By-election storm in Midlothian over publicity

Midlothian Council headquarters
Midlothian Council headquarters

Midlothian’s Labour councillors are demanding answers after claiming a council press release “clearly breached” election rules.

With the Midlothian West by-election only a week away, the Labour Group has lodged an official complaint with council chief executive Kenneth Lawrie over a “factually incorrect” story about the new primary school in Bilston.

Midlothian Council has strict guidelines about the information it puts out the the general public so as not influence people’s voting.

The Advertiser recently carried a story about the construction of the new primary school at Bilston with a photo of an SNP councillor performing the sod cutting ceremony.

Labour councillors also objected to a quote implying that the project was being delivered by the SNP-run council.

Labour Group Leader Derek Milligan said: “I am looking for a clear explanation. I am absolutely dumbfounded at the negligence of the whole thing.

“I think it the council which has broken the rules. It is now whether the council is going to come out with a clear and very accurate statement. This has been a clear breach of the rules and should be accepted by them.”

Mr Milligan believed that there was a three-point checking system in place for council press releases.

“Someone somewhere should have picked this up,” he said.

In his letter to Mr Lawrie, Councillor Milligan calls for a public acknowledgement that election rules had been broken and that the press release should never have been issued.

In addition, he has requested the council clarify the funding aspect of the new primary school.

He adds in his letter: “A simple apology for these clear breaches is not enough.  This is a serious matter which has the potential to affect the result of the election and may result in the Labour campaign having to recall printing work that has already taken place in order to make sure that the people of Midlothian West are provided with accurate information.”

Asked whether the Labour Group would consider legal action, Mr Milligan said: “I am not sure. We would need to take advice.”

Councillor Milligan met with Mr Lawrie on Tuesday morning to discuss the matter.

As our deadline approached Mr Lawrie issued a statement to say he was looking into complaints made by Councillor Milligan and would make a full response as soon as possible. This will include an apology for the breach of procedure which has occurred.

The Midlothian West by-election takes place on Thursday, September 10. following the resignation of former Council Leader Owen Thompson (SNP) who was elected to Westminster at the General Election in May.