Despite riverside debacle, Davidson deserves better than ‘good riddance’

by Colin Campbell

A RAFT of comments appeared online after it was announced that Margaret Davidson, Highland Council leader for the past seven years and a councillor for the past 27, would be quitting the local authority at the elections in May.

Good riddance… Not before time…27 years too late…  the tone, without exception, was harsh.

Some people can be a bit uncharitable, can’t they?

Twenty seven years labouring to serve the community and all you get is a frosty farewell and an instruction to close the door on your way out. Not even a scattered round of applause.

I’ve no doubt the council itself will organise something more appreciative and elaborate to mark Mrs Davidson’s departure. But they’d better go easy on any publicly funded bubbly.

I’ve known or observed all the council leaders since I first started reporting on them back in 1975, when the first leader of the then Highland Regional Council was an absolute gentleman of a man, the Rev Murdo Nicholson. He invited me for afternoon tea and a long chat to his manse in Muir of Ord. I think of him with appreciation still.

It’s impossible to rate Mrs Davidson compared with the others because the role and reach of the council has changed completely over the decades.

Margaret Davidson. Picture: Inverness Courier

Back in the 1970s the debating chamber at Glenurquhart Road had all the grandeur of an extended school classroom. Flat wooden desks on a flat wooden floor and members and press all crowded into a limited space which was overcrowded.

There was a chief executive and directors of this and that but they were more like promoted clerks than what we have today. And the councillors, with many notable characters among them, were very definitely in charge.

Now it’s corporate directors with titles so long that they cover the width of the doors to their fancy offices and salaries upwards of £80,000 to match. And it seems more often than not it’s the officials who are very much in charge, with our elected representatives expected to do little more than praise their work and rubber stamp their recommendations.

Margaret Davidson was certainly no pushover and put in a decent shift as head of the local authority.

But her time was up. She has been in a very demanding role and it was time to go before burnout.

And regrettably, she will leave carrying with her the baggage of the worst mistake in Inverness civic history.

I’ve been covering the council apart from three years in London for a period which extends, to my horror, for nearly 50 years.

That’s a life well lived, eh? Fortunately there’s been a lot more to it than that.

And I’ve said all along that the decision to foul up the riverside with the reviled £360,000 concrete slab known as the Gathering Place was the single worst decision made in all that time.

The repercussions from the utterly shameful arrogance of the council in ignoring, rejecting and dismissing with contempt the mass of public opposition to this ghastly carbuncle remain and will continue to reverberate.

And this happened on Mrs Davidson’s watch and is an indelible stain on the latter part of her time in charge. She runs Abriachan Garden Nurseries so communes with nature on a daily basis. Didn’t she foresee the unfathomable folly of tearing up a cherished natural riverside beauty spot and covering it over with a giant concrete slab? And instead of going along with it, couldn’t she have used her undoubted influence to stop it?

However, there’s been  more to her council career than the Gathering Place, and it shouldn’t be completely overshadowed by the riverside disaster.

She has a good deal on the plus side of the ledger as well.

Some of those nasty remarks relating to her departure were no doubt not directed at her. But were reflective of anger and distrust at the council, which sometimes seems more remote and condescending than it has ever been.

However no one who has put in 27 years service with the best of intentions for the public should depart without a considerable degree of appreciation for the volume of work they’ve put in, and the good that they’ve done.

That applies to Mrs Davidson. And only the most curmudgeonly of critics will simply say “good riddance” when she departs.

Having said that, after the Gathering Place debacle, I hope a few others follow her out the exit door. And in some cases, “good riddance” is all they WILL deserve.

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