Row over council leader's failed bid to revive historic title

Councillor David Fairweather stormed out of the meeting after his bid to bring back the historic title of Bailie was denied.Councillor David Fairweather stormed out of the meeting after his bid to bring back the historic title of Bailie was denied.
Councillor David Fairweather stormed out of the meeting after his bid to bring back the historic title of Bailie was denied.
The former leader of Angus Council slammed his laptop shut and stormed out of a meeting after his bid to bring back a historic title was denied.

Independent councillor for Arbroath West, Letham and Friockheim, David Fairweather said he was “gobsmacked” and “absolutely shocked” at the result of the vote before walking out of the recent meeting.

Mr Fairweather, who was leader from 2018 until May’s elections this year, wanted to grant long-serving member and former Provost Ronnie Proctor the honorary title of ‘Bailie’ .

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But the move was blocked by an SNP amendment meaning no return of the title last used in the district half a century ago.

One councillor described the ‘Baillie’ title as an “archaic, hierarchical, appointment system” consigned to the past.

Mr Fairweather stormed out of the meeting after issuing an angry parting statement and did not return to the chamber for the remaining four hours of the meeting.

A debate on how to tackle Angus Council’s £51 million financial black hole was held in that time.

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He also had a brief spat with Provost Brian Boyd over when to go to the vote.

Mr Fairweather said: “Councillor Boyd, I will no longer refer to you as Provost, until you begin to act like one.

“This decision today shames Angus Council. I record my dissent.

"I will remove myself from this room as a protest to this disgraceful pettiness from the SNP and the two stooges that they’ve got.

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“I will go before I say anything more that I regret,” concluded Mr Fairweather.

Mr Fairweather’s motion had been seconded by Conservative councillor for Arbroath East and Lunan, Derek Wann.

Current council leader, Beth Whiteside, however put in an amendment that no action be taken.

It won by 16 votes to 10.

Mr Proctor, who is a Conservative councillor for Kirriemuir and Dean, is also a retired Black Watch Major and the council’s veterans’ champion.

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The position arose in the burghs, where bailies formerly held a post similar to that of an alderman or magistrate.

Historically the post also used to be synonymous with provost, with several officials holding this role often at the appointment of the Church.

Bailies also traditionally appointed the high constables in Edinburgh, Leith and Perth.

The office and duties of baillie were abolished under The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

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Yet, modern bailies still exist in some Scottish local councils, with the position being a courtesy title, including in neighbouring Dundee City Council which now appoints five after the position was revived in 2003.

More recently, West Dunbartonshire Council revived the position in 2017.

There is no financial gain from having the title, but a bailie can stand in for a provost or depute provost at civic ceremonies and events and are often asked to provide support on such occasions.

Earlier, Ms Whiteside said that other issues must take precedence.

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She said: “By bringing an amendment to this motion, I mean absolutely no disrespect to Councillor Proctor…

“…People of Angus are facing the bleakest of winters, with food, energy and mortgage costs soaring.

“Similarly, we only need to look at the medium term budget strategy paper later in this agenda, to understand the scale of the challenge faced by the council itself over the next few years.

“And yet, the most pressing issue facing our friends in opposition, is how to reinstate an archaic, honorary title for one of their team.”

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Supporting the amendment, Councillor George Meechan, also representing Mr Proctor’s ward, said: “I cannot support the return of an archaic, hierarchical, appointment system, which was rightly abolished by the local government act…

“…I think the days of tugging your forelock to those betters has gone and should remain, as it has been, abolished.”

After Mr Fairweather left the chamber, the provost, Independent Carnoustue councillor Brian Boyd, said among summary comments: “Let’s stop the petty politics now, and move forward.”

After the meeting, the SNP-led Administration emphasised its position that the title would have added another position to the civic team, which it considers to be already served well by the provost and Depute Provost Councillor Linda Clark.

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The administration has already taken steps to modernise both roles of Provost, including reducing the wearing of chains, removing the provost’s car and reducing officer support.

An administration spokesperson said that this was a key pledge made when the administration came to power in May, when its policy platform was endorsed by the Angus electorate.

He also said that its current priority is to support those on the lowest incomes through the cost-of-living crisis.

Ms Whiteside added: “The council also faces huge financial challenges, driven largely by Tory economic policy.

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“We opposed this motion today because Councillors should be focused on steps to assist communities through the cost crisis, not bestowing unnecessary, archaic titles on ourselves.

“For as long as we are in administration, the SNP’s priority is to give as much support as we can to those on the lowest incomes – including our now-expanded £1.15 million cost-of-living fund.

“We will discharge that task in line with the emphatic mandate we received from the people of Angus in May.”