Q&A with Elaine Murray, Labour leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council
Holyrood asks the new Dumfries and Galloway Council leader about her experience of the role so far
Councillor Elaine Murray, Dumfries and Galloway Council - Image credit: Dumfries and Galloway Council
Why did you choose to become a council leader?
Elaine Murray: I didn’t actually choose – it came as a surprise. The previous leader of the Labour group, Ronnie Nicholson, had served for ten years, including three hard years as leader of a minority Labour administration and very understandably felt he had served his time. He proposed me for leader and it was unanimously agreed by the group. The position of leader of the council arose through our partnership agreement with the SNP group.
Has being leader of the council been like what you expected so far?
EM: Pretty much so, though the council has had some major issues from the time of the new administration taking over.
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How are you learning from your predecessor?
EM: Ronnie has offered support and advice from the time he nominated me, so I have been very fortunate.
What are you aiming to do differently from the previous administration?
EM: A majority partnership administration will be different from a minority one party administration, there are more people and a wider spectrum of views to be accommodated, but we do have the numbers to get our policies through. The overall general direction of the council has not changed.
What key changes have you set your sights on achieving?
EM: A more successful and confident Dumfries and Galloway, making it the best place to live work and learn and where there is opportunity for everyone.
What are the biggest challenges you are expecting in your area over the next few years?
EM: Undoubtedly austerity, as long as that continues.
How have you found it so far being in coalition? Is it a challenge to find common ground?
EM: Both parties understand that the Scottish constitution is not the business of Dumfries and Galloway Council, and we have agreed to differ and to set those differences aside. Finding common ground on the delivery of services has not been a problem. Our council plan has been built on our partnership agreement which was developed out of the manifesto commitments of both parties. There will be times when there will be differences of view on Scottish Government actions and these will have to be handled carefully.
There is still a significant gender imbalance in councils. How would you encourage more women to become councillors?
EM: That’s a difficult one! I always hope that women being visible in politics and particularly in positions of authority might encourage other women to believe that they could do it too, but I’m not sure that it does. It’s difficult to combine being councillor with other employment and I think that discourages younger people in general from getting involved, maybe women even more so if they also have caring / child care responsibilities as well. Also, councils tend to get the blame for everything, even those problems which aren’t the council’s responsibility, which isn’t a very attractive proposition. We need to positively promote all the good things councils do and the importance of local government.
If you were completely free to reform local government in Scotland, what would you change?
EM: I’d reform the way in which local government is financed, with a wider range of opportunities available to fund services and more local control.
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