The two main opposition groups in Edinburgh have been hit by the late withdrawal of candidates set to fight May’s local elections.
Tory councillor Gordon Buchan announced to his group that he will stand down after the current council term on the night that his re- election was expected to be rubber-stamped, causing a decision on the candidate for his Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart ward to be delayed.
And the Labour group has also been hit by the late withdrawal of Ian Sullivan little over a week after he was selected to contest the Craigentinny/ Duddingston seat in place of former council leader Ewan Aitken.
One council source said many candidates have been put off standing by comments made by transport leader Gordon Mackenzie, who said he and other councillors on the board of tram firm TIE did not have the “right skill mix” for such a major project.
The source said: “A lot of people seem to have put their name forward then thought about it again and in the cold light of day – and with all this publicity about Gordon Mackenzie’s comments and all the rest of the stuff in the press about councillors – think ‘is it really for them?’.”
Cllr Buchan, who was elected for the first time in 2007 and is the Tories’ health and housing spokesman on the council, was widely expected to stand again. He said: “I have put a lot of time in and being a councillor is a large time commitment. I was not sure I could fulfil all my commitments, whether work, family or council.”
The father-of-two already works full time as a development director for transport consultants Halcrow and has been unable to vote on any issues relating to the tram project because his firm has acted for TIE. And he admitted to the workings of the public sector being “frustrating”.
He said: “The council is not the easiest place to work and some of the ways the City Chambers works are just bizarre. If you come from a private sector business background as I do, you think ‘why do they work this way?’ Everything seems to work so slowly.”
It is understood a potential replacement for Cllr Buchan put themselves forward after he made the decision on Wednesday night but the group decided to hold a full selection process over the coming weeks instead.
One Tory source said: “The meeting was stormy and it was all very last-minute. It was a shock to those at the meeting. I understand [group leader] Jeremy [Balfour] was shocked. They made him health and social care spokesman and he seemed to be one of the in-crowd.”
Meanwhile, Labour councillor Ewan Aitken announced last month that he is to stand down from May – only for Mr Sullivan, the candidate that was selected to replace him, to change his mind just over a week after because of “personal reasons”.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, chair of the Labour group at the City Chambers, said: “I know of a number of people on our selection panel who have not been selected and, looking at the list we have, I am absolutely convinced there are excellent candidates on the list.