From sole Councillor to Defector General: How South Lanarkshire Liberal Democrats tripled our numbers and joined the Administration!
This article is written by Cllr Robert Brown, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on South Lanarkshire Council.
I was elected as Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rutherglen South ward in 2012 (after a previous history as a councillor and MSP). In 2017 a bit of a revival by the Conservatives put paid to our hopes of growing the Group and I was again the only Liberal Democrat on South Lanarkshire Council.
Throughout the period (except during Covid), Focus was delivered reasonably regularly and we had a weekly canvass outing, latterly with highly-effective Knock’n’Drop surveys. Progress cannot be made without regular face to face contact with voters.
Being a Councillor gives you standing with officials so you can get action on ward issues. I claim without exaggeration that I asked more questions in Committee that the whole of the other Opposition groups combined. Some issues – like housing regeneration in my ward or the lack of adequate Question Time procedures – gained local publicity or were material for Focus.
Things changed in 2019. In quick succession, I was joined by a young Conservative councillor, Mark McGeever, and by Fiona Dryburgh, the Labour Group Business Manager.
These two defections enhanced my standing in the Scottish Party no end but they came unexpectedly out of the blue without any move on my part. Both my new colleagues were natural Liberals who had found their true home – they joined because the Party had a clear stance on Europe and because they found our approach on the local council non-tribal and appealing.
Although we had had two good by-elections where our vote had leaped to a position where we might hope to win (under STV) a seat at a full election, I was tempted to give up elections in favour of defections as a better way to grow the Party!
South Lanarkshire Liberal Democrats were now a recognised group and had much more clout. We gained Budget commitments for spend on pavements, climate change and education in particular. The Liberal Democrats were seen as punching above our weight.
In 2022, we tripled our elected numbers to 3. Mark held his seat in Hamilton and Norman Rae won in Cambuslang. Gloria Adebo missed Rutherglen Central by only 27 votes. Fiona had stood down for job reasons and her successor Paul McGarry also narrowly missed in East Kilbride South.
Labour and Liberal Democrats together were now the largest group, kicked the SNP out and formed a Progressive Administration. Our Administration is a strong one and should endure, not least as we see the squabbling SNP decay. I chair the powerful Communities & Enterprise Committee, Mark chairs the Climate Change Committee and we have a Partnership Agreement to deliver key LD priorities.
Our big problem now is to grow our membership and delivery network to match our current size and to support our aspiration to triple our numbers again in 2027. 15 new members and 15 new deliverers since last May is a modest but helpful start. We have however demonstrated that a Liberal Democrat vote can be very effective even in West Central Scotland.
Councillor Robert Brown
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group
South Lanarkshire Council
An encouraging reflection - I will share with our branch in hope of encouraging more regular door knocking, leafleting and surveying!