MOST of our readers will recall a failed attempt by a breakaway Tory group for the right to hold a referendum on Dumfries and Galloway’s future if Scotland votes to become independent.
The National ran the story last year about councillors Peter Diggle and Ian Carruthers, of the six-strong Dumfries and Galloway Independents (DGIG) who had split from the local Tory group, and their motion before a full council meeting calling for the local authority to seek Westminster approval for a vote to allow residents to decide whether the region would remain part of the UK or leave with Scotland.
Their bid was thrown out and Diggle expressed disappointment that he didn’t get greater support from pro-union councillors.
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An interesting wee nugget is that Diggle isn’t standing in the local elections this time around, despite achieving the highest votes in his ward as a Tory candidate in the last elections in the Annandale North ward.
However, Annandale South councillor Carruthers is back in the Tory Party fold running as a full-fledged Scottish Conservative and Unionist candidate, along with DGIG councillors Karen Carruthers, who is now Tory candidate for Annandale East and Eskdale, and Graham Bell, representing the Tories in North West Dumfries, who is said to have ditched the Conservatives because he felt the SNP was being allowed to run the council.
Talking recently about his forthcoming departure from local politics, Diggle said: “It’s been an interesting five years, some of which I have enjoyed. I started full of good intentions but the political and bureaucratic nature of the council eventually wears you down and stifles the ability to achieve your goals.”
He added: “I will continue to campaign in favour of the Union as I am sure that Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t like to see Dumfries and Galloway taken out of the United Kingdom against its will.”
Hoping to be re-elected for a third term is Annandale North ward’s current longest serving councillor, Gail Macgregor, D&G Conservative and Unionist Group secretary. She was first elected in 2007 and re-elected in 2012.
Other long-term councillors such as Andy Ferguson, SNP group leader, and Labour council leader Ronnie Nicholson, both North West Dumfries councillors, are some of the names bidding to get back in for another five years.
Labour councillor Tom McAughtrie, who was suspended from the Labour Party last September amid allegations of homophobia, is standing again in the Abbey ward, which covers Dalbeattie and the Colvend coast, but not as a Labour candidate this time. Instead, he is standing with no political classification, against Labour councillor and local election candidate David Stitt, who has been campaigning for more police presence on the streets after a huge rise in crime.
SNP candidates in Dumfries and Galloway are hugely ambitious and area pinning their hopes on forming the first SNP-led council. They are standing on a platform of transformative change and big ambition for the region, including an aim to become Europe’s first carbon neutral region.
Last week the candidates launched their D&G SNP manifesto which vows that an SNP-led council will work towards and deliver carbon neutrality, empower communities and people by supporting community ownership of land and buildings, and make sure the Scottish Government’s childcare funding is delivered fairly and flexibly.
Another major issue close to their hearts is their plans to take forward controversial £25 million flood defences. All nine SNP members and candidates for the Nithsdale Wards have vowed to give local residents and businesses a voice in the decision over the Whitesands flood prevention scheme in Dumfries.
When The National took our roadshow to Dumfries and Galloway, SNP group leader Andy Ferguson told us: “SNP councillors and candidates make a firm commitment to the people of Dumfries. Once we have the outcome of the statutory process which is currently underway, we revisit the matter by putting it to the people of Dumfries – collectively the people will decide what happens on the Whitesands.”
Tourism is a big business, worth over £300m to Dumfries and Galloway. Part of it is dubbed the Scottish Riviera, thanks to the rolling hills, dramatic coastline and 200 miles of golden sandy beaches. The region also has an impressive, gold-tier, dark sky park.
The SNP’s local council manifesto pledges to invest in tourism, food and drink, and campaign for a Regional Growth Deal. However, the council looks to be heading for a coalition, with no party having enough candidates to take control.