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Council / Council convener rejects Palestine ceasefire motion

The motion was deemed inappropriate as it involved international politics

Councillors Ian Scott and Alex Armitage seen here at a rally outside Lerwick Town hall last year.

IS DISCUSSING a motion that calls for a permanent ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel a waste of council time and an unjustified diversion from elected members’ duties?

Or should councillors be given the opportunity to debate the horrors of the conflict in the chamber and express their views on how a permanent and peaceful resolution could be found?

An attempt to lodge such a motion by councillors Alex Armitage and Ian Scott for Wednesday’s meeting of the full council failed at the first hurdle during discussions with council convener Andrea Manson, it has emerged.

Convener Manson ruled the proposed motion as incompetent, adding that the council had more important topics to discuss.

A notice of motion is a request moved by one elected member and seconded by another to discuss a specific issue at a council meeting.

Green councillor Armitage said he was disappointed that he had been unable to change Manson’s mind, but said he now accepts her decision.

The council convener has the right to not accept a notice of motion if the topic has already been discussed by council, touches on issues that the local authority has no jurisdiction over or is too political.

Shetland Islands Council likes to regard itself as a non-political local authority, though many sitting councillors have non-declared political affiliations.

Three of the 23 councillors have been elected on a party ticket, and they are all ‘back benchers’.

The convener would usually seek advice on any notice of motion that might be lodged from the council’s governance and law department.

SIC convenor Andrea Manson: ‘Council has more pressing issues closer to home’. Photo: Shetland News

Manson said it was far more important for the SIC to put its own house in order “before we start to dabble in international politics”.

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“We have 16 items on the agenda on Wednesday,” she said, adding that any discussion of the Gaza conflict would divert councillors’ attention from pressing issues closer to home.

“We have a lot of very important things to speak about; we have housing, we have roads, we have the asset investment plan,” she said.

“I told them [Armitage and Scott] that I didn’t think that it was appropriate for the council to discuss it because it was international politics.

“We are elected to make sure the roads are safe, we are elected to make sure people have houses to stay in, we are elected to make sure we give people every little help that we can in the cost of living crisis.”

Armitage said over recent weeks he has had a “number of respectful discussions with the convener” in the hope that a motion which calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Israel/Palestine, for the release of all hostages and urging the UK government to call for the same, would be accepted for Wednesday’s meeting.

The councillor said that as a paediatrician he has a duty to act to protect the lives of children, including speaking out when there are public health issues that endanger the lives of young people.

He said that initially he had been hesitant to bring forward the proposal of a motion calling for a ceasefire “as this is not an issue in which the council has very much power to do anything about”.

He added: “However, given the scale of the killing and the UK government’s complicity in it, I felt that the voice of our local authority in calling for a ceasefire and release of hostages could bring some political pressure to bear on the government to stop providing political cover for the ongoing violence, and instead work to push for a negotiated settlement.

“Our MP Alistair Carmichael has already voted for a ceasefire in parliament but the SIC is also an organ of democracy in the UK, and after some thought and discussion with other council members and members of the public, I felt that a motion should be put forward.

“Councillor Ian Scott, who had been thinking along the same lines, agreed to second.

“Dozens of other local authorities around the UK have also debated motions on this issue in recent weeks.”

In a letter submitted to Shetland News last week, Scott said in his view now was the time for the council “to be given the opportunity to speak out, to condemn the carnage and destruction visited upon innocent human beings”.

“I am fairly sure that many readers will be horrified and saddened to learn that a motion calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and release of all hostages has been rejected for next week’s council meeting,” he wrote.

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