LABOUR councillors today said they were “shocked” by the decision of one of their colleagues to defect to the SNP.
Many of them only learned of Alex Lunn’s move when they read about it in yesterday’s Evening News.
Councillor Lunn, who represents Craigentinny/Duddingston ward, announced he was leaving Labour for the Nationalists because he wanted to campaign for a Yes vote in next year’s independence referendum.
The move means the SNP now has 18 councillors to Labour’s 20, but it does not affect the coalition deal between the two parties, who have been running the city together since May 2012.
Labour’s council leader Andrew Burns said: “I’m bitterly disappointed that Alex has chosen to leave the Scottish Labour Party. Alex has never raised his ‘apparent’ support for independence with myself, or any group colleagues, and thus his decision to defect has come completely out of the blue.
“Obviously, this won’t affect the current coalition arrangements and we’ll continue to work as a Capital coalition for the wider benefit of the people of Edinburgh.”
Another senior Labour councillor said no-one in the group had been aware of Cllr Lunn’s plans. “Everyone was pretty surprised. We have never heard him talk about independence.”
But Cllr Lunn said one of the reasons he had decided to quit Labour was because the party had made it clear that support for independence was unacceptable. He said: “I told a couple of colleagues I planned to vote Yes, but mostly I kept it to myself because elected Labour representatives are not really allowed to campaign for independence.”
He said he had had a mainly positive reaction to his defection. “I got some very nice e-mails from Labour Party members and constituents and I’ve spoken to about a dozen people in the ward – residents’ association chairs and so on – and I still have their support.
“This is not personal, this is political and it is about me having the freedom to campaign for independence.
“If there are members of the Labour Party who cannot accept that, that’s up to them, but I’m confident they will.”
Cllr Lunn said he had recently put his hat in the ring for the selection of Labour candidates for the twinned seats of Edinburgh Eastern or Midlothian North and Musselburgh. He said: “I withdrew because I wanted to join the SNP and campaign for independence.”
Labour sources claimed there had been tensions between Cllr Lunn and the other Labour councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, Joan Griffiths. Cllr Lunn said: “It’s no secret we had our differences, but that’s not a reason to leave the Labour Party. There will be people in the SNP I don’t get on with.”