Time to re-open the debating chamber and scrutinise Fife’s minority administration

Six hours watching an online meeting has to be the work from home equivalent of water boarding.

Friday, 27th May 2022, 5:43 pm

Fife Council has yet to return to the chamber for face to face meetings.

Watching last week’s first meeting since the election simply underlined this has to be priority for this new administration.

If I can sit in a crowd of 3000 people at a gig, go to a busy restaurant, and shop without a mask, then surely the local authority can re-open its chamber to councillors, officers and media?

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Things need to change over summer as we head into a new minority administration that could be set for a bumpy ride judging by the real anger which surfaced at last week’s full council meeting.

If ever the workings of the local authority have to be scrutinised down to the very last paragraph, then it’s now.

I logged on to a fair few meetings during lockdown and, in all honesty, they were utterly dire affairs.

Online viewing of council meetings

The level of debate was abysmal. Discussions were hopelessly stifled as councillors got stuck on mute, some couldn’t hear and others seemed to spend lockdown waiting to be let into the virtual room. Maybe they’re still there and don’t know they’ve lost their seats …

There is simply no substitute for sitting across a room and engaging in detailed debate over the agenda items, and seeking to win the day.

All of that wasn’t so blunted as bludgeoned by the distance imposed via online meetings.

Only last week did we see real flashes of anger and emotion as swell as some robust exchanges.

True, it was an exceptional meeting as the SNP bristled at being outflanked by Labour after the election vote.

Finally, councillors had something to get fired up about, and the exchanges were sharp.

The word ‘shame’ was thrown around like a frisbee as SNP members reacted with fury, and the old fault lines quickly surfaced.

One quoted Burns’ parcel o’ rogues, while another, Derek Glenn, described Labour and Tories as “two cheeks of the same baboon.”

It was certainly a baptism of fire for the new councillors who must have wondered if every council meeting was likely to be just as spikey.

It remains a mystery how the SNP snatched defeat from the jaws of victory - four seats short of a majority, and now in opposition - while Labour’s agreements with the Lib Dems and Tories will certainly be tested when the going gets tough.

And the ‘Vote Labour, Get Tory’ line will be hurled around the political arena for the next five years.

John Beare, Glenrothes North, Leslie and Markinch, said it was “one of the worst stitch ups” he had ever seen.

And, while everyone else threw turnout stats and vote percentage numbers around like confetti, he added a warning with some waspish humour: “Colleagues, you are all now extras on the set of the Life of Brian and we have a leadership model cooked up by the Peoples Front of Judea or the Judean People's Front, or is it the Campaign for a Free Galilee, or the Judean Popular Front?

"Maybe Cllr Ross (Reg) can enlighten us as to what democracy has ever done for us.”

Thankfully no-one piped up “well, apart from the bins … and the roads … “

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