Catholic church accused of 'misinformation' over Edinburgh Council voting rights row

City Chambers, Edinburgh
City Chambers, Edinburgh
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GREEN councillors have accused church leaders of “spectacular misinterpretation” over proposals to remove voting rights of unelected religious representatives from the city’s education committee.

On Sunday, Catholic priests across the Capital read out a letter from Archbishop for St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, calling on parishioners to oppose the proposals.

It said: “This motion presents a serious threat to the identity and Catholicity of our schools in Edinburgh and is also, in all probability, just the first step in a process to remove faith education from schools in Scotland altogether.”

Perth and Kinross Council agreed to remove voting rights of religious representatives in April. The authority confirmed that no legal challenge has been tabled and the period to do so has now expired.

Green councillors have hit back at the interpretation by the Catholic church.

READ MORE: Archbishop brands removal of church education committee voting rights as 'a serious threat' to future of faith schools
Green Cllr Gavin Corbett said: “In truth, this is a very modest reform, tidying up, within the quite limited powers that the council has, a very uneven and dated set of rights.

“It affects all churches and religious representatives equally. It is surprising therefore that priests within Edinburgh were given a letter from the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh to read at mass last weekend, claiming that the proposals uniquely affected the Catholic Church and that they impacted on matters to do with faith and schooling which are well beyond the council’s powers and are nothing to do with the proposal at hand.

“However, I suspect that such spectacular misrepresentation of a modest reform will have backfired. Most councillors, in looking at how best to oversee education in the 21stcentury, will take view that it is hard to justify why parents and young people get less of say than churches. Reform is long overdue.”

Proposals to shake up the education, children and families committee are set to be considered on August 22. The requirement to have religious representatives on the committee is set in law.

Council leader Cllr Adam McVey said: “There are no proposals to change the membership of the education committee but following recent changes to voting rights of additional members, the council is considering whether voting rights should only be retained by elected members.

READ MORE: Catholic cleric blasts Edinburgh councillors over voting role
“We’re working hard to ensure the voices of parents, pupils and staff are heard loudly within education in the Capital and we will continue to build on that engagement in future.”

Tories have highlighted a blog post by Green Cllr Mary Campbell, published in May, which said: “I look forward to the day when we have parents and school students on the committee with full voting rights and when religious representatives are no longer legally required”.

Conservative group chairman, Cllr Jason Rust, said: “I am really concerned that this sudden desire to remove voting rights from religious representatives is a pretext for removing them from committee altogether.

READ MORE: Pupil could be given seat on Edinburgh Council's education committee
“Those advocating the scrapping of voting rights need to be honest about their ultimate intent. The approach being taken seems to be an outright attack on choice and can only be a bad thing for education in the city.”

But Greens reiterated that religious representatives cannot legally be removed from committees.

Cllr Corbett added: “There is, of course, a wider debate about the role of religion in modern education and how that is reflected in council committees.

“For now, the focus should be firmly on the proposal in front of us, to ensure that church representatives have no more say over education than other additional members such as parents or young people.”