Calls for Tories to deselect Edinburgh councillor as Holyrood candidate over WhatsApp messages on Covid crisis and public sector pay freeze

Opposition politicians have called on Tory councillor Sue Webber to quit as a Holyrood candidate over controversial WhatsApp messages in which she accused the media of "creating fear and panic" over Covid, attacked the travel ban as "crazy" and praised the public sector pay freeze.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th March 2021, 5:38 pm
Conservative Central Office was said to be "delighted" with Susan Webber winning the number two slot

The messages, posted in a WhatsApp group for Tory councillors, were leaked just days after Cllr Webber won the number two slot on the party’s Lothian list, virtually guaranteeing she will become an MSP at the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

One of the messages described Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross as being “out of his mind” for failing to oppose “crazy travel bans”.

Another claimed the media and “many ill-informed politicians” were “creating panic and fear” over Covid-19, alleging the NHS was "not overwhelmed in terms of beds being filled”.

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When restrictions were increased ahead of Christmas, Cllr Webber commented: "People die…. more people die in winter”.

And she welcomed the public sector pay freeze, saying it was “about time”. She wrote: “I was thinking of a vote-winning policy called salary sacrifice where they only get 80 per cent and have to struggle like the others on furlough. Then they might want this sorry state to get resolved faster.”

Angus Robertson, SNP candidate for Edinburgh Central, said: “To see a Tory candidate suggest docking the pay of all those who have been on the frontline keeping public services going during this pandemic is a disgrace.“The Tory mask has well and truly slipped and the party has a duty to address these comments. It's hard to see how Ms Webber can now remain as a candidate."

The Greens called on the Tories to deselect Cllr Webber, branding her a Covid-sceptic candidate.

Health spokesperson and Lothians MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It is deeply alarming that the Scottish Conservatives could select someone who is willing to risk public health, denies the science and holds the public sector workers who have seen us through this crisis in such contempt.

"Either the Conservatives agree that lives should be risked and that NHS staff should get a pay cut, or candidates spreading this dangerous rhetoric should be deselected.”

Cllr Webber had been endorsed as a candidate by a special committee chaired by Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson. She came second to sitting MSP Miles Briggs and effectively ousted another sitting MSP Gordon Lindhurst who failed to win an endorsement and ended up in seventh place on the list with no chance of re-election.

A Tory insider said: “She is very highly rated by Central Office – they were absolutely delighted she was second. They think she has been a really good councillor and we have an issue about how few females we have

Sue is opinionated, but she has a big mandate from the members – she was only a couple of hundred votes behind Miles Briggs and clearly ahead of the other candidates.”

A party spokesman said: “Sue Webber is a highly-regarded female politician, hard-working local councillor and candidate who fights for all of her constituents. While most of these messages have been unfairly taken out of context, she apologises for those few that were inappropriate and stresses that private messages written in haste do not reflect her views, as most reasonable people would understand and accept.”

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