Edinburgh strip club ban: Council is choosing to be woke rather than support strip club workers – Nick Cook

The Edinburgh strip club saga has delivered its latest twist, with the revelation that the Labour-led city council is essentially trying to block attempts by lawyers representing United Sex Workers – a branch of the UVW Union – from joining the judicial review against their decision to outlaw the clubs.

Strip bar workers protest about Edinburgh Council's planned ban (Picture: Mina Karenina USW).
Strip bar workers protest about Edinburgh Council's planned ban (Picture: Mina Karenina USW).

Proprietors of the Burke and Hare, Diamond Dolls and Western Bar are taking the council to court over the regulatory committee’s decision to impose a 'nil cap’ on the number of venues in Edinburgh, effectively banning their operation.

Given councillors’ objections to the operation of the clubs centre rest squarely on the fact the exotic dancers themselves are apparently being sexually exploited by their chosen profession, it seems grossly unfair to then attempt to silence their views in a court of law.

The council is clearly more interested in being woke than supporting affected workers.

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This whole episode seems particularly rich given we’re talking about the same council which spent years turning a blind eye to the plethora of 'saunas' dotted across the city, all providing commercial sexual services.

The regulatory committee sits on a quasi-judicial basis which means party politics is meant to be parked at the door.

This at least gives me some comfort, for I found myself agreeing heartily with Green councillor Susan Rae when she said “it isn’t our place to tell women what they can and cannot do, or where they can and cannot work”.

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All the evidence I've seen is of adult woman choosing to work as dancers of their own free will. Far from feeling exploited or ashamed, many have eloquently spoken out about the reasons for pursuing their chosen profession. Reasons range from the relatively generous pay to the flexibility of the hours afforded.

In such circumstances, who are Edinburgh's councillors, or for that matter the Scottish Government, to tell someone they are being exploited when they are being advised directly to the contrary by those whose livelihood will be lost through their illiberal decision-making?

If genuine concerns for the workers were the driver here, time would have been better spent devising a more robust regulatory regime for the industry, rather than imposing a moral judgement that risks moving Edinburgh's strippers from the relative protection of a public venue to underground venues in an entirely unregulated industry where women might face the prospect of genuine exploitation and horrific sexual violence.

Such an approach would have been more in tune with the findings of the council’s consultation on the issue. Just 20 per cent of respondents favoured a strip club ban, while some 40 per cent said there should be no limit on the number of clubs. Police Scotland has confirmed the clubs generally operate without issue, underscoring again the legal and legitimate nature of the industry in its current form.

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I completely understand that strip clubs are not to everyone’s taste. But yet again, we are presented with the results of public consultation being disregarded in favour of a ‘council knows best’ attitude. Clearly, some things never change after all.

Nick Cook is a former political advisor to Ruth Davidson. He was an Edinburgh councillor from 2012 to 2022. He is on Twitter @MrNickCook