East Renfrewshire council accused of ‘bias’ ahead of election

The picture was posted on the East Renfrewshire council website
The picture was posted on the East Renfrewshire council website
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A local authority has been accused of favouring established parties at the expense of independents after posting a picture of three candidates on its website ahead of next month’s council elections.

Officials at East Renfrewshire Council have been accused of breaching purdah rules governing the neutrality of staff, with independent candidates demanding the resignation of returning officer and council chief executive Lorraine McMillan after a press release was sent out in her name urging locals to participate in the vote.

McMillan was pictured in the press release alongside Labour group leader Jim Fletcher, SNP group leader Tony Buchanan, and Tory group leader Stewart Miller.

The trio were holding up numbers 1, 2, and 3 to signify to voters the STV system used in council elections.

The image was briefly posted on the East Renfrewshire Council website before being deleted.

Purdah is covered by Section 2 of the Local Govt Act and states local authorities should not, in the build up to the election, “publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.”

“I knew as soon as I saw the picture it was a breach of ‘purdah’ guidelines, designed to protect council officials from suspicions of bias,” Paul Drury, an independent candidate for the Giffnock and Thornliebank ward, told the Glasgow South and Eastwood Extra.
“The council leader, who I’m competing with on May 4, was pictured next to her smiling face, holding a Number 1.

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“Yet in two weeks’ time, she’s expected to be impartially counting his votes…..and mine. “I’m afraid the returning officer no longer commands the confidence of other candidates and has no choice but to step down.”

A spokesperson for East Renfrewshire Council said: “We have a clear duty to encourage voters to participate in all elections.

“A national campaign is underway across Scotland to encourage participation in the forthcoming local elections and as always East Renfrewshire Council has been very proactive in supporting the drive to ensure voters take part. 
“Voter turnout in East Renfrewshire is typically very high however participation in local elections has tended to be low in the past and we have therefore been doing all we can to promote the forthcoming election to our residents.

“Indeed, the press release issued makes very clear the rationale for its release - simply to encourage participation on May 4.

“The group leaders of the current parties represented within the Council took part in a photo to accompany the news release. An independent councillor was invited to take part but was unavailable however did give support for the photo given its wholly non-political nature.

“At no time were we promoting any one party or candidate over another.”