Edinburgh education vice-convener Alison Dickie resigns from SNP group over 'increasing concerns'

Education vice-convener Alison Dickie has resigned from the SNP group at the city council, saying she has "an increasing number of significant concerns".

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The dramatic move comes just over three months ahead of the local elections when the SNP is hoping to remain in power at the council.

She is the fifth SNP councillor to have quit the group since the last elections in 2017.

Alison Dickie is a councillor for Southside/Newington

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Cllr Dickie has been councillor for Southside/Newington ward for the past five years

She said it was an understatement to say her decision to resign had not been an easy one.

But she added: "Due though to an increasing number of significant concerns, I now feel that I am left with no option but to do so."

She said it had been a privilege to serve the people of Southside/Newington and she would continue to do so as an independent councillor for the rest of the council term.

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She would also miss her role as education vice-convener.

Cllr Dickie has been closely involved in the recent controversy over the council's organisational culture and its handling of issues raised by whisteblowers.

She has spoken out passionately on behalf of whistleblowers but told the full council in November that she felt intimidated about raising concerns at the meeting.

In September she wrote a piece for the Evening News, voicing concerns about how the council had responded to whistleblowing allegations and called for "full accountability for any wrongdoing".

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Her forthright comments in the piece caused tensions within the administration and she was criticised for "pre-empting" the report of the inquiry by top QC Susanne Tanner into the council's culture. Cllr Dickie took time off sick in the wake of the tensions.

In her piece she described existing and former council employees coming to her "in desperation because they felt no-one was listening and that walls were going up".She said: "Over the years, I've been told to 'stand back', 'it's too big', 'we always knew there was something wrong but you'll get nowhere', and even 'watch yourself, it's dangerous'. Most often, I've been told 'it's all historical', but the cases stretch to unresolved events of today and allegations about perpetuating culture. How, then, can we be confident about today if we haven't properly dealt with the past?"

And at the September full council meeting deputy council leader Cammy Day labelled her "Miss Marple" after after she raised issues around the case of whistleblower John Travers, who was subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse after raising concerns about alleged misuse of £400,000 of council cash.

Several councillors urged Cllr Day to withdraw his remark but council leader Adam McVey was accused of failing to stand up for Cllr Dickie over the jibe.

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SNP group chair Ellie Bird said: "We'd like to thank Alison for her work on the council over the last five years and we wish her well for the future."

Conservative group chair Jason Rust said: "We need a council administration which is focused on delivering for the citizens of Edinburgh rather than internal squabbles. It is highly embarrassing for the SNP group to have lost yet another high profile councillor, having already seen four defections. Clearly all is not well in the SNP in Edinburgh as they try to cling to power in advance of May's election."

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The four before

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Four other councillors have walked away from the SNP group in the five years since the party emerged as the biggest on the council for the first time at the 2017 local elections.

First to go was Lewis Ritchie, the Leith Walk councillor seen as a rising star until he ended up at the centre of scandal.

He quit as planning convener for health reasons but was then suspended from the party following a complaint over an alleged physical incident at the 2017 SNP conference.

He resigned from the SNP group amid allegations of sexual harassment in February 2018. He stayed on as a councillor despite repeated calls for him to leave the council, but he is rarely seen at meetings.

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Gavin Barrie left the group in April 2018, six weeks after being ousted as the council’s housing and economy convener by SNP colleague Kate Campbell.

In his resignation letter he said: "If hard work, diligence and success, although recognising there is always much more to do, is a recipe in some people's eyes for dismissal and replacement I cannot maintain my self-respect and dignity if I remain as part of the SNP group and accept this."

Cllr Barrie, who represents Inverleith, continued as an independent and then helped form Epic – the Edinburgh Party of Independent Councillors.

He had been lined up to succeed Steve Cardownie as SNP group leader in 2015 but was defeated in an internal election.

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July 2018 saw the resignation of Claire Bridgman, who said she was unhappy with the way the SNP group was being run.

She had bee elected in Drum Brae/Gyle the previous year, at the same elections where her husband Mike lost his seat in Portobello/Craigmillar.

She said: "The way the group operates has been a concern for me from the start and with good conscience I cannot be part of a group that runs as it does. What goes on in the group completely overshadows my ability to make a difference for the people in my ward, which is what I want to focus my energies on."

She stressed her decision had nothing to do with SNP policies. She sits with Cllrs Barrie and Ritchie in Epic.

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And in July 2020, Liberton/Gilmerton councillor and equalities champion Derek Howie quit the SNP group, complaining of "an anti-disability culture".

Cllr Howie, who is registered blind, said: “I need to make a move which will hopefully help me to bring about the much needed changes to enable people with a disability to play their full part in the life of the city."

He became a member of the Scottish Green Party but continues to sit as an independent councillor.

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