After the two candidates for convener of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board had made their speeches last Monday, Cllr Fergus Wood asked if he could put a question to the candidates. The answer from convener Linda McKay and Governance Manager Amanda Aitkman was NO. Cllr Fergus then gave a resigned shrug of his shoulders. I could sense his frustration.
Candidates for election always try and present themselves in the best light and written statements and speeches rarely reveal much. Having listened to both candidates and read their statements I could not tell what they really stood for and I suspect Cllr Woods didn’t either. He wanted to know something, was right to ask and if he and other members had been allowed to do so, the way they voted might have changed. That is surely what democracy should be about. It is not a coincidence that it was Fergus Woods, an elected councillor, asked this question. It will have been based on his own experience of being selected as a candidate for his party in his ward: he will have been subject to questioning and subsequently may well have been subject to questioning by the general public at election hustings. So why couldn’t Board Members question the candidates for National Park convener?
It turns out there is no reason why he should not have been allowed to ask a question. Since the meeting, I have had a look at the Board Standing Orders which have a section on election of convener and this says NOTHING about whether Board Members could ask questions of candidates or not (see above). Therefore at the very least what Linda McKay as convener should have done is stated that asking questions of candidates was not covered in Standing Orders and asked the meeting what they wanted to do. She didn’t and in effect closed off any opportunity to scrutinise candidates claims. This was wrong.
Unfortunately no Board Member challenged Linda McKay on this. I suspect this is illustrative of her time as convener, the current Board is simply not used to challenging what their convener and other Government nominees say. This was well demonstrated by the Owen McKee case (see here) and (here). The LLTNPA Board badly needs an injection of democracy and to become far more transparent about how they operate. Current Board Members should not leave this to their new Convener to decide when he takes up post on 1st March, they should demand it of him and staff.