Aitken joins the council exodus

Ewan Aitken on the Holyrood campaign trail
Ewan Aitken on the Holyrood campaign trail
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One of the best-known councillors in Edinburgh has become the latest to announce he is quitting.

Former council leader Ewan Aitken, who led the city for two years after taking over from Donald Anderson in August 2006, has decided to step away from politics in order to focus on his work with the Church of Scotland and family commitments.

The Labour councillor will continue in his role until the end of the current term but will not seek re-election next May.

But the married father-of-two admits that he might not be leaving elected politics for good – and has already set his sights on standing in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

Councillor Aitken, who has represented the Restalrig ward and then the enlarged Craigentinny/Duddingston ward during all of his 13 years as a councillor, said: “After a great deal of thought and reflection over the summer I have decided not contest the 2012 council elections.

“I believe that Labour will be the largest group after those elections and will have the opportunity to once again offer this city the leadership it so desperately needs, but my own personal journey means that it’s time for me to step away from elected politics for the time being and concentrate on other aspects of my life.”

Cllr Aitken, who is secretary of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, which develops the Kirk’s view on political, social and ethical issues, had hoped to win the Edinburgh Eastern seat at this year’s Scottish elections, only to be comfortably defeated by Scottish Government Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

But he admitted that he still has an ambition of becoming an MSP – possibly within the Edinburgh Eastern ward.

He said: “I would say that, knowing what it involves to stand and not be elected is good preparation and that is very much on my horizon. I would expect to put myself forward at the next election of 2016.

“I have always believed that anybody that should seek election in an area should live in the area as well, although that is a decision for the Scottish Labour Party.”

He is best known for his work as the city’s education leader and was also education spokesman for local authority umbrella organisation Cosla.

He resigned as Labour group leader in 2008, a year after the group lost half of its seats in the last local elections.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, chair of the Labour group in the City Chambers, said: “All of us in the Labour group are disappointed but, as individuals, we have to look at our family and personal situation and see if we want to come back and stand again.

“Ewan was a significant player in the council, particularly when he was convener of children and families and latterly when he became leader instead of Donald Anderson. Moving from administration to opposition, he led us very well at a difficult time and put up really good ideas. Locally, he got one of the highest percentages of votes in his ward and is well-respected as a hard- working councillor.

“He’s been a strong voice for his local community but also at a city-wide and a national level.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com