An apparent weakening in Wir Shetland’s solidarity has emerged after an SIC councillor became embroiled in an online spat with the organisation’s chairman.
Amanda Westlake stepped down from the autonomy group on Monday, citing “aggression and bullying” as the reasons behind her decision.
According to group secretary Duncan Simpson, another two people have left the group in sympathy with Ms Westlake – although other sources have put the figure at four.
The row developed on a private online forum when Ms Westlake, an SNP member, asked Mr Tulloch if a poll had been taken before Wir Shetland pledged its support to Lib Dem candidate Tavish Scott.
However, Mr Tulloch immediately challenged Ms Westlake over her position on the future of the SIC’s schools. He said he had heard Ms Westlake had “new ideas” about managing the school estate.
That related to comments raised by Ms Westlake in the chamber, and previously reported by this newspaper, about the possibility of merging Sound and Bell’s Brae primaries to help save on £1.5 million in running costs.
Wir Shetland strongly supported the campaign against rural school closures.
However, the council has now defended its position after Mr Tulloch alleged to this newspaper that Ms Westlake was leading a proposal to adopt a “large-scale rationalisation of the schools estate” in order to help pay for a mega primary.
That is hotly contested by Ms Westlake and council officials, who insist a policy not to examine school closures until next year still stands.
Director of children’s services, Helen Budge, said: “It is council policy not to look further at the school estate until 2017.”
Speaking to this newspaper, Ms Westlake said a quick trawl of forum comments had shown aggression and hatred against the SNP.
For his part, Mr Tulloch said he was “mystified” as to how he had been aggressive, and insisted Wir Shetland remained strong and committed to its cause.
However, the row does bring unwanted attention in a week which has already seen Wir Shetland criticised for its decision to boycott the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s visit to the isles.
Ms Westlake told The Shetland Times: “I am very disappointed that, when I asked the chairman, John Tulloch, if Wir Shetland had done a poll with its members to back Tavish Scott and not the SNP, that he refused to answer the question at first.
“It’s the aggression, and the tone. What right does anybody have to speak to another human being like that?
She added: “I personally felt his [Mr Tullcoh’s] response was aggressive, and I play no part to aggression or bullying in any organisation.”
But Mr Tulloch said he was “mystified” as to how he had been aggressive.
He insisted the Wir Shetland group remained strong and committed.
“I thought it was straightforward. I simply pressed her on a question of whether she supports the campaign to save the rural schools against closure.
“She refused to answer consistently. I pressed her on that point and she resigned.
“I don’t know how big their commitment was in the first place if they are leaving over something like that,” he added.
• More on this story in Friday’s Shetland Times.