Cllr Meghan Gallacher is the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Group on North Lanarkshire Council.
In early May last year, I was honoured to be elected as a Councillor for the Motherwell West Ward in North Lanarkshire. For those who remember the closure of Ravenscraig, you will be aware that Motherwell and the surrounding area is not typically a Conservative stronghold.
I remember on the day of the election being told the “Tories” would never make a comeback in North Lanarkshire. But having fought the Scottish Parliamentary election in 2016, we knew we had to build on the success of Ruth Davidson and her 30 MSPs in Holyrood, and we were determined not to let her or our Party down.
Whilst we were quietly confident on the day of the Scottish Local Government election result, I don’t believe we could have been prepared for the events that unfolded, and I am delighted that we now have a 9-strong contingent within North Lanarkshire Council, the first Conservative group in its history.
North Lanarkshire used to be dominated by Labour, but with the rise of the SNP, it is now a closely fought contest between the socialists, and the populist separatists. Due to the previous formations of the Council, I believe this left many voters seeking an alternative, a group who would hold the administration to account, but would prevent the separatists from gaining control of North Lanarkshire.
With the electorate voting in nine Conservative Councillors, this has changed the make-up of the Council entirely. It is no longer just two parties screaming across the chamber in attempts to “out-left” each other. We have provided a new, fresh voice that has championed local issues, supported important incentives such as ‘dementia friends’ and engaged in many debates. As the only elected female Councillor within the group, I was humbled when the group voted me as their group leader. As a woman, being elected as group leader was another first for North Lanarkshire Council, and I am proud that it is my party leading the way here, as Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party did in 1979.
My first seven months have been challenging, yet rewarding. My group is in the process of creating a budget, which we will present in February. Being the only centre-right party within the Council, I am confident that it will provide a sensible approach to Local Government.
Before the Christmas break, my group was briefed on the Council’s housing ambition for North Lanarkshire, with many new projects that will see the county’s skyline change forever. In our towns, aside from the hustle and bustle of the daily commute, we have many high-rise towers (48 in total), particularly within the Motherwell and Wishaw area.
It is the Council’s intention to modernise town centres by demolishing the towers gradually over the next 20 years, with a consultation process starting early this year. We have the space in North Lanarkshire to build, with more brownfield sites than anywhere else in Scotland, and modernisation of town centres is greatly needed. It is a bold plan, but if we do not implement the correct infrastructure to support the number of houses North Lanarkshire desperately needs, it will fail.
I know that my group will play a key role in the future of North Lanarkshire’s landscape, and it comes at a time where the its political dynamic has become more diverse.