One of Scotland’s leading authors took time out when attending the opening of the Spirit of Moray Book Festival on Monday to lend her support to the campaign against the library closures in the region.
Dozens turned out to voice their protest against Moray Council’s decision to go ahead with the closure of seven libraries and one mobile library on a night that members of the Independent and Tory council failed to turn up to the festival opening.
Campaigners were supported by local MSP Richard Lochhead alongside several SNP and Labour councillors who had opposed the vote last week that ignored legal advice and an Equalities Impact Assessment.
Now a meeting is to be held on Thursday that will include representatives from all the communities whose libraries are to be closed, with legal action against the local authority decision high on the agenda.
Before heading into the opening event at Elgin Library, author Janice Galloway chatted with campaigners and local SNP councillor Graham Leadbitter, saying: “Libraries have been around for 5,000 years and there is a very good reason for that – they are not just about books.”
One of the leaders of the campaign, Daphne Francis, revealed that amongst the many steps being taken is the launch of a fund to finance a legal challenge against the closure decision.
Ms Francis added: “I think that Moray Council has underestimated the determination of the people in our communities. They believe that we will not be able to raise sufficient funds quickly enough to mount a serious legal challenge – but I think that they are wrong, we will succeed.”
Councillor Leadbitter confirmed that the SNP Group at Moray Council had already written to the Equalities Commissioner and the Scottish Government minister responsible for local government, with campaign leaders confirming that they too would be lodging a complaint with the Commissioner.
Support for the campaign has been arriving from around the country with several MSP’s joining condemning the council decision, including Stewart Stevenson MSP, whose constituency includes three of the libraries scheduled for closure – Findochty, Cullen and Portknockie.
Mr Stevenson said: “This decision will be devastating for the communities affected. The Council’s officials noted the detrimental effect that taking such a decision would have, especially on groups such as the elderly, the disabled and those families with young children.
“I am therefore disappointed to note the Council’s decision to press ahead with these changes.
“The vote seems even more baffling owing to the need for the people to access the internet. With the challenges that many people in rural areas face in getting online, coupled with the UK Government’s decision to force people to access their services online, I am at a loss as to how the Council’s administration have taken this decision.
“I have raised my concerns with the Chief Executive of Moray Council and am willing to support any of my constituent who will be affected by these changes.”