Party leaders react after Provost election

Saturday May 12th 2018

Scottish Conservatives Council Elections 2017 Peter Smaill

Written by editor, Phil Bowen

On Tuesday councillors voted in Peter Smaill as Midlothian’s first Conservative Provost.

The Provost chairs the full Council Meeting and acts as the council’s Civic Head at ceremonial, formal and other important occasions.

Two candidates were put forward for the post of Provost, Joe Wallace SNP and Peter Smaill Conservative.

For the Provost vote, there were 17 of the 18 councillors present at the meeting, as SNP Councillor Kelly Parry is currently on maternity leave.

Midlothian has 7 SNP councillors, 6 Labour and 5 Conservative. SNP councillor Wallace was elected in March in the by-election following the death of Labour Councillor and Provost Adam Montgomery thus changing the balance of councillors per party.

The candidates for Provost were not allowed to vote for themselves.

Councillor Peter Smaill received 7 votes (4 Conservative and 3 Labour) and Councillor Wallace 5 votes (5 SNP). 3 Labour councillors abstained.

SNP Group Leader Cath Johnstone later commented on the group’s Facebook page:

“It is disappointing that Labour have backed a Tory to become the civic leader of Midlothian – ahead of one of their own [Depute Provost Margot Russell], and the experienced former Provost Joe Wallace.

“Ultimately it will be up to voters in Midlothian to make their views known on this unholy alliance.

“The local Labour party seem to have forgiven the Tories for Thatcher’s legacy – and the devastation inflicted upon communities across Midlothian – and now support more austerity and cuts to local services. Shame on Labour.”

Labour Council Leader Derek Milligan told Midlothian View:

“After our attempt to work with the SNP were thrown back in our face by Councillor Cath Johnstone, the Labour Group decided to simply get on with the job as we have done for the past year.

“The Provost’s post is a civil post, not a political one!  With 5 Councillors committed to their Cabinet work and Councillor Margot Russell as Depute Provost, the Labour Group decided it would simply leave it up to the other parties to fill the Provost post and we would work with whoever was successful.

“However, when the SNP group proposed Councillor Joe Wallace as Provost, a number of Labour Councillors felt that it was simply unacceptable to elect Councillor Wallace into that role.

“This was largely due to his appalling performance in the post during the last administration, which culminated in a vote of no confidence being tabled against him, because of his negative comments against our armed forces veterans, and the fact that one of the Provost’s roles includes being the Council’s Veterans Champion.

“Three Labour Councillors therefore voted to support Councillor Smaill as Provost.

“Contrary to the desperate attempts by Councillor Johnstone to claim otherwise Labour has not entered into any alliance with the Tories.  We will continue to work in the interests of the people of Midlothian and the other two parties are free to support us or otherwise.

“This Labour Group does not appreciate being lectured to about the damage Thatcher did to our communities by Councillor Johnstone who was happy to rely on the support of a right wing independent Tory (Peter de Vink who is very well known for his admiration of Thatcher’s polices) to keep her in power over the 5 years the SNP controlled Midlothian, and whose MSPs were happy to rely on the Tories to pass several budgets during their first 5 years in governing Scotland.”

Asked for comment by Midlothian View, Conservative Group Leader, Pauline Winchester, said:

“The SNP really need to start growing up and stop playing “grievance politics”. It’s already getting tiring after one year, and we have four more years to go!

“Last week we were told by the SNP leader Cllr. Johnstone that they were going to nominate Cllr. McCall for Provost – and if they had, I believe that the vote would have been tied and gone to a cut of the cards. As it happened, the SNP lied and I shouldn’t really be surprised – although we did expect them to nominate Cllr. Wallace.

“I agree that Cllr Joe Wallace is a former Provost, but that’s the only truth in their description of him.

“When he was the Provost he took part in an ungainly rant about the forces, and since the Provost is the Veterans Champion he could not be allowed to hold that post again. As soon as Labour heard that he was their nomination no one from Labour voted for him – and yet there were three votes for the taking. That shows the strength of feeling toward him.

“As much as the SNP want to shout aloud that we have an agreement with Labour, they are wrong. Labour are a minority Administration and if we support an issue we will vote with them. If we don’t support an issue, we won’t. It’s really quite simple and the SNP should be able to understand that.

“Personally I would like to thank the SNP for their lack of reading of the situation. It could have been so different.

“Provost Smaill is by far the best person for the job, and will provide an excellent face of the Council when in public and in meetings. I am sure he will be fair and even handed at all times.”

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