A probe has been launched after allegations by a prominent Fife councillor that Labour members of the joint administration are the “worst” bullying culprits.
Councillor Fay Sinclair, who recently stepped down as convener of the region’s education and children’s services committee for health reasons, has spoken out on the subject amid the ongoing row over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s refusal to resign, despite breaching the ministerial code.
Ms Sinclair, a mother-of-three, said she believes bullying in local government is “sadly accepted” and claimed she has been on the receiving end, particularly from fellow elected members while serving in Fife’s joint SNP/Labour coalition.
Fife Council co-leader and Labour group leader David Ross said he is “flabbergasted” about the comments.
“Victims are told to have thicker skin, rather than bullies be challenged,” Ms Sinclair said.
“I’ve experienced this first hand. My Labour ‘partners’ have been the worst.
“I’m no longer prepared to just quietly take it. Bullies don’t deserve my respect.
“So many of my friends have said to me over the years: ‘I see the abuse you get and I don’t know how you do it – I couldn’t’. That is so wrong.
“These are capable people, mostly women, who care deeply about their communities and would be superb local representatives.
“There can be a fine line between robust political debate and personal attack but if we fail to challenge bullying we will never attract or retain representatives who care more about their communities than political point scoring.
“Folk see the negativity and are turned off politics.”
Ms Sinclair – who has been shortlisted for the Champion of Education title in the 2020 National Councillor Awards – broke ranks on social media on Sunday night in response to a Tweet by quiz-show host and author Richard Osman.
He said: “If you can’t do your job without bullying people then you can’t do your job.”
In local government bullying is sadly accepted. Victims are told to have thicker skin rather than bullies be challenged. I've experienced this first hand. My Labour "partners" have been the worst. I'm no longer prepared to just quietly take it. Bullies don't deserve my respect. https://t.co/a1nG0R8zFl
— Fay Sinclair (@FFaySinclair) November 22, 2020
As well as speaking to colleagues about the abuse she has received, Ms Sinclair also said she had raised the behaviour of “some members” with chief executive Steve Grimmond but said it “never seems to go anywhere”.
She refused to publicly name those responsible when asked by The Courier.
“Generally in politics you are told to have a thick skin but you become the focus for a lot of negative energy, particularly in a partnership where there are different parties involved,” she added.
“There are people who would be fantastic councillors who would not touch it with a barge pole because of the abuse, but these are the people who we really need to get involved.
“If we don’t start to change things then we’ll never see these good people standing.”
Mr Ross said there were “very clearly laid down” processes to deal with bullying and harassment in the council.
He added: “I’m flabbergasted by these accusations.
“No complaints of this nature have been raised with me or with our chief whip by Councillor Sinclair or by the council’s chief executive, as I would expect them to be if there was any substance to them.
“Bullying and harassment has no place in politics at any level.
“I am not aware of any specific complaints of this nature being raised about any members of the Labour Group.
“Legitimate challenge of policy or performance of senior councillors is an essential part of an open and transparent local democratic system and I hope this is not an attempt to stifle that challenge by trying to claim it is bullying or harassment.”
Morag Ferguson, Fife Council’s head of legal and democratic services, said: “Councillors follow a national code of conduct which is enforced by the Standards Commission for Scotland and is very clear on the standards of behaviour expected.
“As a council we don’t tolerate bullying and would encourage anyone to report any incidents so the appropriate action can be taken.
“In this case, any complaints received about the conduct of a councillor or councillors would be referred to the Ethical Standards Commissioner for investigation.”