With the Council elections approaching we can look back on the last 5 years of disregard for communities, “jobs for the boys”, skullduggery, conflict of interest and downright corrupt behavior that has characterised South Lanarkshire Council. Will the next 5 years be any different? We’re not holding our breath. But for an idea of who not to vote for if you make it as far as the polling station on the 5th May, the Dovesdale Action Group have a pretty good idea. Despite the entire council leadership being rotten to the core, one sore thumb sticks out in particular, and so it seems apt at this time to say goodbye to Danny Meikle who will not stand for reelection.
Despite having been on a councillor´s salary since 1988, Danny spends much of his time away in Miami, and when he is back in Clydesdale, drives around in a Bently. He was convicted of a Racially Aggravated Breach of the Peace in 2005 when in a meeting with a constituent (he hasn’t held a surgery for some time). In 2009 he and his family physically attacked two independent journalists who came to his door to ask questions of the councillor. It is widely thought in the area that Danny has rigged elections to get in (how does someone so unpopular get voted in anyway?) and given all the Council contract his “son’s” construction company get, you could be forgiven for thinking that Danny doesn’t have the interests of the People of Clydesdale at heart when he’s working. Danny Meikle has been abusive in public meetings, and many local people have stories to tell about what living in the same village as him and his family is like.
And then there’s opencast – in last week’s Lanark Gazette, a tribute to Danny read: “Danny… took great pride in his campaign to successfully preserve six local opencast mines and 1000 jobs.” Interesting first of all as South Lanarkshire has only ever had a few hundred opencast workers, and Danny only helped to keep 4 mines. Maybe this is Danny’s bloated and over-inflated ego talking?
But more interesting still is how Danny went from being an anti-opencast poster boy to all-out old-Labor mining man, thus stabbing many constituents in the back. In 1996, Danny argued “that Clydesdale could end up as “a moonscape” if unfettered opencast developments were allowed” (Lanark Gazette, 25/01/96). How right he was. Further still, he “doubted any job claims for any major job gains for the area. When Dalquhandy opened it was claimed that 100 local jobs would be created; in reality it only came to a few dozen and, even then, most for workers who traveled from Ayrshire”. Indeed job claims since then have always only every resulted in a handful for local residents.
The Gazette also reported Danny as having said that “limiting open cast development in Clydesdale would save vast areas from future destruction”. Also in the Gazette: “His caution was prompted by the experiences of having the “biggest hole in Europe” in his ward, which had caused “tremendous problems” for the village [Coalburn] and surrounding ward”.
It wasn’t just Danny, but the whole Council and MP Jim Hood used to think that job creation through opencast is a myth. After the Townhead extension (near Rigside) was thrown out by the Council in 1996, MP Jim Hood stated: “Anyone who thinks that opencast mining brings long term and quality jobs into our area is stretching the realms of reality to its limit… Opencast mining in the Douglas Valley is singularly the greatest threat to jobs and prosperity in the District“.
Since then mines have become more mechanised employing fewer people, and unemployment in the area has only gone up, as have ill health and indicators of social deprivation. But also since then, MP Jim Hood became a consultant for Scottish Coal and was for years paid a monthly retainer by them, a tidy sum of over £600.
So why is it that we’ve got a Councillor (Danny), an MP (Jim) and a local Council all going from quite substantially anti-opencast to staunchly pro? Money talks – or at least makes people say different things. In the 1990′s British Coal was privatised, creating private companies like Scottish Coal. Opencast is big business, and a lot of people have got very rich on it over the past couple of decades. In South Lanarkshire, Scottish Coal has certainly consolidated its power in the Douglas Valley – they’re now the only operator and haven’t had an application rejected, ever, whilst being allowed to expand their operations whenever they like, flaunting all planning regulations. What other possible explanation could there be for such a turnaround other than the influence of big money from big business?
Finally, Danny’s parting words for the Gazette last week were: “I’m in good health and hope to enjoy a good family life for many years.” Well Danny, thanks to you and your opencast pals, communities in the Douglas Valley have some of the worst health statistics in Scotland and some of the highest unemployment in large part due to chronic concurrent opencast coal mines that very few people ever wanted. Give yourself a pat on the back.
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