Midlothian provost apology over veterans comments

Provost Joe Wallace
Provost Joe Wallace

Provost apologises after veterans comments spark backlash

Criticism aimed at the MoD was interpreted by his opponents as a slur on military personnel who had served their country on the front line.

Councillor Wallace said his words “could have been chosen better.”’

And he reiterated his commitment to giving veterans in Midlothian the support they need.

His apology came just days after his attempt to highlight the MoD’s lack of support for people returning to civvy street after serving in the armed forces sparked a bitter exchange between Labour and the SNP.

A Midlothian Council officer also contacted the police for guidance as the war of words intensified.

In a debate on cuts to the budget for MELDAP – Midlothian and East Lothian Drug and Alcohol Partnership – the Provost hit out: ‘‘We are expected to give people houses and jobs if they are called a veteran. A veteran is somebody who can sign up for one day to the TA.

“The MoD send us people with mental health problems. They come out the army with drugs and drink problems and they get passed on to us. The MoD takes no care of them whatsoever – maybe about six months and they get passed on to the NHS and Midlothian are expected to give these people houses and jobs.”

The local Labour Group took exception, and demanded he resign as provost, saying his comments were ‘‘completely incompatible’’ with his civic role and that of a veterans’ champion.

Councillor Derek Milligan, who chairs the committee where the provost hit out – and is also leader of Midlothian Labour Group – said: “I could not believe my ears. To lambast our veterans in this manner was absolutely disgraceful. ‘‘

That prompted a sharp reply from the SNP Group who accused their opponents of ‘‘gutter politics’’ adding: Cllr Milligan’s selective part of a passionate speech does the arguments that Cllr Wallace was making no justice, and we are saddened to see this type of extreme and unjustified gutter politics even from the Midlothian Labour Group.”

As the war of words between the parties continued, the provost issued an apology.

He said: ‘‘I apologise unreservedly if my comments caused offence.

‘‘I was expressing my frustration at cuts to the MELDAP budget (Midlothian and East Lothian Drug and Alcohol Partnership) and I accept I should have chosen my words better. I am absolutely committed to ensuring our veterans in Midlothian receive the support they need.’’

There was support from the Provost from one councillor at the meeting who saw the bigger picture.

Ian Baxter (Greens) said: “Although he could have articulated it better, it was clear that his argument was that care for those coming out of the services with health and dependency issues should be paid for from Ministry of Defence budgets and should not fall on the NHS, councils, relatives and charities.

‘‘In this I agree with him, as otherwise it becomes a hidden cost of our involvement in the legal and illegal wars we seem to keep getting ourselves involved in.’’