Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Why the Aberdeenshire expulsions would be unjust

Ruaraidh Dobson has a posting defending the Scottish Lib Dems' Executive's decision to suspend three Aberdeenshire councillors - Paul Johnston, Debra Storr and Sam Coull - and to start expulsion proceedings.

I wish to explain why Ruaraidh is, to use his own phrase 'dead wrong' about this matter. I believe that expelling the three councillors would be utterly unjust and that they have been the victims of a vendetta carried out by senior members of the Aberdeenshire council Lib Dem group.

And to do that, I believe it would be helpful to give a timeline of some of the major facts and incidents which have led to the current mess. Of course, as an outsider, I don't know every detail of what has happened and there may be some things I am not aware of, so this may only be a partial account, but I believe it will give a flavour of why the decision to expel the three councillors would be unjust.

November 27, 2006: American billionaire Donald Trump unveils plans for a golf and housing development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.

March 30, 2007: The formal planning application is submitted.

September 11, 2007: Aberdeenshire planning officials recommend approval of the proposals.

November 20, 2007: The Formartine Area Committee of Aberdeenshire Council approves the application.

November 29, 2007: After an extensive debate, Lib Dem councillor Martin Ford uses his casting vote as chairman of the council's Infrastructure Services Committee to reject the application. The vote was between refusing the application or deferring it to allow further negotiation, although Trump has indicated he is unwilling to negotiate. The decision causes a stir around the world

November 30, 2007: Lib Dem councillor Debra Storr claims she was assaulted after having voted against the application.

December 3, 2007: Donald Trump announces he will not be launching an appeal against the refusal of the development.

December 4, 2007: Scottish ministers decide to call in the application.

December 5, 2007: It is announced that there is to be a vote of no confidence in Martin Ford as chairman of the ISC.

December 12, 2007: Although there are no allegations of any wrongdoing on his part, Martin Ford is removed from his position as chairman of the ISC. A majority of Lib Dem councillors fail to support him. Martin is subsequently removed from other positions allocated by the Lib Dem Group. He says this was done without authority from the Lib Dem group and without even informing him in advance.

April 7, 2008: An attempt is made to expel Martin Ford from the Lib Dem group. The motion is withdrawn.

June 10, 2008: The public inquiry into the Trump development begins. Cllrs Johnston, Ford and Storr submit their views that the decision to reject the application should be upheld.

June 29, 2008: Lib Dem councillor Paul Johnston makes comments about Trump having been given a £5m 'sweetener'. Fellow councillors take exception to these comments. Although he insists he has done nothing wrong, Cllr Johnston agrees to refer himself to the Standards Commission to allow them to investigate.

October 2, 2008: Aberdeenshire Council passes a motion condemning Cllr Johnston for his comments. The Lib Dem group had agreed to note that the matter was being investigated by the Standards Commission and that as they were the appropriate body to investigate the matter, the council should not express an opinion on the matter. However, Lib Dem group leader Anne Robertson moves the successful motion, apparently after consulting the Conservative group, the Lib Dems' partners in the ruling coalition. Cllr Storr, seconded by Cllr Ford, moves an amendment supporting the original Lib Dem line.

November 3, 2008: The Trump application is approved by the Scottish government.

November 17, 2008: The Lib Dem group on Aberdeenshire Council votes to expel Debra Storr from the group for the 'crime' of having moved an amendment against the position of the Lib Dem group leader.

November 18, 2008: Having not yet been told of the vote to expel her, Cllr Storr announces her resignation from the Lib Dem group.

November 23, 2008: Martin Ford annnounces he will no longer attend meetings of the Lib Dem group, in protest at the decision to expel Debra Storr.

January 9, 2009: Paul Johnston is exonerated by the Standards Commission over his 'sweetener' comments.

January 22, 2009: The Lib Dem group on Aberdeenshire Council refuses to attach a note to the minutes of the October meeting noting that Paul Johnston had been exonerated, despite officer advice that it was perfectly feasible to do so.

January 23, 2009: Cllrs Ford, Johnston and Coull decide to leave the Lib Dem group. Together with Debra Storr, they form the Democratic Independent Group. Their standing orders explicitly state that they will not have a political whip.

