SNP government's new Code of Conduct will muzzle criticism by opposition councillors – John McLellan

A couple of weeks ago, I announced I would be standing down from the council, partly because I felt the restrictions on what councillors can say were too restrictive for a news columnist.

Thursday, 16th December 2021, 12:30 pm
John McLellan is standing down as a councillor so he can give his opinions on Edinburgh Council's actions more freely (Picture: Neil Hanna)
John McLellan is standing down as a councillor so he can give his opinions on Edinburgh Council's actions more freely (Picture: Neil Hanna)

Last week a new Code of Conduct came into force which fully vindicated that decision. Councillors now have a “duty” to act in the interests of the council and to “maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of my council”.

It is therefore possible for a complaint to be upheld against any councillor who criticises their authority, even if legitimate to do so. It effectively changes the role of a councillor to be the council’s representative in the community, not a community’s representative on the council.

Further, the previous requirement to be courteous and respectful to fellow members has been beefed up so it’s the impact of what’s said or written which counts, whether unintentional or what most normal people would consider trifling. Or indeed amusing.

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Edinburgh Council: Why I'm quitting as a councillor – John McLellan

It takes very little for some councillors to howl offence, but the new code now gives them carte blanche to launch complaints. It risks turning robust debate and criticism into an avalanche of politically motivated investigations to close down legitimate scrutiny.

The new Code of Conduct shackles councillors, and with an authority like Edinburgh which too often regards public opinion as an inconvenience, the role of well-resourced, independent and robust journalism has never been more badly needed to keep a check and balance on those whose decisions affect your daily life.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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