Outrage as Edinburgh councillor accused of alleged sex crimes nominated for committees
A group of independent Edinburgh councillors have sparked outrage after trying to elect a member who is set to go on trial for alleged sex crimes to the council’s committees.
Former SNP councillor Lewis Ritchie, who represents Leith Walk, has not turned up to council meetings for six months after being charged last year in relation to alleged offences between April 2016 and October 2019 in Leith.
Another incident was said to have happened in October 207 in Kelvinbridge, Glasgow.
Since leaving the SNP in March 2018, before party bosses could discipline him, he has since joined the Edinburgh Party of Independent Councillors, or EPIC.
At a meeting of the full council on Thursday May 27, EPIC councillors provoked the ire of ruling SNP/Labour administration councillors by trying to elect councillor Ritchie to the homelessness and fair work committee, the planning committee, and the development management sub-committee.
Despite being considered a political group by council officers, EPIC has no representation on the council’s committees, and despite the group putting councillor Ritchie forward for several committees, the council’s Conservative group backed EPIC’s proposals and agreed to accept EPIC’s amendment as part of their own.
In response, SNP councillor Kate Campbell said: “I feel quite saddened by this. I’m going to read the headline of an Edinburgh Evening News headline that was published six days ago - ‘Edinburgh councillor facing sex charges set to leave elected office after failing to turn up at meetings’.
“I wouldn’t have made a contribution if the Conservatives had now accepted EPIC’s amendment, but at least we have clarity now of all of the members of EPIC.
“One of the appointments is to suggest that a councillor who hasn’t turned up at any council meeting for the last six months, until today, is to join my committee - that’s the councillor who is the subject of the headline that I just read.
“And I find that amendment, and to ask a councillor who hasn’t turned up for six months to meetings, that he’s allowed to turn up to, to replace a hardworking Greens councillor who turns up to every meeting of the committee and engages respectfully.”
However, Conservative councillor Jim Campbell explained the Conservatives were backing EPIC’s proposals as a matter of democracy, and who the group put forward for committees is for the electorate to judge.
Councillor Campbell told the meeting: “I want to talk about the broader principle here. It seems to me we have a group in our council who meet the terms set out in our procedures and the way we historically have done our business.
“Officers have recommended they be counted as a group. Therefore, we should respect that and recognise they have a right to represent their constituents on committees.
“I think it’s profoundly undemocratic to prevent a group of councillors from participating in the full functioning of this council.”
Labour councillor Scott Arthur, while agreeing EPIC deserves committee representation, said he cannot support the proposals if councillor Ritchie is put forward for committee membership.
Councillor Arthur said: “I just want to thank councillor Kate Campbell for the comments she made, and say I absolutely support all of the points that she made, and actually feel a little ashamed she had to make them, on our behalf.
“I do think there is a wider issue here about wider representation. We’ve had this discussion at least twice before - it’s not really about that one councillor, it’s about other issues, like conflict between groups, and within groups, that we’ve reached the way we have.
“I think it’s unfair to have EPIC excluded from the democratic process, but I cannot support the proposals put forward today by EPIC and Conservatives because of all the points that councillor Kate Campbell made.”
Speaking after the meeting, Greens councillor Susan Rae said: “The ironically-titled ‘EPIC’ group formed months after these councillors left the parties under whose banner they were elected through their own choice; they weren’t made to do so.
“No-one has ever voted for EPIC. They have no manifesto and have never even bothered to put forward budget proposals.
"To try to replace Green councillors on committees, including with a member who hasn’t attended council for six months and only turned up this month because otherwise he would have been removed from office, whilst predictable, is just embarrassing.
“And to do so under the guise of ‘protecting democracy’ is even worse when one of them left his original party because he lost a democratic vote to a woman.
“These repeated and failed attempts to unseat other councillors are just pathetic and simply wasting valuable council time.”