Changes on the cards as day of drama leaves power in the balance

ALL three Lothian councils were left in no overall control after the drama of election day, with parties facing crunch talks over the weekend.

A dismal result for the Lib Dems, in which they lost all of their seats, ensured major shake-ups in Midlothian and East Lothian.

And in West Lothian, the group of four Action to Save St John’s councillors who propped up the SNP administration all lost their seats.

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MIDLOTHIAN could be in line for its first SNP administration after Labour lost two seats, and the parties will now battle to form the next administration, having returned eight members each.

The county’s first Green councillor, Ian Baxter, who was successful in the Bonnyrigg ward, may well hold the key after the newly elected independent Peter de Vink ruled out the possibility of working with Labour.

Mr Baxter told the Evening News he would be questioning the council on ‘financial mismanagement’, including a row over public money awarded to a football club’s car park.

Labour stalwart Jackie Aitchison was de-selected by his party in the run up to the election, and he failed to secure a seat after standing as an independent in the same ward as former running mate Derek Milligan, the leader of the previous administration.

Describing the council as being in a ‘difficult place’, Milligan said: “It would be untruthful of me to say I’m not disappointed that we failed to regain control, but when you are taking hard decisions they do affect people and how they vote.”

In a bad-natured exchange, Labour Councillor Adam Montgomery refused to shake hands with a member of the SNP at the count.

SNP group leader Lisa Beattie vowed to seek an end to ‘Punch and Judy’ politics, adding: “Residents are fed up with it – they want to see elected representatives doing their job.”

The Conservatives look set to play a key role in the formation of a new EAST LOTHIAN administration.

Labour gained three seats and now have ten members, while the SNP have nine, the Conservatives three and independent John Caldwell was re-elected.

The Nationalists had led a coalition administration with the Lib Dems for the past five years.

Their position was strengthened when husband-and-wife Lib Dem councillors Stuart and Ruth Currie defected to the party.

But the SNP – which had been keen to take overall control – suffered a blow after four of its councillors, including Mrs Currie, lost their seats while the Lib Dems were completely wiped out.

The Conservatives gained a seat after Michael Veitch ran in Dunbar and East Linton, where Lib Dem Jacquie Bell stood down after being suspended from the group for inappropriate conduct.

Labour group leader Willie Innes said: “This has been a ‘stunning day’ for Labour in East Lothian, the result of hard work and a positive manifesto.”

Speaking of Mrs Currie’s departure, he said: “We were disappointed that we didn’t win another seat as we thought her husband was a risk too.”

SNP Councillor Dave Berry, who said it was a surprise that Labour did so well, said: “We put 12 councillors up because we felt if the wind was fair we could have become the majority – we anticipated the Lib Dems would do badly.”

In WEST LOTHIAN, Labour are best placed to form the next administration as the biggest party by one councillor.

The newly elected council is made up of 16 Labour, 15 SNP, one Conservative and an independent.

Five years ago, Labour emerged from the elections as the biggest party with 14 seats to the Nationalists’ 13.

But it was the SNP which formed a coalition with three councillors elected under the Action to Save St John’s Hospital banner and a Tory.

All of the Action to Save St John have now lost their seats. The administration has grown from 32 members to 33, after a growing population turned Bathgate in to a four-member ward.

Labour group leader John McGinty said: “We have the largest group in the council and we will be working to see if we can form the administration.

“Our priorities are to ensure we provide opportunities for jobs and training and to take that forward for young people.

“We want to develop new training programmes to get people in to work and we want similar investment in the education service.

“We also have a commitment to building another 1000 council houses.”

Speaking of the campaign against the withdrawal of services from St John’s Hospital, he said: “This is an issue that is still of concern.”

The SNP gained two seats, and group leader Peter Johnston said: “We are still to actually make the final tallies, but at this point, we believe we have out performed every other party in West Lothian in terms of the number of votes counted.

“We came within a whisper of gaining an outright SNP council but clearly, STV did not work for us on this occasion.

“However, we recognise that as the largest party, Labour should have an opportunity to form an administration.

“If they fail, we will speak to other members about the opportunities available and work to ensure that West Lothian continues to be Scotland’s best performing council.”