Angus Council’s ruling administration is on the verge of collapse after a senior Tory councillor was unmasked as the man behind a “callous and misogynistic” Twitter troll account.
Despite previously denying any involvement, Arbroath East and Lunan councillor Derek Wann has now admitted he was responsible for running an anonymous profile named after the Lady Whistledown character in the popular Netflix series Bridgerton.
The confession came after our analysis of posts shared by the account over a number of months found striking resemblances to content on the public profiles of Mr Wann, a one-time General Election candidate for the Scottish Conservatives.
Hiding behind the vitriolic profile, Mr Wann posted disparaging comments about the appearance of prominent female politicians, mocked Dundee’s tragic record on drug deaths and argued with members of the public who challenged him as a councillor.
The SNP has called for Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross to immediately sack the councillor – who also serves as children and learning convener. However, further questions hang over the council’s administration.
Council leader David Fairweather, an Independent, has refused to answer why he was following the Lady Whistledown account – a profile which regularly tagged him in posts and which he frequently interacted with – or whether he knew Mr Wann was behind it.
We asked Mr Fairweather whether he intends to ask Mr Wann – a close political ally – to resign from the ruling group, if he thinks Mr Wann should quit as a councillor and what that could mean for the future of the administration.
He would not answer those questions but told us: “Councillor Wann is a Conservative councillor and thus will be investigated by that party. If he is sacked or resigns it will be up to him if he wishes to become an independent councillor.”
Pressed again for further details, Mr Fairweather later added: “Until I have a meeting with the administration group, I am unable to comment further.”
It is understood revelations over Mr Wann’s online behaviour could throw the already scandal-hit ruling group into further turmoil, with its single-councillor majority only maintained earlier this year after welcoming back a disgraced former member.
A shoogly peg
It is not yet clear whether Mr Wann would stand down as a councillor if he was sacked by the party or choose to sit as an Independent, which would mean he could continue to play a part in running council business and preside over a committee.
SNP group leader Beth Whiteside would not speculate on whether opposition councillors would look to form their own ruling group if Mr Wann is dropped but said the administration is now on a “shoogly peg”.
“I really think he has made his position completely untenable – he’s bringing the council into disrepute,” she said.
“The SNP group have contacted council officers asking them what they’re planning to do and really I don’t think he can defend his position or be taken seriously.
“He can’t be sitting at the head of that committee and moralising about what is being done in schools after what he’s done.”
Angus Council said it is “not in a position to comment” but it is understood the SNP group intends to meet next week to discuss the situation.
Struggling to keep control
Ms Whiteside said she believes that Mr Wann should quit as a councillor and that if he is allowed to remain, it will only be because the ruling group has been “struggling to keep control of the council” and Mr Fairweather has “ran out of room to manoeuvre”.
The administration faced a bitter dispute after allowing councillor Richard Moore to return to the fold in a bid to hang on to power following the resignation of Lois Speed and Ben Lawrie amid accusations of an “unhealthy culture” at the top.
Mr Moore was previously suspended for three months after inappropriate conduct towards four women, including Ms Speed.
Hiding behind the Lady Whistledown profile, Mr Wann regularly picked out other members of Angus Council for targeted abuse, including the two councillors who departed the ruling group this year.
He also referred to first minister Nicola Sturgeon as “the Bute House golem” and in reference to an SNP activist being bitten by a dog, stated: “Dogs know a wrongun”.
The SNP has challenged Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross to take decisive disciplinary action against the councillor, in what is described as a “serious test” of his leadership.
SNP MSP Rona Mackay said: “There is no place in politics for such obnoxious and sleekit behaviour. Derek Wann’s conduct is absolutely indefensible, particularly in mocking drugs deaths.
“This is a serious test of Mr Ross’s leadership – he must act without delay. There is no need for an investigation when the man at the centre of it all has already admitted his atrocious behaviour.”
Mr Wann repeatedly rubbished any suggestion he was involved with the account, including after being contacted by us just after 4pm on Thursday with fresh allegations, but issued a statement apologising for his actions just over an hour later.
He said: “I apologise sincerely for how I have handled this matter. My actions were unacceptable. I have now provided the party with the relevant facts so they can conduct an investigation.”
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “As we have already said, we are investigating this matter. That process is ongoing.
“Given that the SNP’s own internal investigations often take more than a year, if they ever conclude at all, they should get their own house in order first.
“By the standards the SNP are hypocritically claiming must be upheld, Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly failed tests of leaderships over and over again, particularly when she failed to do anything whatsoever about the SNP membership of the disgraced ex-finance minister Derek Mackay.”