Friday September 1st 2023
East Lothian Scottish Greens councillor Shona McIntosh.
East Lothian’s only Green councillor helped block an urgent motion calling on the council to declare a nature emergency, amid claims opposition colleagues were given less than 24 hours to consider it.
The council’s Labour administration put forward the motion at a virtual meeting earlier this week but failed to get the required two thirds of votes to allow it to be heard.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting the SNP group and Green Councillor Shona McIntosh dismissed the Labour motion for simply ’paying lip service’ to the current crisis.
And they said that while they agreed with the call for the local authority to make the declaration, they believed it required cross party debate.
The urgent motion put forward by Council leader Norman Hampshire on behalf of the Labour group set out the “alarming extent of the global nature and biodiversity crisis” and called for “urgent action” to be taken to reverse it.
It called for reports from officers on how policies already in place were working to tackle the crisis comparing the declaration of a nature emergency to the council’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019.
Council standing orders do not allow for motions to be brought before elected members without due time given for them to consider them.
The Labour group asked the meeting to suspending standing orders to allow their ‘urgent motion’ to be included on the agenda despite not giving them the time required but needed two thirds of councillors to back the move.
All six SNP councillors and Cllr McIntosh voted against the suspension leaving just 12 supporting it – too few to approve it.
Following the meeting Councillor Lyn Jardine, SNP group leader, said: “Council Standing Orders are designed to ensure the democratic process is fair and enable effective representation of community’s concerns.
“While Cllr McIntosh and myself were only elected just over a year ago, we appreciate that giving our cross party colleagues an opportunity to contribute effectively to discussion and to shaping the final wording of motions is critical to ensuring policy development is paid more than lip service.
“The SNP group looks forward to having the same opportunity to shape East Lothian Council’s commitment to tackling the nature emergency at a future meeting.”
The opposing councillors said that while they wished to street that they supported the council’s desire to declare and act on the nature emergency “motions of this sort are most useful when they make specific pledges or commitments that lead to good quality action.”
In their joint statement they said: “Opposition councillors had less than 24 hours to consider this important topic.
“It is the joint view of the SNP and the Scottish Greens that this is not enough time for proper debate and scrutiny of this issue.”
Councillor McIntosh also raised concerns about last minute papers putting unfair pressure on members who may have additional responsibilities.
She said: “‘Urgent motions should only be used if there really is no alternative to giving elected members the designated timeframe to consider the motion.
“Last-minute papers are particularly difficult to scrutinise properly for members who have caring responsibilities, so this is partly an issue of ensuring councils have working cultures which don’t disproportionately disadvantage certain groups.
“I really look forward to contributing to a future discussion of the nature emergency in a debate in which all councillors have had equal opportunity
to prepare their response.”