January 27, 2009: Martin Ford resigns from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

February 14, 2009: The four members of the DIG support an amendment to the Aberdeenshire Council budget which was proposed by the Lib Dem/Tory administration.

February 28, 2009: The Scottish Lib Dem Executive agrees to suspend Cllrs Storr, Johnston and Coull from membership and to initiate proceedings towards their expulsion.

And that brings us to where we are today. There are quite a few other things I could have mentioned about how the four councillors feel they have been bullied or victimised by leading members of the Aberdeenshire Lib Dem group, but I thought I'd keep this to largely established facts. But even looking at those, I think there is ample evidence to suggest that Cllrs Ford, Storr, Johnston and Coull have been the subject of a vendetta against them, based on their opposition to the Trump development. Ruaraidh, and other members of the Scottish Executive, I hope you you read this and consider whether your support for the expulsion of the Aberdeenshire Three is justified.


Anonymous said...

Bernard, Thank you for giving the timeline of events. It is very helpful. I am appalled at the way that the 4 councillors were treated by their colleagues - and even more appalled at the failure of the Scottish party to investigate this despite repeated requests from Cllr Debra Storr.

Liberal for Life said...

There is clearly a one sided story unfolding here and anyone approaching the desire to "hear both sides of the story" before jumping to, perhaps the wrong, conclusions ought to take stock of their endless blogging on this sensitive subject.

My only other comment is this - Opinions are like A***H***S (ie backsides), everyone has got one!


Bernard Salmon said...

Liberal for Life: Thank you for that exceptionally constructive posting. I'll ignore the fact that you're calling me an arsehole. However, I would ask you to point out whether there's anything in my posting which is factually incorrect or whether there are any additional facts I don't know which might be relevant to this discussion. I have asked you to do this before, but as yet I'm still waiting for any information from you. If you do have a case against the Aberdeenshire three, by all means put it forward. At the moment, you have failed to do so.

Callum Leslie said...

One small omission from your timeline, which is a small but important distinction. Martin Ford did not vote against the application, he instead voted to maintain the status quo, which is the standing orders for a committee chair when a vote is tied. Martin Ford did not vote against the bill, he only followed procedure.

Liberal for Life said...

Bernard, I never said you are an arsehole, I stated that "OPINIONS are like arseholes, everyone has got one!"

However, I could now add - If the cap fits, wear it- but I won't.

Right now what we need is to allow a healing process that has just, but only just, begun to work to help give ALL the Cllrs time to perhaps sort this sad situation out once and for all.

The key individuals concerned now need to find some common ground to cling to, no matter how small an island that proves to be, and with Chris White now acting as the facilitator then we might finally reach a satisfatory resolution.

If they are given the space by all of us interested but rather detached members to do that then we might, just might, restore Aberdeenshire Councils' credibility back to its premier position as (the independently acknowledged) Scotlands best run authority.

So please lets all just "blog-off" on this subject for a while and see if peace will prevail.

Can you do that or not?

Bernard Salmon said...

Liberal for Life: You were saying that I was presenting a one-sided account, but you still haven't provided any information as to what the other side of the case might be. Until you do so, I stand by what I have written.

neil craig said...

Whatever the wisdom of the actions there is no possible way this can be considered unjust.

Debra voted for my expulsion purely on the grounds that I supported traditional economic liberalism. Specificly that I supported a growing economy through free enterprise, lowered taxes & Holyrood control of Corporation Tax, all of which are now officially "illiberal", "too right wing " to discuss & "incompatible with party membership".

The woman even deliberately lied to support my expulsion - saying that a motion to discuss these had been rejected not because the party leadership wanted to prevent discussion of traditional liberal views but because the maotion had been "badly drafted". In fact she drafted it & did not mention her incompetence at the time.

What has happened is that with Luddite fascists having driven all made genuine liberalism "incompatible with party membership" & with the sort of idealogical eco-fascist policies she has supported to deprive her constituents of jobs the party has become immensely unpopular & now feels the need to at least appear willing to pay some heed to the voters.

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