A HIGHLANDS councillor has been suspended for one month after it was concluded she discriminated against a colleague because she was pregnant.

Maxine Smith, a councillor for Cromarty Forth ward, was suspended by the Standards Commission on Wednesday after an investigation was concluded on her conduct.

Smith is a member of the Highland Alliance, after resigning from the SNP group in 2020 - which she led.

The verdict was delivered at a hearing at Highland Council’s Glenurquhart Road headquarters, where Smith was also reprimanded for failing to declare an interest in two businesses - Thistle Excursions and Venus Beauty Salon - until five month after she was re-elected.

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The discrimination complaint was made by the husband of SNP councillor Tamala Collier in 2022. Smith told press that she had to defend against 15 different charges, before the watchdog decreased it to two.

Councillor Smith had sent a email after she was elected in May, where she recommended newly-elected councillor Molly Nolan to join her on the council’s north planning applications committee.

The committee requires two members from the Cromarty Firth ward present on the committee.

Of the remaining councillors in her ward, Smith said she believed councillor Pauline Munro to have a conflict of interest and although she included Collier in the email exchange, Smith said she expected Collier would be going on maternity leave.

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However, the SNP councillor did not take maternity leave when her son was born in September 2022. Smith and Collier were ultimately elected to the committee.

At the hearing, Smith defended her actions, and said: “Women should be afforded these opportunities. I know how difficult it is, it was totally different when I started work.

“I’m a Waspi woman who lost her pension at 60. The glass ceiling is there and we need to break through it.

“I would consider myself part of the sisterhood and would not prejudice against any other female.”

The commissions panel noted that Smith did not intend to discriminate, and in a statement, the watchdog said: “The panel noted the respondent [Maxine Smith]’s long-standing contribution to the council, as highlighted in the numerous character references provided.

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“She has offered an unreserved apology in respect of failing to declare her interests. The respondent had every right to nominate herself or others to the planning committee.

“But the panel noted that the assumptions she made resulted in a failure to advance the equality of opportunity The panel further noted this to be discourteous.”

After the ruling, Smith said: “I accept the commission had to sanction me on these issues and a one month suspension is more than acceptable to me.

“I’m glad to put this behind me as I’ve been a shadow of my former self and highly stressed and unable to do my council job properly.

“Being a councillor in these conditions is extremely trying and stressful and nobody should have to go through this.”

Smith is currently awaiting trial in May after she was accused of forging disabled blue badges so drivers of tour buses owned by her company could use restricted parking spaces. She has pled not guilty.