MIDLOTHIAN has a Tory provost for the first time after three Labour councillors opted to back him rather than a controversial SNP candidate.
Peter Smaill, who became a councillor last year, was elected to the role by seven votes to five over Nationalist former provost Joe Wallace.
Leading Midlothian SNP councillor Kelly Parry tweeted: “Never thought I’d see the day a Tory provost – voted by Labour councillors – took the chair in Midlothian Council. Appalling.”
Previous provost, Labour councillor Adam Montgomery died suddenly in January, prompting a by-election which the SNP won, making them the biggest party on the council with seven seats to Labour’s six and the Tories’ five. But Labour is continuing with the minority administration it formed after winning power from the SNP at last year’s council elections.
Council leader Derek Milligan said Labour had decided not to put anyone forward because five of its six councillors held cabinet posts and were therefore ineligible and the sixth was deputy provost and had a plethora of commitments on the council and in her community.
“We felt the reality of situation was to try to hold onto the provost’s post was impossible.
“We went into it with an open mind and no whip on how to vote.”
Three Labour members, including Cllr Milligan, voted for Cllr Smaill to be provost and the other three Labour members abstained.
Cllr Milligan said he could not vote for the SNP nominee Cllr Wallace because of comments he made in 2016 when he claimed the Ministry of Defence was “imposing” former soldiers with mental health and drug and drink problems on Midlothian.
Cllr Milligan said: “I could not stand by and allow that guy to sit in the provost’s chair.
“I believe the SNP put him forward knowing no-one could vote for him.”
Cllr Milligan said Labour would continue to try to work with other parties. “We’re not going to be agreeing on everything, but where we can get agreement that’s what we will do, and where we cannot agree we’ll debate it in the chamber and vote on it.”
Cllr Smaill, 63, worked in private equity finance and was the independent chair of the council’s audit committee for five years before being elected as a councillor.
Tory group leader Pauline Winchester said it was “absolutely wonderful” to have a Conservative provost in Midlothian. “We put Peter forward because he is very experienced and will fit in well to the role.”
But she stressed there was no deal with Labour. “If we agree with them we will vote with them, if we don’t agree with them we won’t.” And she conceded winning the provostship did not bring with it significant power.
“The provost has casting vote but that doesn’t happen very often,” she said.
“It’s nice to have the figurehead and be more visible in the county. He will be very good at representing Midlothian in all the provost’s duties.”