A bitter row has erupted after a Lib Dem councillor was caught encouraging a constituent to “harass” an SNP rival.
Lewis Simpson, who represents Strathmore in Perthshire, sent an email to a member of the public, suggesting they target city centre councillor Eric Drysdale over a highly contentious planning matter.
But Mr Drysdale became aware when Mr Simpson inadvertently copied him into the email.
The Courier understands the matter was reported to council chief executive Karen Reid, and Mr Simpson was hauled before her and the council’s head of legal services in a videocall.
Mr Simpson issued a written apology to Mr Drysdale, and was warned about his conduct.
Mr Drysdale said he accepted Mr Simpson’s apology, told him “no hard feelings,” and decided against taking his complaint to the Standards Commission for Scotland.
The email was sent to a Perthshire resident campaigning against the council’s flagship Cross Tay Link Road project, in the run-up to a crucial planning meeting in October.
But the incident came to light after Mr Simpson was elected convener of the council’s Local Review Body on Wednesday, replacing the SNP’s Henry Anderson who died in December after contracting coronavirus.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said October’s email was evidence that Mr Simpson was not a “fit and proper person” to be in charge of the committee.
He said he was disappointed that Mr Simpson had been voted in by Lib Dem and Tory councillors. “Last year, Councillor Simpson encouraged a member of the public to harass a fellow elected councillor over a planning matter,” he said.
“I think Councillor Simpson was lucky that he was not referred to the Standards Commission at the time over his comments, but they are made all the worse now by the fact that he will be in an important position of power when it comes to planning matters in the county.”
He said: “It is my view that Lewis Simpson is not a fit and proper person to be in charge of this important committee and I am surprised that if Conservative councillors knew of the incident, that they reached the conclusion that he was indeed fit and proper.”
Mr Wishart said: “If we are to have faith in our planning system going forward, it is imperative that we have faith in those who are decision makers. Given the seriousness of the previous planning matter that Councillor Simpson was involved in, I do not believe it appropriate that he could potentially have a casting vote on the Local Review Body.”
Mr Simpson responded: “I am astounded by this latest disgraceful example of the SNP’s usual unnecessarily personal petty scraping of the very bottom of the sour grapes barrel.”
Mr Simpson, who was convener of the same group when the Lib Dems were part of the administration, pledged that he would work with “colleagues from all political groups to ensure that issues brought before us receive a fair hearing.”
He added: “I apologised to Councillor Drysdale for my poor choice of words in an e-mail last year. His response was: ‘Thanks Lewis, and I accept your apology. No hard feelings at all’.”
Councillor Murray Lyle, leader of the minority Tory administration, said he was satisfied that the matter had been resolved.
Mr Drysdale declined to comment.
Veteran Lib Dem councillor Willie Wilson added that he had “every confidence” in Mr Simpson and dismissed Mr Wishart’s comments as “total nonsense”.