Highland Council decision by MSPs could derail future border reviews

The head of an independent commission set up to examine electoral boundaries fears he has been left in an “untenable position” by PSMs who have rejected controversial proposals for a city council reshuffle in the Highlands.

Boundaries Scotland chairman Ronnie Hinds said the decision by a Holyrood committee in September raised “serious concerns”.

Members of the Scottish Parliament’s local government committee voted against proposed new limits for the Highland Council and Argyll and Bute Council, sending the committee back to the drawing board.

This followed objections raised by representatives of the two local authorities, including fears that the reduction in the number of councilors in the northern Highland neighborhoods could hamper efforts to combat depopulation.

Ronnie Hinds, Chairman of Boundaries Scotland

In a letter to the president of the committee Ariane BurgessMr Hinds questioned the decision, suggesting that opposition from the councils appeared to be the only justification.

He warned that this could have major consequences for the commission in the future, effectively forcing local authorities to approve the changes before moving forward.

“There is no reason given for the recommendation to reject the proposals at Highland and Argyll and Bute other than the lack of satisfaction of the board,” he said.

“This implies that board acceptance is necessary for the adoption of our recommendations by the Scottish Parliament.

“Fundamental challenge”

“This requirement is not provided for by law and poses a fundamental challenge to the conduct of future reviews and to the role and purpose of the commission.

Mr Hinds, who is due to meet with Ms Burgess to discuss the decision, added: “This puts the commission in an untenable position.

Ariane Burgess MSP

“We are independent from the Scottish Government, political parties, the public and local authorities.

“While it is still hoped that solutions will be found that align with local views, the commission’s ultimate responsibility is to propose electoral arrangements that comply with the law and to promote fairness in electoral representation. “

In his report detailing his decision, the committee said: “While the committee commends the work of Boundaries Scotland in these areas and acknowledges the organization’s view on the negative impact of not realigning the boundaries in time for the local authority elections of next year he believes there is still work to be done to find a solution acceptable to both Boundaries Scotland and Highland and Argyll and Bute Council.

“He therefore agreed to recommend that the instruments not be approved. “