Jim Orr quits SNP over ‘internal spats’

Councillor Jim Orr,  Vice Convener for Transport and Environment Committee

Councillor Jim Orr, Vice Convener for Transport and Environment Committee

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THE SNP’s cycling champion has quit the party’s benches at City Chambers, citing a prolonged series of battles with fellow colleagues.

Councillor Jim Orr – a lifelong SNP supporter – bowed out from the party claiming that “far too many internal spats” had dominated his two-year tenure and had become a “distraction”.

Now an independent, the shock resignation reduces the SNP camp in Edinburgh to 17 and follows the defection of former Labour Councillor Alex Lunn to the Nationalists in December.

Edinburgh Labour, the SNP’s coalition partners, remain the Capital’s largest party with 19 councillors. Cllr Orr’s departure is not expected to force a major reshuffle within the SNP nor prompt crunch talks with Labour. Sources claim Cllr Orr’s coveted position as vice-convenor of the huge transport and environment department was set to be challenged by rivals within the SNP and he was “jumping before he was pushed”.

But others say the Southside/Newington councillor had grown weary of sniping about his passion for sustainability and claims he neglected wider aspects of the transport brief.

It has also been claimed the SNP leadership in Edinburgh feared Cllr Orr was being consistently “outshone” by department convenor and Labour heavyweight Cllr Lesley Hinds.

In a statement, the SNP whip Cllr Gavin Barrie said his former colleague – described by some as an “evangelical cyclist” – had carried out “significant work” in environment, sustainability and cycling.

He said: “Jim championed those interests he represented, but couldn’t always win those arguments, and so we accept that he feels he can’t take things any further forward as part of the SNP group. Whoever follows in his footsteps will find a solid foundation to continue this work.”

Cllr Orr branded the comment “slightly ungracious” for an SNP member with 25 years’ experience and who had run five election campaigns in the last four years. In a statement he said: “I’m writing to inform you that I’m resigning the whip in the hope that the group will now be able to focus 100 per cent on tackling the many challenges facing the city, and set out its vision with a renewed sense of purpose. The SNP have an excellent team in Edinburgh and are trusted by the people and I am hopeful my actions will not affect this trust.”

Greens’ convenor Cllr Steve Burgess said the loss of the council’s official sustainability and cycling champion raised questions about the coalition’s leadership on “vital environmental issues”. He added that Cllr Orr’s departure meant his colleagues’ position on the environment was now “under the spotlight”.

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com