Adam McVey: Society failing to grasp thistle of sexual harassment

Cllr Lewis Ritchie has admitted he has a drink problem but denied sexual harassment
Cllr Lewis Ritchie has admitted he has a drink problem but denied sexual harassment
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Council leader Adam McVey criticises the News’s coverage of Cllr Lewis Ritchie’s denial that he sexually harassed women.

I’m delighted that the council administration’s budget was passed last week. It’s not always easy being a minority coalition but I was pleased that, while the opposition parties naturally voted for their own budgets, they saw merits in the SNP-Labour proposals.

Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey. Picture: Ian Georgeson

It was a day where the collation showed its strength to deliver for the people of Edinburgh but also to overcome challenges and remain strong for the city. The administration engaged with opposition parties and even accepted a last-minute spend-to-save proposal from the Conservatives. It showed that this great city has a stable and able administration.

Some questions had been asked about any potential changes in the City Chambers following the suspension of Lewis Ritchie from the SNP after complaints were made regarding sexual harassment and violent behaviour, which led to his resignation from the party. Any concerns about the administration’s position turned out to be unfounded. However, concerns certainly remain while he is a councillor.

The concerns relating to Mr Ritchie’s behaviour will be dealt with through the appropriate channels but more worrying was some of the media reaction.

READ MORE: Councillor denies sex harassment claims but admits drink problem

The Time’s up and #MeToo movements have been sweeping through the world as more women stand together to demand change. I had thought proudly that Edinburgh had already embraced their principles. Time’s up is, after all, demanding something fairly simple: “No more silence, no more waiting, no more tolerance for discrimination, harassment or abuse.” Zero tolerance to abuse certainly reflects the forward-thinking values of the Edinburgh I know and love.

I was therefore more than a little shocked to see the front page of the Edinburgh Evening News on 21 February. It took no account whatsoever of the people affected by the alleged behaviour which led to SNP taking disciplinary action.

The article appeared not to challenge any of the statements made by the person at the centre of the issue. The tone was completely wrong. I don’t singularly blame the journalists or editors involved for failing to put themselves in the women’s shoes. However, it is a poignant example of the persistent nature of the thistle that we are still trying to grasp as a society: properly dealing with issues of sexual harassment and gender equality.

READ MORE: ‘Punch’ row councillor accused of sexual harassment

Still too often the man in these situations is getting the first word, calling his victims’ liars and forcing them into an incredibly difficult choice between speaking out with the truth or trying to protect their anonymity. On 29 January, I wrote in the Evening News that there was no room for sexual harassment in City Chambers or in any workplace in this city – I meant it. In that article I also said that “when a line is drawn in the sand, I stand with the women who have experienced harassment”. I meant that too. At the council budget meeting, female councillors wore black to stand in solidarity with women. I do hope that as workplaces grapple with these issues they support all involved, including the men who will be in a very vulnerable and even volatile place when their behaviour is exposed. The duty of care to people who have committed offences may be hard to balance but is important to any process. However, we must do more to shift focus and support towards the women. In a situation where victim and perpetrator emerge, all involved are not equal. The overwhelming priority must always be the women affected.