New political group at Highland Council aims to put constituents 'first and foremost'
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A new political group has been formed at Highland Council with five members from across the region who say they are determined to turn up the heat when it comes to “scrutiny and challenge” of the leadership.
Highland Alliance comprises co-leaders Councillors Duncan Macpherson from Inverness and Easter Ross’ Maxine Smith who will work alongside Caithness members Andrew Jarvie and Matthew Reiss and Sutherland’s Jim McGillivray.
The change is potentially significant as the new group qualifies for positions on all the strategic committees at the council – those bodies charged with significant areas of policy like education.
But unlike most other groups at the local authority “no member of Highland Alliance will be whipped to vote against their conscience or the communities they represent and the group rules will be deliberately flexible to allow this.”
Recent issues such as the decimation of the budgets for 10 schools prompted a number of councillors who campaigned for those projects for years to vote for the measure despite privately admitting to doubts.
And it could also prove an interesting development because it could offer an immediate home to disaffected members of other groups dissatisfied with any issue who still wish to be part of a political group but vote against the party line.
According to the new group the councillors of Highland Alliance “are determined to ask searching questions about the running of the council and to demand serious answers from those in power.
“Not all problems endured by the council can be blamed on money, or the lack of it. Some problems come down to decision-making, the priorities of local people must come first.”
The group will also see a former SNP group leader in Maxine Smith join and a former Conservative group leader Andrew Jarvie on the same side for once.
Always answerable first and foremost to the constituents'
Cllr Macpherson said: “As an independent councillor I am always answerable first and foremost to the constituents that I was elected to represent and not to any political party leader.
“The Highland Alliance Group has been created to get the best outcomes for the people in our communities, as their agenda is our agenda in the Highland Council chamber.”
Cllr Smith said: “I’m delighted to be back in a group with such interesting members who will help shape the Highlands. Now we get committee places we will have more clout and can put forward motions.
“I have great respect for all my group colleagues and am lucky to be in with such an intelligent group.”
'Balance in favour of common sense'
Cllr Jarvie said: “It’s fantastic to join forces with a broad range of my long-serving colleagues who all share the same goal of getting the best deal for our local communities and the Highlands.
“For too long the rules have been skewed in the favour of large parties, which doesn’t give full voting rights to councillors who don’t feel a big party, or the current Highland Independent Party is the best way to represent their communities. This new Group firmly tips the balance in favour of common sense.”
Cllr MacGillivray said: “It’s important that this is an alliance, the people in the areas we represent are always the most important. I see it like the Clan Chattan Association, where each Highland Clan kept its own unique tartan identity and joined the collective organisation to pursue their common goals.”
Cllr Reiss said: “Highland Alliance Members will always have a free vote, which enables us to make the best decisions for our local wards. This is a little piece of democracy in action, we hope to add strength to the broader opposition in the council and work closely with the opposition parties to get the fairest deal for the Highlands".
Highland Alliance members and wards
Andrew Jarvie – Wick and East Caithness.
Duncan Macpherson – Inverness South
Jim McGillivray – East Sutherland and Edderton
Matthew Reiss – Thurso and Northwest Caithness
Maxine Smith – Cromarty Firth