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Watchdog to probe Alness councillor's jibe

By Hugh Ross

Carolyn Wilson - asked to apologise
Carolyn Wilson - asked to apologise

A SENIOR Ross-shire councillor who accused a top official of “stifling democracy” will be investigated by a national watchdog, it has emerged.

A complaint has been lodged to the Standards Commission for Scotland about Carolyn Wilson (Cromarty Firth), who heads up the biggest political group on the local authority, the Independents.

Strict rules are in place for the behaviour of elected representatives and all councillors must adhere to a code of conduct.

The council’s SNP/Lib Dem/Labour leadership had demanded that Councillor Wilson, leader of Highland Council’s political opposition, apologise for the remark made about the authority’s assistant chief executive Michelle Morris after a heated debate about rent increases in January.

During the Inverness meeting Ms Morris said a proposed motion from two Independent councillors to halve rent increases was not legally competent, much to the opposition’s anger.

Afterwards, Councillor Wilson gave an interview in which she claimed Ms Morris had stifled democracy because she was not an elected representative.

Council leader Drew Hendry, his deputy David Alston and convener Jimmy Gray called for a public apology and said Councillor Wilson had “wrongly claimed” Ms Morris had overruled councillors.

A spokesman for Stuart Allan, the Standards Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, who will investigate the complaint, confirmed a probe was under way. “I can confirm that we have received a complaint against Councillor Carolyn Wilson,” she said. “It is not our practice to comment further until the commissioner concludes any enquiries investigation.”

Councillor Wilson said she could not comment after advice from the commission.

Councillor Alston, who defended the professional advice provided by Ms Morris during the controversial meeting, said the same thing.

If the commissioner recommends a public hearing is held, the Standards Commission could hand down sanctions like a censure, suspension or disqualification.

Veteran Lib Dem councillor Ken MacLeod, an Inverness-based solicitor with Ullapool connections, was censured by the commission last year after he opposed a controversial planning development in Ross-shire while acting legally for objectors.

He was reported by Highland independent list MSP Jean Urquhart, who said the verdict vindicated her complaint.

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