NICOLA Sturgeon has thrown her support behind a cross-border bid for the UK City of Culture 2025, despite opposition from SNP members on Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Nationalist councillors said in a statement that the proposal to submit a joint application for the status from local authorities in the Scottish Borders, Carlisle City, Cumbria, Northumberland and this region does not line-up with the objectives of the Borderlands Growth Deal, which is progressing the bid along with the South of Scotland Enterprise.
The group, led by depute council leader Rob Davidson, said they would have supported a south Scotland entry for the title.
And they argued that Dumfries and Galloway would have been “far more prominent” in such a proposal. The controversial move prompted Finlay Carson, MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, to ask Ms Sturgeon of her level of support for the bid during First Ministers Questions at Holyrood last week.
He said it was “not entirely clear” why SNP councillors had rejected the proposal “other than the fact that it would involve both Scottish and English Councils”.
Mr Carson added: “Will the First Minister confirm whether she would support such a cross-border bid for the Borderlands and if so what support the government can make available to the bid team as they move forward?”
Responding, Ms Sturgeon said she is an “enthusiastic supporter” of the Borderlands Initiative and would look into the situation, adding she was unaware of the circumstances.
She said suggestions that SNP councillors had pulled out of the bid as it would involve working with English councils “could not be further from the truth”.
The First Minister continued: “I also think it is important we take all opportunities, particularly in these circumstances to support culture and cultural initiatives.”
She added she would be “happy to have a discussion” on the matter with councillors.
Furthermore, she said she would ask ministers how the bid can be supported by the Scottish Government going forward.
“On these things obviously there will sometimes be differences of opinion,” Ms Sturgeon added, “but let’s try and get behind any reasonable bid for something like this and, for goodness sake shy away from any claims about some of the motives why people might not be taken in a particular position.”
Meanwhile, politicians from across the chamber have called for councillors to unite and get behind the Borderlands bid.
Labour MSP for South Scotland Colin Smyth said: “I fully support this bid for City of Culture status and to have a joint endeavour with five cross border councils in Scotland and England is great.
“Now the decision has been taken to make the bid, everyone should be working together to back it. This is about culture, not constitutions and politicians should not be using it as a proxy for petty point scoring on other issues. We need to focus on the many benefits that this bid would bring to both Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.”
Dumfriesshire’s conservative MP David Mundell added: “I’m very disappointed to learn that SNP councillors in Dumfries and Galloway are opposed to making a joint-bid across the Borderlands to be the City of Culture.
“I can only conclude that this is because of this cross-border element and frankly I find that pathetic.”
But SNP councillors argued the sole purpose of the Borderlands Initiative was to secure investment in the region.
“It has done that,” they said. “We don’t see a role for Borderlands in additional and very different areas of work, which a City of Culture bid would certainly be.”