Leader just survives dismissal motion

Midlothian House.
Midlothian House.

Midlothian Council leader Catherine Johnstone last week narrowly survived calls for her to be removed over accusations she put her party ahead of local people.

At a fiery full council meeting at Midlothian House a Labour motion called on the council to remove Cllr Johnstone from her position following claims that she refused to write a letter to Finance Minster Derek MacKay complaining about Holyrood plans to take £1.2 million of council tax money out of Midlothian.

It was claimed she did not want Midlothian to be the only SNP-led local authority to criticise the Scottish Government. The planned tax grab was subsequently scrapped.

These claims were made previously by Councillor Peter De Vink (Independent), who was recently removed from the council administration.

This led Labour to claim in its motion that Cllr Johnstone was “not fit to lead this council or to defend the interests of Midlothian people, particularly when they conflict with the perceived interests of her own party”.

Speaking ahead of the motion, Cllr Johnstone said that acting on “hearsay and rumour” displayed “poor integrity” and accused Labour of pettiness.

With the motion needing ten votes, Green councillor Ian Baxter’s position was vital. He said: “It’s a very serious position to take and we have to be absolutely clear that we are doing the right thing.

“I’m not convinced either way on this. To my mind I feel it’s a yellow card incident rather than a red one.

“Unless somebody else from that meeting can come forward and collaborate what Cllr De Vink has said he was told it leaves me in no other position but to abstain.”

Labour councillors were quick to point out that there had been no denial and that the emphasis was on SNP councillors to say that she did make the comment.

The motion was passed by nine votes to seven, with Cllr Baxter abstaining, but it was ineffective as it did not secure the ten votes required. The vote sparked furious scenes in the council chambers with Provost Joe Wallace referring to Cll De Vink as “comrade” and accusing him of “porkies” and “tittle tattle”. He later withdrew his comments made “in the heat of battle”.

An earlier motion put forward by Cllr De Vink and seconded by Cllr Baxter, calling on the council leader to write to COSLA to thank them for putting pressure on the Scottish Government to reverse its planned tax grab, was successful by ten votes to eight.