AT ONE point in the council meeting, Councillor David McBride commented how setting the budget was an annual event, a time where “people come together”.

Much like Christmas, it can be tinged with surprises, laughter and yelling – only this family event costs millions.

Councils involve constant budgeting and there was a draft budget in October, then again in December.

Those showed expected gaps between cash in and out, yet Labour used October to boost spending in the current year and December to block cuts proposed by some of their own staff.

Then the Scottish Government set its budgets and payouts to local authorities and days before West Dunbartonshire’s meeting, officers put out their budget projections.

Less than two hours before the budget meeting was to start, the local press was invited to a briefing with deputy leader Councillor Patrick McGlinchey where he and Cllr Michelle McGinty confirmed they would freeze council tax and increase spending on some local projects.

There will still be budget gaps in the coming years and the SNP accused Labour during the meeting of putting off debt for future generations.

Labour accused the Community Party of doing the same when they pitched a rent freeze.

Labour, who had previously decried being forced by the Scottish Government to freeze council tax, now proposed one.

The SNP, who imposed the freeze nationally and said it was a flawed tax, then pitched a sort-of budget with a tax rise.

They were caught out in the trap of not expecting Labour to double back on their own position.

Only group leader Jonathan McColl spoke to the SNP motion, while most of Labour’s councillors stood and spoke for up to 20 minutes each about all their successes over five years – some managing to give road-by-road tours of their constituencies.

The Community Party, which refused to answer press queries in advance of the budget to keep cards “close to their chests”, didn’t propose a budget at all and got mocked by Labour for, supposedly, leaving their rent freeze motion on a photocopier.

And in the midst of it all there was a minute’s silence for a fatality which wasn’t, leading to an update and correction mid-meeting.

Positions kept changing. 

Party politics were adapted and rehearsed for the doorsteps in the coming months.

And previously mute councillors spoke up for the first time in several meetings.

After more than six hours, it was a Christmas without a dinner or booze, but the party hats were certainly on display.