We are now in to the pre-Referendum period, and senior council officers are going over-board in reminding councillors and staff of the pitfalls of falling foul of the Referendum Act. This is rightly intended to prevent the abuse of council resources for political purposes. Yet, if you give a bureaucrat a set of rules they always seems to interpret them over-cautiously and their natural “Big Brother” tendency kicks in.
So we see the spectacle of Referendum debates being banned in Highland schools, at exactly the time we should be encouraging young people to engage in the democratic process. Silly missives are sent from council headquarters, stating that councillors must NOT wear campaign badges showing support for either side of the referendum argument whilst attending council meetings. Councillors are forbidden from mentioning support for either side at committee meetings, with committee chairman advised that the webcast of the meeting will be promptly switched off. And for those forgetful councillors, who inadvertently head to Inverness with a campaign sticker in their car, they will be in big trouble if they park it in the council car park.
We should always safeguard the political neutrality of council officers, but councillors operate on a political level, whether that is party-political or even as an independent. Many councillors are actively campaigning during the referendum. That is their right in a democracy. Attempting to stifle that democratic vibrancy is bureaucratic overkill.
As for me, I am off to find car stickers from both the Yes and Better Together campaigns to see if my car gets towed away from the council car park if I have the audacity to display them alongside each other.