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Three veteran independent councillors standing down at this May’s local election gave their goodbyes, thanks, and regrets at a meeting of Oban, Lorn and the Isles Area Committee meetings recently.
Amid the warm words and memories of battles won and lost, one Mull councillor Mary-Jean Devon revealed she had decided to leave following hurtful comments on social media over the last year.
Councillor Devon (Oban South and the Isles) said: ‘I have been a councillor for 15 years, and during that time I have had three policy leads. I think the highlight has been the Corporate Parenting Board. The Scottish Government brought out the Children and Young People Act in 2014, and I think it was one of the best things any government could do.
‘Within weeks, we had 55 young people getting driving lessons, we got them passes into all of Argyll and Bute’s leisure centres, we got them into computers.
‘Unfortunately, financially that has not happened in the last couple of years, but it was a great board and it was just such a great thing the government did, protecting even more of our young people.
‘I’ve enjoyed my time as a councillor, but the last year I found…it becomes very personal with some people. You know, they just think they can say what they like, when they like, and they put it up on Facebook, and it does, it hurts. I think more than anything it hurts your family, and my family were getting quite upset about things, so time to go.
‘But I’ve enjoyed it, and I know we are leaving our young people in a much better place than they were in. We might not be very good at many things, but we are good at our care.
‘I’ll miss it. There’ll be no early mornings – no four o’clock or half four getting up and standing in the rain waiting on the bus to take me to the ferry. I will miss that as well, believe it or not. But it’s been great working with you all, and no doubt I’ll see you about Oban at some point.’
Another departing councillor, Roddy McCuish (Oban South and the Isles), said: ‘I first got elected in 2007, an SNP councillor, [and] ended up leader of the SNP group, prospective candidate for Westminster, leader of the council, twice, depute provost, area chair, sat on several committees as vice chair, and I think for an ex postie from Dunbeg I’m quite proud of what I’ve done.
‘One of the proudest things we were part of when the SNP group took over the council, in that ill-fated time, shall we say, that we will not go into, one of the first things we did was ensure that every council employee received a minimum wage.
‘There is a lot we can be proud of – look at the public realm work in Oban. The advice I would give to any councillors who are coming back again: go with your gut feeling. You’ll know what’s best for your communities better than anyone else will.
‘But it’s been good – 15 years has flown. I have made hundreds of mistakes that have been well publicised, but it’s where you are now, it’s not where you’ve been, so thank you all very much.’
A third retiring councillor, committee chairperson Elaine Robertson (Oban North and Lorn), asked if another councillor Sir Jamie McGrigor (Conservative, Oban South and the Isles) was planning to stand again.
‘When I left the Scottish Parliament after 17 years there, I thought I’d retired from any form of politics,’ Councillor McGrigor said. ‘And it was only when I was asked by the Conservatives if I would stand again, for the council, that I did so, so I have done five years. The first six months was more or less in and out of hospital. I’m feeling rather better and I think I’d like to continue if I can.
‘What I would like to say is that, people like yourself Elaine, and Mary-Jean and Roddy, have been inspirational to me and others as well. You are going to leave a terrific gap. I think you’ve done a great job for the area. I’m just rather hoping that I will be able to continue on for a bit longer.’
Councillor Kieron Green (Independent, Oban North and Lorn) added his tribute, saying: ‘All of you have been real examples of how to represent communities effectively. In terms of the rest of the committee, hopefully we will see as many of you as possible after the elections, along with some fresh faces.’
Councillor Julie McKenzie (SNP, Oban North and Lorn) said: ‘To you three outgoing councillors, thank you so much on a personal level for the support you have given me over the last six years. You come into this council, especially after a by-election, it’s like a baptism of fire. I certainly would not have continued, and be in the position I am today, if I hadn’t relied on the three of you for support and advice. As collegiate working goes, we do show an example to our community of just what’s possible.’
Councillor Jim Lynch (SNP, Oban South and the Isles) said: ‘We are blessed compared to some of the other area committees whereby we do work together. I think we help each other, and we all try to work for the communities as best we can. You are a hard act to follow. The high regard you have with the public in Oban is not to be underestimated.’
An emotional councillor Elaine Robertson concluded: ‘We have all managed to work together for the better good of our communities, which is very important.
‘I have thoroughly enjoyed being a councillor. I am probably the longest standing of 19 years. I have to describe the first morning, I shot up in bed and thought: what on earth have I done?
‘But do you know, it’s a vocation and a job. It’s something you want to do. It’s something you carry through to the best of your ability, and you can only do that in partnership. In partnership with your colleagues, in partnership with our officers, and in partnership with our communities. You are elected by your communities and you have to support them, and not just have to, you want to.
‘It hasn’t all been plain sailing. I’ve had times, many times, I still have, when I’m up in the middle of the night wondering how I can solve something, but you forget the difficult times when you get a breakthrough, so that is what I live for. And I would just like to thank everybody. It’s time to go.’