    There are a couple of small points in the video I’m not sure about, but overall, about right and very factual, it answers a lot of questions. You need to watch all of it to understand it.

    Like

  5. Excellent post, didn’t feel long at all. The question for any local councillors who do “get it” is how to they can take any form of effective action in the face of national mismanagement which seems to be going on on an epic scale? Although I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis, it is a sad truth that much of the electorate either doesn’t care or actively wants to be lied to rather than face grim reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Sadly so, wolsten, but we must never give up hammering the political class!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Some good pointers here for the non-Moray resident as well !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Yes, I’d hoped that would be the case Mark …

      Like

  7. C Keenan · · Reply

    Excellent and informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. moraymint · · Reply

      Thanks very much C. I like to work with facts …

      Like

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