A full council meeting was told yesterday that SNP leader Lisa Beattie had stepped down.
Council chiefs in Midlothian have been accused of throwing a veil of secrecy over the resignation, as the information was only revealed after opposition councillors asked for rumours about Councillor Beattie to be cleared up.
Although it was eventually confirmed she had quit as SNP group leader, and leader of the council – after just five weeks in the job – no reason was given.
After the meeting, the SNP group issued a statement saying it had accepted her resignation “with reluctance”. It went on to quote Cllr Beattie, saying “as planned” she was stepping back to concentrate on the education and communities remit, which was already part of her portfolio.
The News yesterday revealed claims that Cllr Beattie, who is married to Midlothian North & Musselburgh SNP MSP Colin Beattie, had faced a rebellion within the SNP group and had been warned there would be a vote of no confidence if she did not stand down.
One source said: “She was continually telling them they had to ‘back me or sack me’ and if they would not agree to what she wanted she was going to pack it in.”
The SNP took power in Midlothian with independent Peter de Vink after last month’s council elections, ending decades of Labour control.
Labour group leader Derek Milligan said Cllr Beattie was not at yesterday’s meeting and there was no mention of her resignation until he asked about rumours that she had been sacked by the SNP group.
He said: “The Provost said no-one had sacked her, they were very disappointed she had resigned and he was calling a special council meeting next week. But they would not let us see the letter. It was not tabled. Had we not raised the matter, they were not going to tell anyone.
“The public are going to wonder about this open and transparent government the SNP talked about prior to the election. If the Evening News had not reported it, how would we have known?”
In the statement issued by the SNP group, Cllr Beattie said: “I had always intended to see the group through the initial weeks when critical work had to be done setting up the infrastructure and settling our new councillors into their portfolios. That has now been done and I am very pleased with both the commitment and the enthusiasm the team are showing.
“As planned, I am stepping back to allow myself to engage with and focus on my passion which is education and communities. I made it clear from the beginning that I wanted to concentrate on this area.”
An SNP group spokesperson added: “Lisa has done a great job of getting us off to a good start and we know she will always be there to help and support us when we need this.”
Cllr Milligan said: “I find it bizarre that the staff all around her were telling us she had been dismissed as group leader for demanding blind obedience and yet here we have the SNP group denying it and saying she is leaving to pursue her love of education.
“They are going to have to do a lot better than that to persuade people there has not been a major falling out here.”
A special council meeting will take place next Tuesday to elect a new council leader.