Here we are again at the end of another year. And what a year 2016 has been, when you look back over the events that have defined it, both locally and nationally, it’s astonishing to think it all happened in the same 12 month period. Nearly the same length of time it takes to get your bins emptied… but more of that later.
Boyd and her trouble with Budgets
2016 started with Bruce Crawford slamming Council leader Johanna Boyd for another “miss” by her inept coalition team, when Stirling was shown to have missed the additional funding set aside by the Scottish Government for councils that maintained or improved teacher numbers under their control. Shortly after this trouble with numbers, it was then found that Stirling’s Bumbling Boyd’lings couldn’t get their sums right after stating in the prior October that based on the PBB approach they were taking to council services, the forecast impact of £548,000 had now increased cuts to a whopping £860,000. That’s a change from forecast of 56.9%! SNP group leader Cllr Scott Farmer said it was at best another example of gross incompetence or worse, an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Stirling residents. In February the SNP group continued to apply pressure to the Tory /Labour coalition and their difficulty with managing budgets. The end of the month saw the Tory/Labour Group slash the Council Care budget by £658,000 which appeared to be a deeply cynical political manoeuvre despite being presented with a fully costed alternative by the SNP group that protected the Care budget.
Ban the Bomb, Brucephalus and The Bruce
Stirling Branch’s campaigning to get Bruce Crawford re-elected to Holyrood started in earnest in February with a well attended and very successful Race Night which earned valuable funds though showed Bruce to be something of a shark at the indoor horse racing game, winning several of the sweep-stakes and ending the night with his horse ‘Brucephalus’ winning the final big money race! A lot of money was raised and fun was had. A few weeks later we had the annual Robert the Bruce Dinner at the Golden Lion Hotel, attended by Bruce Crawford, Steven Paterson , Christian Allard ( who complemented the French theme to the night) and a decent crowd of members and supporters. The campaign to keep Scotland and the UK in the EU also started with a visit to the Branch by long time friend Alyn Smith MEP who took questions from members on all things Europe. Steven Paterson MP joined Nicola Sturgeon at a rally against Trident in Glasgow.
Business, Benny and Betty’s Birthday
Despite Stirling Council having such budgetary issues that they couldn’t protect the social care funding we also saw Tory Group Leader Neil Benny putting forward a motion to rename Stirling’s historically named Corn Exchange Road, to “Queen Elizabeth Road” in recognition of it being Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday. This would have involved not only costs to signage, but the knock on effect of requiring mapping systems and gazetteers updated, not to mention the knock-on impact to local businesses on the road. Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford commended the SNP Scottish Governments support for Small Business on the back of the Small Business Bonus Scheme which now benefits over 100,000 small businesses in Scotland.
Boyd’s Bad-image and #SNPBad
It was then revealed that Councillor Boyd, leader of the Council Boydlings, had spent public funds on a photoshoot, and subsequently used those images in her campaigning as an (unsuccessful) Labour Branch Office in Scotland list candidate for Mid Scotland and Fife. We then did a spoof article for April Fools stating how Tory and Labour’s Branch Office in Scotland (L.B.O.S.), would be standing in the 2017 Council elections on a combined #SNPBad Hashtag. It appears fiction has a funny way of coming true as we now believe L.B.O.S. are not fielding enough candidates in May 2017 to secure an overall majority in Stirling Council, which would necessitate them being in another power sharing deal with the minority Tory group if the SNP don’t get overall control (12 or more councillors elected). In fact, rumours abound that Labour have already had secret talks with the Tories to agree another power sharing pact in that instance. Never before was the phrase Vote Labour Get Tory more true… you read it here first ( April 1st 2016 to be accurate) dear readers.
