BY KEITH MACKENZIE
“Anti-terrorist, rather than anti-Muslim” is how a Skye councillor has described the Facebook posts which have cost him two senior positions.
At the end of last week Drew Millar resigned his membership of the Liberal Democrats after the party began disciplinary procedures against him for having shared online posts originating from the far-right group “Britain First”.
The long-serving Portree-based councillor had chaired Highland Council’s community safety, public engagement and equalities committee, and was also leading the customer services board examining the future of the area’s service point network.
Having been stripped of the LibDem-appointed posts, Councillor Millar has now pledged to serve the remainder of his term in office as an independent.
The complaints over the online activity focused on three posts originating from Britain First — an offshoot of the British National Party which describes itself as a movement of British “nationalism, patriotism and democracy” and views Islam as an “alien and destructive” doctrine.
Speaking to the Free Press, Councillor Millar described his actions as “naive” but said he stood by the sentiments in the posts.
One of the posts urged: “Nick Clegg says teaching British values in schools could offend moderate Muslims — share if you think Nick Clegg is a cretin.”
Another carried pictures purporting to be from a demonstration of Islamic fundmentalists in London, and bearing placards which warned of a 9/11 coming to Europe. It was accompainied by text which included the line: “Muslims have stated that England will be the first country they take over.”
A third post carried the slogan “share if you think this is an outrage”, in response to a reported case of a schoolteacher ordering a pupil to remove a “Help for Heroes” wristband for fear it may offend Muslims.
Councillor Millar said he had shared the posts — which have now been removed — without checking the original source.
“I was naive — and maybe it’s a lesson for an old codger like me to be more careful when using sites like Facebook. I should have investigated the original source,” he added.
Although he insisted he did not agree with the overall outlook of Britain First, Councillor Millar felt the content of the posts in question were “anti-terrorist and anti-Nick Clegg, rather than anti-Muslim”.
He added that he was disappointed to have been stripped of the council posts before he had been given a chance to explain himself. As a result, he had decided to leave the party — hinting too that his public support for Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum may have influenced the approach taken by LibDem colleagues.
“I wanted to explain that I had a justifiable reason for sharing these pictures,” said Councillor Millar.
He said it had always been his intention to step down as councillor at the next election in two years’ time.
“I served as an independent for 15 years before joining the LibDems, and will continue to serve the people of Skye and Lochalsh as best I can for the next two-and-a-half years.
“People I’ve met in the street have been very supportive — I think for most of them they will wonder what the fuss is about.”
David Alston, the leader of the Highland Council Liberal Democrats, dismissed the notion that Councillor Millar had been punished for his pro-independence stance. He added: “That is just diverting attention away from the seriousness of what he has done.”
A statement released by the Highland LibDems last Friday said: “In early October, the group was made aware that Councillor Drew Millar of Skye had shared with friends on his Facebook page images and comments which came from Britain First, an extreme right-wing organisation. This was anti-Islamic material used by Britain First to stir up religious hatred.
“The group immediately acted to make the convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats aware of this and he initiated the process of investigating the complaint.
“Due to the nature of the material, Councillor Millar was given the opportunity to voluntarily stand aside from his position as chair of the community safety, public engagement and equalities committee while the investigation was underway.
“He declined to do so and has subsequently resigned from the LibDem Group on Highland Council and resigned his membership of the Liberal Democrats.”
The statement continued: “In the strongest possible terms, the Liberal Democrat Group condemns the dissemination of such material as utterly reprehensible and wholly unacceptable. It has no place in our free and tolerant society and any councillor, from any political party, should face swift and appropriate action when found to be in breach of stringent regulations governing the conduct of members.”