SNP councillor Alison Dickie brave to speak out over concerns about children in care, bullying and victimisation despite being told to 'stand back' – John McLellan
It’s rare for politicians to voice concerns openly about the administrations in which they are involved, so when one speaks out it’s a fair assumption something is amiss.
But if it’s someone in a promoted position and represents the SNP, a party renowned for iron discipline, it cannot be dismissed as political jostling.
So when Edinburgh’s vice-convener of education, children and families, Alison Dickie, went public last week about allegations of malpractice brought to her attention, it will, or should, have sent shock-waves through the authority.
Having been a parliamentary candidate, she can hardly be considered a maverick, but as befits a former teacher it’s clear from her many impassioned council speeches that she prioritises the education and welfare of young people ahead of party politics.
Her article in last Friday’s Evening News cited charges of bullying, victimisation, abuse, irregularities with the well-being of children in care, and more, but her claim that she had effectively been told not to get involved should have alarm bells ringing off the City Chambers walls.
To raise concerns is one thing, but to be told to “stand back” is another entirely. By whom and why?
As some readers may recall, I have written about similar allegations of maladministration brought to me, but no-one has told me to watch myself, as Councillor Dickie says she has.
But like her, I have been told by senior officers that the claims are all historic, that the bad apples have gone; effectively, there is nothing to see here and we should move on.
The allegations should be part of the ongoing inquiry into the council’s whistle-blowing culture conducted by Susanne Tanner QC and it would be wrong to second-guess her conclusions, but the current employees who came to me are in no doubt their allegations are anything but historic.
I’m an opposition councillor, it’s part of our role to challenge the authority, scrutinise what’s going on and blow the gaff if we see fit, so we’ve got nothing to lose as long as we stay the right side of the Standards Commission.
But the culture of the SNP-Labour coalition is to brook no public criticism of anything the council does; if there is scrutiny to be done, it’s all behind closed doors and the public presented with their sanitised version of events. Councillor Dickie has broken the omerta.
The Edinburgh SNP group doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to internal disagreement, with councillors Gavin Barrie and Claire Bridgman both quitting this term to sit as independents and Councillor Dickie’s predecessor in Southside/Newington, Jim Orr, leaving in 2014 over what he saw as a failure to take other unrelated allegations seriously.
Labour isn’t much better, with Councillor Gordon Munro suspended for three months just for abstaining during the vote on this year’s council budget.
I’m not party to the SNP’s internal tensions, but I’d be surprised if her group leader Adam McVey has thanked her for bringing such important matters to the public attention.
For that reason, Councillor Dickie has been brave to speak out, and it was notable that Lord Provost and former SNP group leader Frank Ross quietly shared her article on social media.
Putting her head so far above the parapet on this is not a sacking offence, but public service itself.