Falkirk Council climate change pledge bid branded ‘infringement on civil liberties’

A bid to push forward efforts to tackle climate change has been described as “an infringement on our civil liberties” in a bitter debate which saw an SNP councillor dubbed the ‘greenfinder general’.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Monday, 13th December 2021, 8:04 am

Councillor Paul Garner had put forward a motion suggesting colleagues make public the pledges about the changes they would make following a climate emergency training course.

But Falkirk Council’s Labour group said that making the pledges public was “a step to far”.

The motion from Councillor Garner, on exploring ways to put the climate emergency at the heart of all decision-making, had originally been submitted in time for the start of COP26 – but Labour and Conservative members said they first wanted to see a report looking at how practical the measures would be.

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Falkirk Council Municipal Buildings.

At Wednesday’s full council meeting they were told by officers the suggestions could be implemented fairly easily.

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However, some councillors and staff did carbon literacy training which involved people making pledges about the changes they would make following the training.

Councillor Laura Murtagh insisted that it was only “politically relevant” pledges they were being asked to make public.

She said: “The whole focus of the training was for us, as elected members, to understand what our role is in decision-making and what we can do to impact the climate emergency.”

Making the pledges public, she said, would allow the public to “hold us accountable”.

But the Labour group leader Robert Bissett did not accept this.

He said: “I think it’s almost an infringement on our civil liberties, really – do we have to declare what religion we are, or our sexual orientation, or what other political affiliations we have?

“I really think that’s the thin end of the wedge and a step too far.”

His Labour colleague Joan Coombes, said: “For radical change to happen, we need to bring everybody with us and we won’t do that by ‘naming and shaming’ and I think that’s what this is doing here.

“I think Councillor Garner wants to be Falkirk’s ‘Greenfinder General’ or something.

“He wants to look into your soul and check how green you are – I don’t think that’s helpful.”

“Yes, we need to further and faster but we don’t need these playground political stunts – it’s a distraction from the big message.”

Councillor Murtagh said the SNP’s proposal was being misrepresented.

She said: “This is not about people going on an aeroplane, or their personal gas use or anything – that’s not what was said or being asked and members of the opposition should stop misrepresenting us.”

The Conservative group supported the Labour amendment to take the clause around personal pledges out.

However, they said that the Scottish Government had to do more to give financial support to help councils carry out necessary work, rather than just having “vague policies”.

In reply, Councillor Garner said that he was “gobsmacked” at the response from the Labour party but added: “I’m not easily offended, so I won’t give them credence.”

The rest of the recommendations were accepted.

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