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Senior Lochaber councillor Andrew Baxter has been unceremoniously booted out of the independent group on Highland Council after a bitter row over staffing and school budgets.
Councillor Baxter (Fort William and Ardnamurchan), who has been on the council since 2012, said he received an official email yesterday (Thursday) telling him he was to leave the group immediately.
Councillor Baxter, who now becomes a non-aligned member – he has flagged himself as a ‘Real Independent’ – forfeits his seat on the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, although remains chair of Lochaber Area Committee for now.
His expulsion came after he posted a video on the independent group’s Facebook page, which had been compiled by Conservative group leader Councillor Andrew Jarvie attacking the administration leadership, but which has been alleged to contain factual errors on the local authority’s financial position,
Commenting afterwards, Councillor Baxter said: ‘When is an independent councillor not allowed to have different views from other independent councillors? When is an independent councillor not allowed to make speeches that criticise Highland Council When is an independent councillor not allowed to vote against the council administration when their policies are incorrect or need changing? When is an independent councillor not allowed to ask questions of council officers at committee meetings?
‘The answer to all those questions is when you are a member of the independent group of councillors on Highland Council. I hadn’t realised that if you disagree or dissent with the leadership you can no longer be an independent councillor.
‘But thankfully that was clarified when they sent me this email during yesterday’s Education Committee clearing up my misunderstanding and providing their definition of an independent councillor. I now sit on the council as a real independent.’
Fellow independent Ben Thompson (Caol and Mallaig) said he was sorry to see Councillor Baxter leave the group: ‘ I think Lochaber benefits when our councillors speak loudly with one voice, so we often need to work together, and I’ve no doubt we will continue to do that.’
The Lochaber Times has asked the independent group councillors Margaret Davidson (Leader of Highland Council) and Alister Mackinnon (Budget Leader) for a statement on Councillor Baxter’s expulsion.