#BothVoteSNP Backdoor moves and Balfron
As we rolled through Spring the Holyrood Elections bore down and we stepped up campaigning to get our candidate Bruce Crawford re-elected under the Scotland Wide Twitter HashTag #BothVotesSNP and locally #TeamCrawford. This was supported by a visit to Stirling by SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon. Our council group highlighted support for Council workers shamefully put out of work by a last minute attack on employees in the council budget. Our MP Steven Paterson wrote to Stirling Council to pressure for checks to be made on schools purchased by Labour’s ill judged PFI/PPP schemes which have resulted in several schools in Edinburgh having to be closed then subsequently were found to affect Balfron.
After all the hard work we successfully returned Bruce Crawford as MSP for Stirling and returned Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister. This on the back of an increase in the overall SNP vote nationally but which due to the way the voting systems work did not result in an overall SNP majority this time, falling one vote short. However there is now a larger Pro-Independence bloc in Holyrood as the Green Party also returned a record six MSPs.
Benny’s Blunder, Bandeath and Balfron
The Balfron issue over crumbling school infrastructure was set to run on with the Tory /Labour administration rejecting SNP calls for an inquiry into the issue. Steven Paterson MP brought the issue up in the Westminster parliament too. In debate over the cutting of council workers contracts Neil Benny Council Tory Group Leader blundered in, showing the Tory’s true colours, stating changes to workers contracts should have been done “years ago”. Then we learned of the imminent closure of Bandeath Dog Shelter after Police Scotland withdrew their share of the funding meaning the operation would no longer be financially viable. Many local groups rallied round, supported by the SNP amongst others, and a solution was found to the issue in the months that followed.
The campaigning did not stop after the Holyrood elections, Stirling Branch steamed straight on to support Scotland remaining part of the EU supported by Steven Paterson MP and Bruce Crawford MSP and we saw a further visit from Alyn Smith MEP who also joined us on the streets of Stirling, as did Kevin Stewart MSP Scot Gov minister for Local Government and Housing. But despite the positive vision of EU membership put forward successfully in Scotland by the SNP ( Stirling in particular was very strongly Pro-EU) votes in England and Wales were enough to drag Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar towards the Exit door against their will. To date we still don’t know what this actually means. Diddy David Cameron fell on his sword the morning after the vote which resulted in Theresa May’s appointment as Prime Minister and her inane “Brexit means Brexit” or ” Red White and Blue Brexit” nonsense was left to fill the right wing press headlines. The outcome of the EU vote has also seen Steven Paterson raise the issue of the democratic deficit in the UK and the financial impact to Stirling in Parliament.
Backing Disability, Blights, Bombs and Breaking Point
In July our team of SNP councillors on Stirling Council proposed and won a motion to have Stirling Council recognise the 1 in 5 campaign ( a campaign we in City of Stirling Branch have been behind for some time) to support and make politics more accessible for people with disabilities. They also highlighted the crumbling social care elements of Stirling Council services, which are at breaking point due to under-funding which was acknowledged by Council Leader Johanna Boyd. During this period Steven Paterson MP attended the Gillies Hill march in support of the local campaign to protect it from further quarrying. Paterson also brought Gillies Hill up in Parliament and he wrote to Stirling Council regarding its intransigence on the matter. The blight on the landscape that is the Stirling “Showground” an area roughly cleared for the Armed Forces day event in 2014 then promptly abandoned at huge expense to the public purse was aired by Cllr Jim Thomson and an Anti- Trident rally was supported by the SNP in Stirling City Centre.
Big Deals, Buses and Broken Promises
The prospect of Stirling capturing one of the UK Government City Deals was taken up and led by Steven Paterson MP who gained Scottish Government and all party support to secure the economic boost for the area. Paterson brought the issue up in Westminster and led a delegation to the Scottish Office and was backed by the SNP council team pledging support for the deal. The on going issue of re-timetabling of local bus services had also been on the agenda of Bruce Crawford and Steven Paterson and it was later also identified that Stirling Council was responsible for ensuring timetables at bus stops were adequately updated. City of Stirling Stirling Branch commenced its publicity for the National Survey asking for Scottish opinions on the EU Brexit issue and views on a further Independence Referendum to try to retain Scotland’s place in the EU. The state of Stirling’s roads and the broken promises in the maintenance of them was brought up by Cllr Graham Lambie who slammed the administration when it was revealed the areas roads were seventh worst in the whole of Scotland! Finally in an administration ‘right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing’, Labour Councillor Weir claimed ignorance on the cuts her administration were implementing.
