Edinburgh council leader hits back over toxic atmosphere accusation: 'It's all down to the Tories'
Edinburgh’s SNP council leader Adam McVey has hit back at claims by a Tory councillor that he presides over a “toxic atmosphere” at the authority – by saying the problem lies in the Tory group.
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In an outspoken attack in yesterday’s Evening News, Tory transport spokesman Graham Hutchison, who is standing down at the May elections, claimed Councillor McVey set the tone for an “absolutely toxic” atmosphere at the council, with no room for dissent or opposing opinions.
He claimed there was no respect for opposition councillors and no willingness to work collaboratively. And he said the leaders of the SNP-Labour coalition were “not fit to run the city”.
In response, Councillor McVey said: “It's encouraging that Conservative councillors have acknowledged there is a toxic culture, but that originates from their group.
"I'm not putting the blame on decent people like [Morningside Tory councillor] Nick Cook and Graham Hutchison and others, who I think genuinely do have the city's best interests at heart even though they're coming from a very different political space from me.
“But there have been some horrific actions by some Conservative councillors which really have crossed the line and then some. We have councillors right now under investigation for abusive behaviour towards women and they haven't taken any action on that.
“We have seen councillors stand up and make blatant mis-characterisations or straight-out lies in the chamber and there's no apology, no dwell to think on the damage those comments cause.
"We've seen some horrendous behaviour like Tory councillors targeting the families of other politicians and I have experienced that.
“Tory councillors have condoned that kind of behaviour and it has led to a really toxic relationship between the Conservative group in particular and the rest of the council.”
Councillor McVey also cited cross-party discussions following last month’s Tanner report on whistleblowing and the organisational culture of the council.
“All the parties were trying to work together on one of the most serious issues councillors have had to face, but the leader of the Conservative group didn’t even show up to have the conversation.
“They really have been quite a toxic force over the last five years. Their behaviour has got steadily worse.”
An Audit Scotland report in 2020 highlighted “tensions between elected members, which manifest in inappropriate language and tone being used in council debate” and said training sessions on team dynamics and mediation had made little difference to “still very strained” relationships.
And the Tanner report noted a cross-party consensus that little had changed and one councillor felt the situation had got worse.
Asked if he accepted any responsibility for the “toxic” atmosphere, Councillor McVey said: “Of course we're all responsible for how we engage with each other.”
But he insisted: “In terms of toxic culture and behaviour, in my five years as council leader that has come pretty exclusively from Conservative councillors. Their leader has condoned, not condemned, any of that behaviour. It really is up to them to change."
SNP transport convener Lesley Macinnes, who was also criticised by Councillor Hutchison, said she was “disappointed and angry at the misrepresentation”.
She said: “I'm very surprised by Councillor Hutchison's personalised attacks, given the standard of his behaviour on the transport and environment committee which he has only attended a handful of times.
“It reflects the increasingly poor behaviour from some of the Conservative representatives on the committee. It sounds to me like they are getting their defence in early by attacking the administration, which is working under extremely difficult circumstances to achieve what needs to be achieved for the people of Edinburgh, not indulging in petty point scoring evident in Councillor Hutchison's comments.”