Council in crisis: Dutch SOS call over SNP drama

Peter de Vink was on holiday in Amsterdam
Peter de Vink was on holiday in Amsterdam
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AN independent councillor was summoned back from holiday in Amsterdam in a desperate bid to save the SNP administration from collapse.

Peter de Vink was on holiday in the Dutch capital visiting family and friends when he received a call to return and ensure the Midlothian SNP coalition he is a vital part of was able to elect a new leader.

The call came after SNP councillor Lisa Beattie’s resignation last week, after just five weeks in the job.

The retired financier’s six-hour return to Scotland was enough to see a new SNP leader elected in the form of Bonnyrigg councillor Bob Constable.

After being rushed back to the airport following the meeting, the 70-year old was back in Holland in time for a dinner engagement in The Hague with his cousin, former Dutch MP Joost van Iersel.

The entire meeting at Midlothian Council headquarters in Dalkeith was over within 30 minutes, with Cllr de Vink leaving before the end to make his return flight to Holland. He said: “I flew into Edinburgh at 11am and left again at 5pm. I’m glad that I could return and do my bit to resolve what was a hung council. All I had to do was raise my hand twice.

“What has gone on before is done and it is unfortunate that we have had this, but I now look forward to getting stuck in and getting on with a different leader and different approach.”

Following Cllr de Vink’s mercy dash to vote in Dalkeith on Tuesday, Bob Constable has taken the helm at the council.

His return sparked claims from the opposition Labour group that his flights and transportation had been paid for by the council, which Cllr de Vink said were untrue.

“I paid for these flights myself, and I do not claim a penny of my expenses,” he said. “If I was the provost and I was claiming £900 of public money for a kilt, for example, I would expect to be challenged over it, but this is my own money and not the business of anyone at the council.”

It is understood that Cllr de Vink used both KLM and EasyJet airlines for his round trip, although he refused to reveal his travel details, saying it was a private matter.

The SNP took power with Cllr de Vink last month, ending decades of Labour control.

Backbencher is catapulted into council hot seat

By IAN SWANSON

Political Editor

A RETIRED headteacher passed over for any post in Midlothian’s new administration just weeks ago has been made leader of the council amid claims of continuing infighting within the ruling SNP group.

Bob Constable, a backbench SNP councillor for five years, was catapulted into the hot seat after Lisa Beattie quit as council leader last week, deputy Jim Bryant stepped down yesterday and her expected successor, Owen Thompson, was allegedly vetoed by Cllr Beattie.

The opposition Labour group likened the saga to “Carry on Council”, followed by a sequel, “Carry on Constable”.

Independent councillor Peter de Vink, who is in coalition with the SNP, flew back from Holland specially to attend yesterday’s full council meeting and ensure Cllr Constable’s election as leader, with Cllr Thompson as deputy. The SNP and Labour each won eight seats in May’s council elections in Midlothian, with Cllr de Vink and Green Ian Baxter taking the other two seats.

Ahead of last week’s council meeting, the Evening News revealed claims that Cllr Beattie – who is married to Midlothian North & Musselburgh SNP MSP Colin Beattie – had faced a rebellion within the SNP group and been warned there would be a vote of no confidence if she did not stand down.

Last week’s meeting – which Cllr Beattie did not attend – was told of her resignation, but no reason was given.

Yesterday’s meeting had been called to elect a replacement, but councillors then learned that Cllr Bryant had quit as deputy, leaving both posts to be filled.

Cllr Thompson, who led the SNP group in opposition, was seen as the most likely choice for leader, but the SNP group nominated Cllr Constable.

A Labour source said: “We understand Lisa Beattie threatened to resign as a councillor if Owen Thompson became leader. She sees him as the cause of her downfall.”

Labour nominated group leader Derek Milligan to be council leader, but the coalition instead voted in Cllr Constable and Cllr Thompson.

Cllr Milligan said: “Now what we have is a council leader who was not deemed fit or acceptable to be in the cabinet or hold any post five weeks ago.

“The SNP are treating the council, its members and most importantly, the people of Midlothian with utter contempt. Not only did Cllr Beattie fail to make any statement on the reasons for her resignation, but she even failed to afford the chief executive of the council notice in writing of her resignation, never mind the reasons for them.

“What was presented to the council was a copy of an e-mail from Lisa Beattie to the deputy leader, Jim Bryant, simply indicating that she had resigned. A significant part of the e-mail presented had been redacted.

“It is astonishing that before he had the chance of presenting this e-mail to the council, he too had resigned or been dumped, yet again with no explanation given.”

Cllr Milligan said SNP provost Joe Wallace had refused to allow Labour to ask questions.

“We have complained to the chief executive that we won’t accept this type of behaviour. The public need an explanation as to what is going on here.”

Claims that Cllr de Vink had been flown home from holiday at taxpayers’ expense to attend the meeting were denied by the council. A spokesman said: “Cllr de Vink paid for his own flights and the council car was not used to pick him up from the airport or drop him off.”

THE NEW MAN

Former Firrhill High School chemistry teacher Bob Constable, 68, retired from teaching in 1999.

Originally from Morningside, he moved with his wife, Yvonne, to Bonnyrigg in 1969.

The couple, who have two daughters and two grandchildren, are set to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary later this year.

He was first elected as a councillor for Bonnyrigg in 2007, but has always been a back-bencher until his shock election to the post of leader yesterday.

Upon his being elected, he said: “I feel very privileged to have been elected to the leadership of this historic council.

“I shall endeavour to the best of my abilities to justify the trust placed in me.

“I intend my leadership to be inclusive across the political divide and will always listen to ideas and suggestions wherever they come from.”