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Thirty-six representative members make up the council, elected, since 2007, by single transferable vote and, before that, by the first-past-the-post system. The 2017 election saw the SNP become the largest group. This was the first time since the creation of the modern authority that the representatives of a political party had outnumbered Independents in holding the largest number of seats on the council; nevertheless, it was a coalition of Independents, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats who would go on to form an administration following the election.
In February 2012, the council was criticised for allegedly setting up "spy" accounts on social media. As a result of the investigation, a council employee was suspended for setting up "fake social media accounts to monitor what was being said about the council". The council's own investigation later confirmed it had "found no evidence of any form of spying or covert surveillance having been carried out by any employee within the council's communication team."
Eleven multi-member wards were created for the 2007 election, replacing 36 single-member wards which had been in place since 1999 (adjusted up from 33 in the 1990s):
In June 2012, the council was heavily criticised for banning a local primary student, Martha Payne (aged 9), from taking photographs of her school dinners for her online blog. The blog, NeverSeconds, had been praised by the celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, had attracted over two million visits, and at the time of the ban had raised nearly £2,000 for a food charity. On the day the story broke, the blog had raised over £40,000. After an initial statement from the council defending the decision, the ban was subsequently overturned by council leader, Roddy McCuish.
In November 2012 a book written by David Payne, Martha's father, revealed the background to the council's attempt to censor and bully a 9-year-old girl. The book says: "My anger and frustration at Argyll and Bute Council was not being soothed by time. Thinly veiled attacks on our parenting on national radio and an abusive phonecall stood out as examples of a public body sick to the very top. Complaints via the proper procedures and through elected councillors had brought no visible changes. Far from being contrite they seemed to take a pride in being untouchable."
The main railway line in Argyll and Bute is the West Highland Line, which links Oban to Glasgow, passing through much of the eastern and northern parts of the area. From the south the line enters Argyll and Bute just to the west of Dumbarton, continuing north via Helensburgh Upper to the eastern shores of the Gare Loch and Loch Long. The line comes inland at Arrochar and Tarbet to meet the western shore of Loch Lomond. At the northern end of the loch the lines leaves Argyll and Bute to enter Stirling council area. The Oban branch of the West Highland Line re-enters the area just west of Tyndrum, and heads west to Oban: stations on this section of the line include Dalmally and Taynuilt railway station. The majority of services on the line are operated by ScotRail: as of 2019 the summer service has six trains a day to Oban, with four on Sundays. In addition to the ScotRail service is the nightly Caledonian Sleeper, although this does not run on the Oban branch.
Due to its heavily indented coastline and many islands, ferries form an important part of the council area's transport system. The main ferry operator in Argyll & Bute is Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), which operates services from the mainland to most of the inhabited islands. Several other routes are operated by commercial operators, usually on contract to the council, although the Western Ferries service across the Firth of Clyde is run on a commercial basis.
Feolin on Jura is linked to Port Askaig on Islay via a vehicle ferry run by ASP Ship Management on behalf of Argyll and Bute Council. There is also a passenger-only service between the island's main centre, Craighouse, and Tayvallich on the mainland that is operated by Islay Sea Safaris.
Kerrera is linked to Gallanach (about 3 km (1.9 mi) southwest of Oban) by a passenger-only service operated by CalMac.
Lismore is served by two ferries, a vehicle and passenger service operated by CalMac that runs from Oban, and a passenger-only service from Port Appin that is operated by ASP Ship Management on behalf of Argyll and Bute Council.
The island of Seil, which itself is linked to the mainland via the Clachan Bridge, has links to two further islands: Easdale and Luing. Both services are operated by ASP Ship Management on behalf of Argyll and Bute Council.
MV Argyll Flyer, now operated by CalMac, plies the route between Gourock and Dunoon.
There are also routes connecting some mainland locations in Argyll and Bute to other parts of the mainland:
There is a CalMac service across Loch Fyne which provides a link between Portavadie in Cowal and Tarbert in Kintyre.
CalMac provide a limited (3 ferry each way per week) service between Cambeltown in Kintyre and Ardrosssan in North Aryshire during the summer months.
Western Ferries, a commercial operator, runs a vehicle and passenger service between Hunters Quay to McInroy's Point that also provides a link between Cowal and Inverclyde in (partial) competition with the subsidised CalMac service.
Lochranza on Arran has a year-round service to Kintyre: during the summer the mainland port used is Claonaig, however in winter the service is reduced to a single daily return crossing from Tarbert.