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Anger is building among communities in South Lochaber over the expulsion of popular local councillor, Andrew Baxter, from the group of Independents in the ruling Highland Council administration.
Last week we reported how Mr Baxter (Fort William and Ardnamuchan) was unceremoniously booted out of the group after he posted a video on the Independents’ own Facebook page attacking the administration leadership, which was alleged to contain factual errors on the local authority’s financial position.
The video was compiled by Conservative group leader, Councillor Andrew Jarvie, and concerned issues over school budgets.
Apparently, his sharing of the video was the last straw, with the group’s leaders, Margaret Davidson and Andrew Mackinnon, saying it was the culmination of months of speeches and votes against the administration.
But now two Lochaber community councils have waded into the row, throwing their support firmly behind Mr Baxter.
Nether Lochaber and Ballachulish community councils have both written to convey their anger at the way he has been treated, while others are expected to follow suit this week.
In the letter from Nether Lochaber Community Council, chairperson, Iain Jenner, voiced the council’s ‘deep disquiet and anger’ over the matter.
Mr Jenner went on to say Mr Baxter had been and remained a ‘good friend to our community and to our neighbours in South Lochaber.’
And he added: ‘His conduct as an elected representative for our area in engaging with
individuals and community groups is second to none. He has our full support and this will continue for good reason.
‘He is well-liked, trusted and seen as one of our most potent voices for enabling communities to become more empowered, and in being dealt with fairly by Highland Council.’
Mr Jenner told the Independent group leaders that its treatment of Mr Baxter, along with his treatment by Highland Council as a whole, amounted to a ‘gagging order’.
And Mr Jenner added: ‘Sanctioning a representative for doing their job in pursuing challenging issues at this time, speaks volumes about how your administration views those whom you are elected by and paid to represent. We are to be excluded, it seems.’
In its letter of support for Mr Baxter, Ballachulish Community Council chairperson Kevin Smith stated: ‘We believe the actions and points raised by Andrew at various meetings were wholly appropriate where he highlighted community concerns over the Highland Council finances and the actions proposed for the education system.
‘We strongly support Andrew Baxter and Niall McLean [SNP councillor for the same ward] in their efforts to raise our community concerns at the local and central level.
‘We do not accept that they ever raised any issue to cause offence only to seek clarification on various matters. To be told at a meeting you cannot raise questions that
impinge on the communities is not only undemocratic to an elected councillor but also the communities that elected them.’
The Lochaber Times emailed both Mrs Davidson and Mr Mackinnon over a week ago asking for a comment on Mr Baxter’s expulsion and none has been forthcoming.