The Standards Commission for Scotland had been asked to investigate if comments made by Dunfermline councillor Fay Sinclair earlier this year in relation to Labour group members amounted to a breach of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
The complaint centred on two tweets, subsequently picked up by the local press, which not only suggested bullying within Fife Council but also that Ms Sinclair’s Labour partners in the SNP/Labour coalition were the “worst” offenders.
However, while the Standards Commission could either investigate further or hold a hearing on the issue, it has now decided to do neither - ruling it was “neither proportionate, nor in the public interest” to do so.
In her report into the matter, Lorna Johnston, executive director at the Standards Commission for Scotland,said: “The Standards Commission noted that comments in the political context, which amount to value judgements, are to be tolerated even if untrue, as long as they have some factual basis.
“The Standards Commission was satisfied in this case that the comments made by the Respondent (Ms Sinclair) could therefore be considered to be value judgements or opinions, based on her view of her experiences.
“In the circumstances, therefore, the Standards Commission agreed with the Acting ESC that it was very unlikely that the conduct in question would be found to be sufficiently offensive, gratuitous or egregious as to justify a restriction on the Respondent’s enhanced right to freedom of expression.
“The Standards Commission noted that the option to take no action had been included in the 2000 Act to ensure that neither the ethical standards framework, nor the Standards Commission, was brought into disrepute by spending public funds on unnecessary administrative or legal processes in cases that did not, on balance, warrant such action.”
Ms Sinclair’s tweets came at a time when bullying in politics was heavily in the news, as Home Secretary Priti Patel had been found in breach of the Ministerial Code for that very reason.
Ms Sinclair tweeted: “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.”
And she then continued: “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," she continued.
"Folk see the negativity and are turned off politics.”
But the comments sparked concern and anger from Fife Council co-leader and Labour group leader, Councillor David Ross.
He said he had been left “flabbergasted” by the allegations which, he argued, could be construed as accusing every Labour councillor in Fife of bullying behaviour.
“Bullying and harassment has no place in politics at any level,” Mr Ross said at the time.
“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.”