Independent former SNP councillors form EPIC political party to hold Edinburgh Council leadership to account

Three former SNP councillors have set up the Edinburgh Party of Independent Councillors (EPIC) after getting fed up of a lack of power at City Chambers. The EPIC group are likely to take seats on the council's committees from the Greens and will likely be given office facilities and a leader allowance.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 5:00 pm
The EPIC councillors - Cllr Gavin Barrie, Cllr Lewis Ritchie and Cllr Claire Bridgman

Former SNP councillors have formed a new political party on Edinburgh City Council after becoming “increasingly frustrated” at having no say on the authority’s business.

Cllr Gavin Barrie left the SNP after losing his job as housing and economy convener to Cllr Kate Campbell and his role as group chairman to Cllr Ellie Bird at the same time. He has now formally set up the Edinburgh Party of Independent Councillors (EPIC) along with Cllr Lewis Ritchie and Cllr Claire Bridgman. Cllr Ritchie quit the party last year amid allegations of sexual harassment, accusations he denies. Cllr Bridgman walked out of the SNP group last summer.

Cllr Barrie tabled a motion for independent councillors to have seats on certain committees, but withdrew it after it become clear the full council would reject it.

He said: “We’re not members of political parties so we can’t stand on committees. That’s got to be wrong because you’re entitled to stand as an independent councillor.

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“In my case, I didn’t leave the party, the party expelled me. The same people were going to vote to stop me getting on a committee. There’s something morally wrong about that, even in politics.”

He added: “We tried to take an easier path for us and for them – we were going to take seats on committees where we believed we could contribute usefully and give other seats back to the political parties if they could fill them.

“Now, because we have formed a group, we will get seats on far more committees than it might be possible for us to service as a group of three – but they forced us into that position, it wasn’t of our making.”

Cllr Barrie said the independent councillors had discussed the proposals some time ago – but have now taken the step having exhausted all other options.

He added: “I’ve been increasingly frustrated for the best part of two years now. If someone outside knows what I’m going through, why would you ever stand as an independent candidate – knowing that you have ward duties only and once a month at full council?

“I felt guilty as a councillor taking the same allowance as the other backbench councillors, but not being able to do the work.”

Cllr Barrie’s former colleagues have attacked him for the move.

A senior SNP source said: “Although Gavin and Claire both chose to let down their constituents by leaving the party that they were voted in to represent, I still would have thought better of them than this.

“It’s pretty shocking that they are so desperate to have some influence that they are jumping into bed with someone who has been accused of and sexual harassment by multiple women, and who chose to leave the party rather than face an internal disciplinary process. It speaks volumes about their priorities and frankly their integrity. This looks like an epic fail.”

Council leader Cllr Adam McVey said: “I’m genuinely surprised to see anyone aligning themselves with Mr Ritchie given the accusations that caused him to leave the SNP last year.

“I’m also surprised that Gavin Barrie is claiming he was expelled from the party when its a matter of record that he left in a huff.”

The move is expected to result in Greens losing one of their seats on most committees to make way for the EPIC councillors – although membership will need the approval of the full council.

Green Cllr Melanie Main said: “While they should get all the necessary support they need to respond to residents queries, they should recognise that their decision has reduced their leverage over council policy.

“So I have very little sympathy for their position. If they want to enjoy greater influence they should resign and re-stand in the resulting by-election as independent councillors. That would give them a proper mandate.”