Thursday, 28 June 2012

Leading from the front

What makes a good political leader? This question came to mind when I heard about the impending, then confirmed, resignation this week of Midlothian Council leader Lisa Beattie.

Whether at Council or Parliamentary level, a political group wants - needs - its leader to be assertive, confident and demanding. Indeed, without such qualities, the right questions will not be asked and effective scrutiny may be lacking. However, within a political group, a completely different skillset is required, necessary to hold together and balance the differing views contained within it.

This is a difficult balancing act to maintain and has been the downfall of many a politician and there are precious few who can pull it off successfully. Lisa is an experienced, very hard working and effective councillor, but if media reports and rumours are to believed, it would appear that it was an inability to fully connect internally which is her Achilles' heel.

There is no doubt that the SNP-Independent coalition is light on experience - only 3 of the 9 councillors were in office before May 3rd. I fully expected two of them, Owen Thompson and Bob Constable, to be in the forefront of the administration. I expected Owen at the very least to be Depute Leader of the council, given his past role as SNP Group leader. When that didn't happen, the alarm bells rang for me. The Labour group on the other hand has bags of experience and without the right people in place who know where the ambushes are going to take place, the SNP were on a hiding to nothing. And at this week's Council meeting it showed.

Full credit to the Labour Group - they saw the weaknesses and exploited them. Their criticism of how the resignation announcement was (or wasn't) made was spot on, and highlighting the lack of transparency evident to date was entirely justified. I do, however, feel their indignation excessive - the coalition has admitted it could have done some things better, but there still seems no sign from Labour that it's willing to sit round a table and discuss things rather than simply voting en bloc against everything.

The coalition needs to get its act together and learn quickly from its mistakes. Whilst it has indicated a willingness to reach consensus in a number of areas, in others it has not - particularly a move to a 6-week meeting cycle without proper consultation across the whole council. Consultation will be even more important if the administration is not at ease with itself. It only takes one by-election and everything is up for grabs.