RETURNING East Lothian Council leader Willie Innes has insisted there will be no coalition as his Labour Party look to form a minority administration.

Labour are again the largest party on the council, after claiming nine of the 22 seats following last Thursday’s election.

The previous administration at East Lothian Council was made up of an alliance of 10 Labour councillors, three Conservatives and one independent.

This time, Mr Innes said Labour were prepared to go it alone – but he said they would remain “open to good ideas”.

He told the Courier: “We are hoping to be in a position at the first council meeting to form a minority administration. The Scottish Government has proven a minority administration can work and we believe it can work for us as well.”

Labour supporters described the East Lothian showing as the party’s best in Scotland while the Conservatives were cock-a-hoop at securing seven seats.

There was disappointment for the SNP as they came third with six councillors, while former independent councillor John Caldwell, at the centre of a Musselburgh Racecourse row, was not re-elected.

New councillor Brian Small, the Tory group leader, said Mr Innes had told him that they were not planning a coalition.

Mr Small said: “We are surprised and, given the way people in East Lothian voted, I think many people expected that a coalition would continue between the Labour councillors and Conservative councillors – it seemed to work well in the past.

“They have made their position clear and we are now preparing to be the main opposition and make decisions in the best interest of people in East Lothian.

“If the Labour group want to speak to us again, by all means, but there is no guarantee. We might find being in opposition works well for us.”

SNP group leader Stuart Currie said that he had told Mr Innes he did not believe another alliance with the Conservatives would work.

He said: “Obviously, I am disappointed that not all of our excellent candidates made it this time, but with the Labour vote dropping by 10 per cent and going straight to the Tories, it was heartening that the number of people giving the SNP their first-preference votes was up by 16 per cent. We have said to Labour that minority administration is the right way forward.”

The Courier understands that Labour councillors across the county have been urged by national party chiefs not to form coalitions with the Tories ahead of the June 8 General Election.

Mr Innes, meanwhile, was confident he and his Labour colleagues could lead the council and work with other councillors in the best interest of the county.

He said: “I believe we can move forward as a minority administration. Labour does not have a monopoly on good ideas and if other parties come forward with good ideas we will listen to them.”

Labour took an estimated 33 per cent of the first-preference votes across the county but Mr Innes expressed sadness that not all his colleagues were returning.

He said: “While I am disappointed we did not manage to win a majority, we did emerge as the largest group on the council again, and also won the popular vote by a large margin.

“Our new group is a mix of experienced returning councillors and fresh talent. However, I am saddened that some very good colleagues missed out, especially Jim Gillies, who has been a first-class servant for his ward over the last decade.

“I will be seeking to form a minority administration at the first council meeting on May 23, with a view to implementing as much of our manifesto as possible. My focus for the next five years will be on protecting vital council services, supporting our communities and boosting the local economy and jobs.”

The result was hailed as further success for Scottish Labour in the county following the return of Iain Gray to his position as county MSP in last year’s Holyrood elections.

And it gave them confidence for next month’s General Election.

Former Scottish Labour leader Mr Gray said: “I am delighted to see Labour returned as the biggest group on East Lothian Council, testament to the stewardship of Willie Innes and his colleagues over the past five years.

“My only disappointment was the loss of Jimmy Gilles as a councillor, after years of sterling service to his community, largely a victim of the daft ward boundary changes.

“The new Labour group includes some great new councillors, not least Fiona O’Donnell, who previously served us so well as MP.

“We worked hard for this result, spoke to thousands of voters, and heard many former SNP supporters tell us they are tired of the SNP focusing on another referendum while letting down our schools and hospitals.

“Thursday’s result bodes well for Labour’s chances of ousting our SNP MP in the General Election next month. Labour comfortably outpolled the SNP on first-preference votes, with the Tories trailing in third.”

George Kerevan (SNP), who won his Westminster seat to become East Lothian’s MP in 2015, will fight to retain his seat in the General Election.

He accused Labour of facilitating a “Tory revival” in the county, saying their decision to work with the Conservatives to create a local council coalition in 2012 had been a mistake.

He said: “Labour in East Lothian has facilitated the Tory revival in the county.

“The task now is to stop Theresa May grabbing a super majority in the General Election.

“With voters deserting Jeremy Corbyn, only an SNP victory in Scotland can provide an effective opposition at Westminster to a hard Tory Brexit.”