SIC political leader Josie Simpson has said that a mock Nazi salute directed at him by councillor Jonathan Wills during a private meeting last week was in “very, very poor taste”, especially as it came “just after we stood for a minute’s silence for the victims of the atrocities in Norway”.
Defending himself, Dr Wills said Mr Simpson “does not appreciate irony” but admitted that his “ironical” gesture had “backfired” – after which he had apologised for any offence caused. But he maintains that Mr Simpson was behaving in a “dictatorial” manner in the way he chaired the meeting.
During a behind closed doors session of the Full Council last Wednesday, Dr Wills quarrelled with Mr Simpson at the start of a debate over whether the SIC should spend £200,000 on acquiring a residential property in Lerwick (see this coming Friday’s Shetland Times for full story).
Dr Wills sought unsuccessfully to prevent the purchase because it was to be used “specifically to accommodate visiting consultants”. Mr Simpson said the council was looking at acquiring the property “for general use”.
The outspoken member for Lerwick South was angered that, as the mover of a resolution not to buy the house in question, he was not allowed to speak at the outset to outline the main points of his argument. After he was later able to present his case, Dr Wills lost the vote by 12-4.
“He [Mr Simpson] was acting as a dictator,” Dr Wills told The Shetland Times. “I gave a mock salute and said ‘Ja wohl Mein Fuhrer’ as an ironical, jokey way of puncturing the situation. It wasn’t appreciated, so I apologised. It backfired. People do that all the time when confronted with dictatorial behaviour.
“The fact remains that he [Mr Simpson], the convener [Sandy Cluness] and the chair of education [Betty Fullerton] have lost the plot when it comes to chairing meetings. No assembly in the world runs it in that way. Someone makes a motion, and is then invited to say why they’re proposing it.”
An initial statement from the SIC said only that there had been a “robust challenge” from a councillor “to the use of the meeting rules”. Because the comments had later been withdrawn that was “the end of the matter”, a spokesman said.
But Mr Simpson subsequently said that Dr Wills’ gesture had left a sour taste. He felt it was particularly ill-judged as it came during a meeting which had begun with a sombre minute’s silence for the 76 victims of Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Brevik. A book of condolences was opened last Thursday at Lerwick Town Hall.
“It seemed to be in very, very poor taste to say the least just after we stood for a minute’s silence for the victims of the atrocities in Norway by a right-wing extremist,” Mr Simpson said. “Councillors’ code of conduct prevents me from discussing details of what went on at the meeting, but his statement gave a very distorted view of the meeting.”