Cllr David Meikle on being the youngest councillor (and only Conservative councillor) in Glasgow.
My name’s David Meikle, I live in Glasgow and I’m a Conservative. The very idea of Glaswegian Conservatives may come as a surprise to some ConservativeHome readers but even more of a surprise may be that I also happen to be Conservative Group Leader on Glasgow City Council. Mind you I am the only Conservative councillor on Glasgow City Council!
Not only do the Conservatives have a councillor in Glasgow we also have a Member of the Scottish Parliament (Bill Aitken, the party’s justice spokesman). How? Through sheer hard-work by a small, but growing, dedicated team of activists who work across the City out of a well resourced HQ. For example, over the course of a two-month campaign, run on the positive message of a ‘cleaner, greener and safer Pollokshields’, we delivered around 50,000 pieces of literature through letterboxes and knocked on hundreds of doors in my ward alone. We actually targeted three council seats at the 2007 election and were close to winning all three but just fell short. However, we will be working even harder at the next local government election to ensure I have at least a seconder in the City Chambers! (Not sure when the election will take place because they have recently been decoupled from the Scottish Parliament elections.)
As well as being the sole Conservative representative I am also the youngest councillor on Glasgow City Council. I was elected in May 2007 under the Single Transferable Vote system as one of three councillors representing the Pollokshields Ward, which covers a large geographical area on the southside of Glasgow, including Maxwell Park, Strathbungo and Waverley Park. I, along with a Labour and SNP councillor, represent around 17,000 ethnically, socially and economically diverse constituents, so it is a really interesting place to be the councillor for.
Glasgow City Council’s structure is based on an Executive Committee chaired by the leader of the administration with opposition members and five (soon to be four) policy development and scrutiny committees, which meet every four weeks and can call-in decisions by the Executive Committee. In addition there are also regulatory type committees such as Planning and Licensing. Councillors also sit on outside bodies and boards. Full Council meets every six weeks where we approve the minutes and debate motions and the civic head of the Council is the Lord Provost. (Bailies are also appointed to deputise for the Provost at civic functions.)
The Council is still run outright by Labour with 47 councillors (this
includes two defections, including one from the SNP) but there is now a
significant opposition: the SNP has 21 councillors, Lib Dems 5 and the
Green Party 5. To give you some idea of how much of a change this is in
Glasgow, before 2007 Labour had 69 out of a possible 79 councillors
hence Council meetings, which all take place during the day, are
slightly more interesting now than they were back then.
I have enjoyed every minute of my time so far as an elected member. I
have my own office, sit on four committees and a couple of outside
bodies, hold three surgeries across the ward, and attend two community
councils. The casework I have worked on with since my election has been
huge but as my fellow Conservative councillors will know it is entirely
rewarding. I would say a typical week for me is about 40 hours: for
example, a day could include casework, a committee, meeting with
officers and a community council. Weekends can also be busy with events
and home visits.
Because of the new system and the fact that Scottish councillors
receive a part-time salary of £15k a lot of the councillors in Glasgow
are full-time. Councillors can also claim expenses for say mileage and
a stay at a hotel if attending a conference – all receipted and
available for public viewing, of course.
As a local authority the priorities for Glasgow are in my opinion the
Council’s finances (projected overspend unless £20m savings are found),
planning for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the continued
redevelopment of the City, including the Clyde waterfront. (Note: If
your idea of how Glasgow looks is from reading English newspapers
during the Glasgow East by-election then you will be ignorant of the
huge changes going on in the City.)
The biggest issues in Pollokshields would be: speeding drivers;
anti-social behaviour; planning (from householder’s extensions to
large-scale flatted housing developments); Network Rail felling trees;
revitalising Shawlands town centre; and improving the local
environment. I also resigned from the Planning Committee over its
decision to approve ‘Go Ape’ in Pollok Country Estate. ‘Go Ape’ is a
high wire adventure assault course and the company proposed to site one
in the treetops of an ancient woodland in a park which was gifted to
the City of Glasgow by the Maxwell family as a country estate.
Locally I run regular campaigns, such as Keep our Post Office Open, Buy
Local Eat Local and Bad IDea. Since my election we have delivered five
intouch newsletters, a residents’ survey and a Christmas card across
the ward. I also send out email updates to hundreds of constituents and
community groups. I organise clean-ups and help organise events. I try
and engage positively with the local media like the Extra and Evening
Times and attempt to keep a blog going.
And thanks to Harry Phibbs, I also have answers to the 100 questions a
councillor should ask council officers!
At heart I am a community councillor who actively engages and
communicates with my constituents. All my work is geared toward
maintaining that most important link: between a local resident and
their councillor. Parliaments legislate but it is local authorities
across the UK who implement – and bear the brunt of criticism! But that
makes being a councillor exciting and challenging and I hope this has
given you some idea into what I do up here in Glasgow…as the
Conservative Group Leader.