City of Stirling Branch was pleased to host a hustings for the deputy leadership contest in the Golden Lion Hotel and we had a great turn out for the event, with Tommy Sheppard MP, Alyn Smith MEP and eventual winner Angus Robertson MP all speaking. Chris McEleny was unavailable on the night due to a prior commitment fuelling rumours that he had really been abducted, flown to Malta, and forced to watch the Scottish National team play football.
Borestone, the Bridge Branch Business and Burdens
SNP Councillors brought up the concerns of residents of the Broomridge area surrounding the upgrade of facilities at Borestone, the 719th Anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge was celebrated by a march and rally by the river and the ongoing burden of the PPP/PFI funding of schools in the area was once again raised.
The City of Stirling had its annual AGM (now moved to pre-conference in alignment with party rules) and our new Executive was elected for the forthcoming year and more meetings in support of the City Deal Bid were held.
If one issue deserves a heading all of its own, it’s the Bins. The issue of the Stirling Council’s new refuse collection service started to rear its ugly head around September. The whole service was changed requiring residents to hold on to 4 wheelie bins and a Glass recycling box with a rearranged collection service. This new service has been nothing short of shambolic with residents not getting their bins, many not having the space to store them anyway, Council Staff being overworked to operate the service, bin collections not being done to schedule or at all, and the proposed savings from the new service… well, going in the bin! If ever there is a single more visible example of the ineptitude of this council leadership then the bins fiasco is it. We’re now 4 months in, and the service is seemingly getting worse! With uplifts not happening so frequently that residents are compelled to leave bins on kerb-sides for weeks at a time in the vain hope they might be uplifted. It is simply not good enough. The images below show residents have given up trying to guess what will be collected or not in any given week in the same collection area!
Benny’s Budgetary Blunder, Business Support and BBC Bias
It should be no surprise reading the stories above that Finance and Tory Group leader Neil Benny still failed to meet his forecast budgetary targets. SNP Councillors took him to task for his merciless cuts and failed leadership of the situation. Support for businesses was aired by Steven Paterson MP in Westminster and the local Yes group aired the first showing in the area of the documentary London Calling highlighting bias on the BBC. The full film can be seen on You Tube now and will be distributed in DVD format sometime in the near future. Share and share again!
Backroom Deals, Big Coffee Mornings, Budgets and Brexit
Backroom deals around the farcical Priority Based Budgeting process was brought under the spotlight once again by SNP Councillors in November. This month also saw our representatives speaking to EU nationals and the Scottish Public on the outcome of the Brexit vote and what it means for them and Scotland. As the year drew to a close SNP councillors welcomed the draft budget set out by SNP Finance Secretary Derek MacKay in Holyrood. Steven Paterson and MSP Bruce Crawford hosted a “Big coffee morning event” for MacMillan raising over £380 for the charity. The last few months of the year saw the Branch host a number of guests at our Branch meetings who stimulated debate. Lesley Riddoch came to talk about Land Reform and Peter A Bell came to express some views about a future Independence referendum.
So as you can see a busy year- it’s hard to believe all this happened and more in 2016! You can read all the press releases ( there are so many we could not include them all on this review of the year by Steven Paterson MP, Bruce Crawford MSP and the Council Group. It’s worth saying thanks to Lee Robb, branch Press Officer, for all the sterling ( or should that be Stirling! ) work done in 2016 preparing the PRs for release to the press and public, as well as our branch convener, Andrew Szwebs, for holding it all together during an extremely busy last few years. We hope members, supporters and all residents of the Stirling area have a happy and prosperous New year when it comes. We’ll see you on the campaign trail in 2017!