A long time in politics...

Photo by Jayne Wright. Dr Lisa Beattie (SNP), who will become the first female leader of Midlothian Council when she is voted in next week.
Photo by Jayne Wright. Dr Lisa Beattie (SNP), who will become the first female leader of Midlothian Council when she is voted in next week.

The curious case of Lisa Beattie’s resignation contains more intrigue than a best-selling murder mystery.

According to sources within the SNP-led coalition, considerable manoeuvring took place behind the scenes in order that the local MSP’s wife could become the first female leader of Midlothian Council. And yet it seems the proverbial knives were out as soon as she had taken charge.

Tendering her resignation after just five weeks at the helm, Councillor Beattie’s explanation – that it had always been her intention to stand down after settling councillors into portfolios – was always going to be a difficult one to swallow. Compounding the weight of evidence to the contrary were gory details of a ‘jump or be pushed’ ultimatum from the local party, which had been reported in the press days in advance of any official announcement of her departure.

It was also telling that she did not attend the June 26 council meeting at which her resignation was made public, and that confirmation of her decision had to be prised from the SNP group by members of the opposition Labour party.

At the emergency meeting of the council last week, it further emerged that deputy leader Jim Bryant (SNP) had resigned to make way for Councillor Owen Thompson (SNP), who himself had been hotly tipped to become leader when his party seized power in May.

But the winner in the shake-up is new leader Bob Constable (SNP), a former teacher who had not even made it to the Cabinet under Councillor Beattie’s short tenure.

Amid all the clamour, it has not gone unnoticed that Andrew Coventry (SNP) has also resigned his Cabinet position, citing “work commitments”.

Responding to cries for clarity from the Labour Group at last month’s full council meeting, Provost Joe Wallace (SNP) assured elected members Councillor Beattie had not been sacked. “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” he said.

In which case, media reports that Councillor Beattie was set to be ousted from power were either miraculously prophetic, or the “sources” quoted within them were telling the truth. If nothing else, it seems openness and transparency are the real victims in this sorry affair.

Nothing is ever quite what it seems in politics, and while the Labour party has publicly expressed its“disappointment” over Councillor Beattie’s ungainly departure, more cynical observers might suspect that its members are in fact rubbing their hands together in glee.

Midlothian MP David Hamilton (Lab) said: “I am saddened and bewildered by the behaviour that has taken place. It is clear that, despite the reason given by Councillor Beattie and her group, she was forced out.

“The SNP are treating the public with utter contempt, and I urge Councillors Beattie and Bryant to explain themselves. They owe it to the people who elected them just eight weeks ago.”

Labour group leader Derek Milligan, who during last week’s special meeting produced a copy of Councillor Beattie’s council diary as “evidence” that she had been forced out of office, told the Advertiser: “We had a host of questions to put to the administration about this shambles, but the supposedly transparent and accountable group simply abused the power of the Provost’s post to deny any debate.

“If the leader had always intended to resign after five weeks, why was she accepting engagements as leader well into next year, and why was it that everyone was aware – including several newspapers – that she had been given an ultimatum by her group to resign or be sacked the week before? Similarly, we want to know how much it has cost to produce stationery, business cards and 40,000 copies of Midlothian News, which reports in detail about the new make-up of the cabinet.”

As always, the Advertiser’s position remains neutral. We made numerous attempts to contact the SNP group seeking clarity on the various issues but Councillors Thompson, Bryant and Beattie declined to comment. Honeymoon periods tend to be short in the world of politics, and already some are predicting a bitter divorce for this SNP-led coalition. “The smart money is this group will not last until Christmas,” Councillor Milligan said last week.

It seems that neither political machinations nor human nature have changed a great deal since Ancient Rome. If that is so, Councillor Beattie should consider it fortunate that colleagues weren’t wearing togas during last month’s alleged coup, otherwise she might have come to a sticky end on the steps into the council chamber.

When asked what the cost implications of the leadership change were to the council, a spokesman said: “The council uses an electronic template for correspondence to save money and there were no new business cards printed for Councillor Beattie. The information about the Cabinet was accurate at the time of writing and only comprised one story in a 28 page publication.”