WHEN is a council coalition not a coalition? “When it is not written down” would appear to be the answer.

East Lothian Council has been run by a Labour minority administration for the past two years. On every major issue including two annual budgets they have been backed by the Conservative group.

Yet Labour and the Tories deny any formal “arrangement” between the two groups, even though last month they cooperated to vote down an SNP proposal that the council’s ruling Cabinet should reflect the number of seats won by each party rather than being all Labour. The undeclared “arrangement” has survived even the resignation of Tory councillor Brian Small in February which caused uproar in the council.

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In his resignation letter, the Haddington and Lammermuir councillor wrote: “The Conservative Group on East Lothian Council are letting down those who voted for them. The group is meant to be the opposition but their actions in recent times – and in particular the recent budget – are more reminiscent of a coalition partner. That to me is wholly unacceptable.”

SNP group leader Stuart Currie told The National: “Brian Small had been the Tory group leader at first in 2017 and he said there was a de facto coalition ongoing between Labour and the Tories. Our view is simple: when the Labour group shouts

jump the Tories’ response is to ask ‘how high?’

“At the budget meeting, they didn’t even need to vote. If they had just abstained, Labour would have won anyway. The problem for Labour here and elsewhere is that they want the certainty of knowing their budgets are going through, so they talk to the Tories.

“There was a formal Labour-Tory coalition in the five years leading up to the 2017 election and the only reason there isn’t one now is that Kezia Dugdale said Labour groups couldn’t do deals with the Tories.

“But it’s all done in secret and here they are a coalition in all but name.”

Not surprisingly the other groups do not see it that way. Conservative group leader councillor Jane Henderson denied any such pact, saying: “While the SNP plays politics about what meetings they attend and which committees they sit on, the Conservatives in East Lothian are getting on with the job of effectively holding the minority Labour administration to account.

“There is no coalition with Labour, de facto or otherwise. Instead our record is one of strong, constructive opposition, while the SNP seeks to frustrate the work of the council to avoid answering questions about SNP cuts to core local government finance.”

Council leader Willie Innes had not replied to The National by the time we went to press.