Edinburgh's strip clubs: Ban to be reviewed - and Labour rebel faces disciplinary action

Regulatory committee will look at ‘nil cap’ again
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Councillors are set to review Edinburgh's ban on strip clubs amid warnings about the plight of women working in the venues and concerns over the cost fighting a court challenge over the decision.

And Labour councillor Ross McKenzie is facing disciplinary action for rebelling against the party whip by backing an SNP-Green amendment to speed up the review.

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The council's regulatory committee voted by five to four earlier this year to set a "nil" cap on the number of sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) in the Capital, meaning four existing venues will be forced to close from April 2023. Labour and Tory councillors supported the ban while the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens opposed it. The United Sex Workers (USW) union is pursuing a judicial review of the ban.

At Thursday's full council meeting Lib Dem councillor Lewis Younie argued for the decision to be reviewed and called for a fresh report to the regulatory committee. He accepted a Labour amendment delaying the date for the report.

Green councillor Susan Rae said she had argued strongly against the nil cap at the time the decision was made. "We were at that point in a very precarious financial situation in the city and we now find ourselves having gone from precarious to absolutely catastrophic.”

She continued: "We argued at the time that closing the SEVs would not stop the activity but rather drive the activity underground. We also argued strongly it is not the role of councillors or the council to tell women what they can and cannot do as their work. Women make their own decision about these things and we should be supporting them in their decisions whether we like these decisions or not.

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"Imposing our will on them has caused enormous uncertainty for them at a very difficult time – and we have made that worse for them. If we wait until nest year we are going to make the uncertainty and that fear even worse.

The ban agreed earlier this year would force four existing venues to close.  Picture: Justin Spittle.The ban agreed earlier this year would force four existing venues to close.  Picture: Justin Spittle.
The ban agreed earlier this year would force four existing venues to close. Picture: Justin Spittle.

"It's widely accepted that the best way to help women in the workforce, whatever kind of workforce that is, is through organisation and trade union representation. I find it very difficult that the Labour party, who were born out of the trade union movement, have decided to be the moral arbiters of what does and doesn't count as a workforce that deserves to be unionised, that deserves to have control of their own industry and say what their terms and conditions and working environment should look like.

“I have no idea what's going to happen if we don’t at this point take the opportunity to go back to committee as soon as possible and reverse this decision and instead have to go to court.”

Labour deputy leader Mandy Watt said support for the “entertainers” in the venues was “very important”. She said: “I've had various informal discussions with officers about what can be put in place."

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But SNP group leader Adam McVey asked for information on what had been done so far. He said: “Cllr Watt has just said she's had a number of conversations. We've not seen any output from that so far. Considering Cllr Watt went on television in March to say that she was going to work really hard on this, this seems quite a long way from that point to not saying anything about it.”

Cllr McKenzie defended his decision to break the whip and back the Greens’ argument. He said: "Collective decision-making in the Labour Party is a process that should involve trade unions and party members as much as possible. Sadly, on this issue, the Labour group has repeatedly ignored clear demands and attempts at engagement from the trade union representing the workers and our own members who live in the constituency. Both of these groups have made their opposition to the nil cap policy explicit and I chose to vote in line with their demands instead of further delay and uncertainty.

"Given the stigma around sex work, the general dismissiveness that surrounds the workers in these industries and the lack of seriousness and urgency when discussing and deciding on their livelihoods and rights as workers, I believe that a clear statement of intent to reverse the nil cap policy and strong expression of solidarity with the workers was required."

Labour group leader Cammy Day said: “Labour councillors are required to support the groups agreed position in council. These matters will be dealt with by internal Labour Party procedures.”