The vicious side to local politics – Borders style

The dust is finally settling on the local election campaign here in the Scottish Borders. What started sleepily and continued pleasantly enough (as far as the blustery wet April weather allowed), ended in suprising acrimony.

I’m ‘Assistant Secretary’ of the Borders Party, a local-only independent party founded in 2006 to try to revive the independent tradition in local politics. No need to go into detail about the party here, but to cut a long story short we upped our vote a lot without gaining any more seats (I got 15% and you typically need about 17%+ in a thee member ward under STV). So the end result was:

Con: 10 (-2)
SNP: 9 (+3)
Lib-Dem 6 (-4)
Borders Party 2 (no change)
Other independents 7 (+3)

And this is where the real business started. The local conservatives are down 2, but still the biggest party. Everyone expects them to form, and lead, the administration as they did last time. But to the exasperation of senior tories at the national level they completely dropped the ball: refusing to compromise on the ‘portfolios’ (local equivalent of ministries) they wanted, they managed to annoy the indepednents and liberals so much that their erstwhile allies jumped into bed with the SNP instead.

The Borders Party is faced with a choice: continue in opposition against what would be an SNP-led administration. Or ally with the other independents to form a group as large as the Nats and try to have a say from the inside. Seems a no-brainer, and the result is an independent leader of the council, a Borders Party councillor in charge of education, and one as vice-chair of planning.

So far so good, you would have thought.

But what I hadn’t counted on was the reaction from the local tories. Suddenly politics in the Borders came to life – in the most ghoulish fashion. The media were briefed that we had betrayed our voters. On Facebook we had ‘disbanded’. Rumours were spread that we had dropped our opposition to the Borders Railway to get cushy seats in the council. We were ‘propping up’ an ‘SNP-led’ council that would use the Borders as a ‘platform for independence’. The vitriol was extraordinary, prolongued, and cavalier with the facts. It was suddenly like being in the bear pit of Westminster rather than the sleepy lanes of Berwickshire.

Fortunately, as so often in politics when someone overplays their hand, the dirty tricks have rebounded somewhat. It’s difficult for the tories here to blame other for ‘propping up the SNP’ when they are doing exactly that in neighbouring Dumfriesshire.

But the most amazing thing about the whole thing was the sudden energy that went ito all this vitriol. By contrast, during all the negotiations with different parties on all sides, not once were we asked what our policies were. In other words, the whole emphasis was on how to get power, not what to do with it.

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