Battling major's drill ground bark sees off Sheridan's Socialists

10th August 2001 at 01:00
SELDOM have so many civilians been treated to a such a military ear-bashing. Alastair Hewat, new civic head of Scottish Borders, took no prisoners as the IndependentLiberal Democrat leadership rammed through cuts of pound;1.58 million to prevent the council's soaraway budget soaring further into the red.

Mr Hewat, once a major in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and TA stalwart, strode in brusquely to the packed chambers in Newton St Boswells, laying down the battle rules.

"I'm a chairman; I'm not a chair or chairperson," he announced in clipped tones, reminding councillors to address fellow members appropriately. No first names or the like.

"Such practice has slipped recently," Mr Hewat chided amid uneasy shuffling in the ranks.

He turned to the red rose in his lapel. "Just in case you think I've joined a political party, I've worn this rose on August 1 for the last 48 years to celebrate the 25th Foot victory over the French at the Battle of Minden," he confessed to a baffled assembly.

(Historical note: 1759, Seven Years War - so there.) Tommy Sheridan's Scottish Socialist troops with their stickers in the public gallery are used to fighting talk but had hardly expected such an opening salvo. The Socialist infantry mouthed criticism from the rear as officials and senior councillors set out to take a hit broadside.

"Would the public please be quiet!" barked the major.

But it was Borders' leading politician, Drew Tulley, who first transgressed regulations on a double count. "As Alastair, the chair, has indicated . . ." Mr Tulley blurted to wry amusement from the footsoldiers. "Chairman," they chorused.

The woman in the back row could hardly contain herself as Mr Tulley backed the cuts. "Resign," she trumpeted.

"One more squeak and I'll ask you to leave," boomed the major as if back on the parade ground.

She rose to the challenge, loudly applauding David Parker of the Nationalist opposition.

"That's it. I'm suspending the meeting while that woman is removed from the chambers. Will you please go?" "Come and get me," she retorted and refused to budge as Her Majesty's finest were summoned. Council flunkies tried a conciliatory approach to be greeted with a cordial "piss off".

After 10 minutes she upped and left. "Mission accomplished," she muttered.

For Mr Hewat, it was back to the SNP irritant. David Parker wanted back in for another volley. "All right, come on, very quickly," humphed the major.

"I want a roll call vote on every point," Mr Parker insisted - and he had more points than Moses.

"I'll order supper," Mr Hewat sighed, before ruling that out of order.

As the cuts package rode the storm, a member of Tommy Sheridan's army stormed out. "I thought you were incompetent but you're just vicious," he protested.

Mr Hewat heaved his shoulders in mirth. Worse had come his way in battle, so he summed up: "By gum, lessons have been learnt and more lessons have to be learnt."

Meeting dismissed.

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