MIDLOTHIAN’S new political leaders were today under pressure to explain the turmoil which has seen the SNP-led council lose its leader and deputy just weeks after winning the elections.
The opposition Labour group produced “unanswered questions” which they said they had been prevented from asking at the full council meeting on Tuesday, at which retired headteacher Bob Constable was elected council leader after five years on the backbenches.
Labour group leader Derek Milligan predicted the new leadership team would not survive six months.
Councillor Constable has replaced Lisa Beattie – wife of Midlothian North & Musselburgh SNP MSP Colin Beattie – who quit as leader last week, after just five weeks in post, amid claims of rebellion within the SNP group.
She was followed by Jim Bryant, who resigned as deputy and was replaced by former group leader Owen Thompson, who had been seen as a more natural choice to take the top job, but whose return was said to have been vetoed by Councillor Beattie.
Councillor Milligan said: “The smart money is this group won’t last till Christmas. They have now been elected eight weeks and they’ve had one leader ousted within hours, a cabinet member resign, a leader resign and a deputy leader resign.
“Bob Constable is a nice guy, but he is a retired teacher who came into politics. You need to be not just a strong leader of your group, but there many controversial issues a council leader has to face up to and I don’t know if he will have these strengths.”
Cllr Milligan rubbished a claim made by Cllr Beattie in a statement following her resignation that her departure had always been planned.
He said questions which the administration had to answer – and which Labour was prevented from asking at the council meeting – included:
n If the leader had always intended to resign after five weeks, why was she accepting engagements as leader well into next year?
n If the leader shocked her colleagues by tendering her resignation late on the Monday evening, why was it that everyone was aware that she had been given an ultimatum by her group to resign or be sacked the week before?
n How much has it cost to produce stationery, business cards and 40,000 copies of Midlothian News which reports in detail about the new makeup of the cabinet?
Green councillor Ian Baxter criticised the administration for lack of communication, but also accused Labour of “mischief-making”.
He said: “The way the whole episode has been handled by the SNP-independent coalition leaves a lot to be desired, particularly in the area of communication, but at the same time the Labour group was guilty of political posturing. They were not being at all constructive.”
Cllr Baxter said he was not clear why Cllr Beattie had resigned and acknowledged the situation was “unsettling”.
He said: “The people of Midlothian need to know what’s going on and have confidence in the council. The general public have been kept in the dark.”