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Highland Council independent group kicks out councillor for being 'too independent'

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillor Andrew Baxter.
Councillor Andrew Baxter.

One of the most respected members of the Highland Council political administration has been ejected from the Independent group for being 'too independent'.

Fort William and Ardnamurchan member Andrew Baxter was informed by email the leadership no longer wanted him in the group after they accused him of being too critical of its performance and voting his own way.

He hit back saying the administration, headed by leader Councillor Margaret Davidson, sought to stifle 'any debate or dissent' and 'if you are independent minded you are not welcome in the independent group'.

He said: “And at long last we have seen what many people have said for a long time and that is they operate like a quasi political group.”

It means the administration coalition made up of 26 independent members, nine Liberal Democrats, and three from the Scottish Labour party has shaved its own majority down to two.

The straw that appears to have broken the camel’s back for council bosses was when he reposted a video by Conservative group leader Councillor Andrew Jarvie attacking the administration leadership.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said she would not 'dwell' on the situation but noted this is the first time the group has ever removed a member.

“We are a group of independents who work together and we do not ask people not to be part of the group as a rule, this is the first time we have ever done it,” she said.

“We have been very tolerant, however, recently Andrew has frequently been moving against the administration of the council of which the Independent group is an integral part.

“The video that he reposted the other night contained some serious factual errors – and that was about the financial position of the council – we just believe the Highland public deserves better.”

Councillor Baxter responded, saying: “I was given three reasons for my ejection from the independent group.

“Firstly, that I have personal opinions that differ from the independent group as a whole – they didn’t say what they were.

“The second, that I posted or shared Councillor Andrew Jarvie’s video onto the independent councillors Facebook page earlier this week and they believe that contained factual errors and deceptions.

“And thirdly, over recent months I have made a series of speeches and consistently voted against the administration which the independent group is an integral part of meaning that I was no longer able to remain a member of the group.

“This came from council leader Councillor Margaret Davidson and budget leader Councillor Alister Mackinnon.

“I am saddened from the point of view that the whole point of an independent group of councillors on the council is that we all have differing opinions, for being too independent.

“By the very fact that we are elected as an independent councillor we are there to express those independent opinions and represent the views of our constituents and our wards and, if need be, challenge the administration in robust and critical terms.

“I am not there nor do I think any independent councillor should be there to cow-tow to the existing administration even though they are independent councillors within it.

“It clearly shows the current leadership are not prepared to see any debate or dissent, they want to prevent that and if you are independent minded you are not welcome in the independent group.

“And at long last we have seen what many people have said for a long time and that is they operate like a quasi political group.”

Councillor Baxter has already established a grouping for himself titled Real Independent.

Over the last three years, he has gone from being an integral member of the administration as deputy budget leader then chairman of the education committee to virtual outsider.

He resigned from the administration because of his stance on protecting his Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward interests after the council blocked the local area committee’s decision to offer free parking in the run-up to Christmas.

The administration eventually caved-in because other areas in the Highlands had refused to introduce parking charges at all.

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