Independents blocked from Edinburgh council decision making in democratic ‘travesty’

Green co-leader Melanie Main said there was “no reason” to allow the councillors a seat on a crucial committee.

By Conor Matchett
Friday, 24th April 2020, 4:45 pm
Gavin Barrie said the decision was a "travesty"
Gavin Barrie said the decision was a "travesty"

Independent councillors have hit back after the co-leader of the Edinburgh Greens said they lacked a democratic mandate from the public during a council debate.

Green co-leader Melanie Main refused to back a Conservative amendment to coalition plans to exclude 40 councillors from Edinburgh City Council decision making, instead blasting the attempt to get independent councillors a seat at the table.

Gavin Barrie, secretary of Edinburgh Party of Independent Councillors (EPIC), said the decision was a “travesty”.

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Melanie Main, Green co-leader and councillor for Morningside

Political group leaders passed a motion at a meeting of the Leadership Advisory Panel on Thursday to give the council’s Policy and Sustainability (P&S) committee the powers normally reserved for full council as an interim measure during the coronavirus crisis.

The decision means more than 40 councillors, including four independents, will have no voice on council decisions until full council or other committees are reinstated later in the year.

Criticising an amendment from the Conservatives which would have seen the Lord Provost chair and EPIC gain a seat on P&S, Cllr Main said the Greens saw “no reason” to back the move.

She said:“When it comes to our independent councillors, these independent councillors were not elected as independents but as members of political groups that are represented on P&S.

“EPIC, which represents some of the independent members does not have a public mandate from Edinburgh residents and I and our group sees no reason why they should therefore have membership of the committees.”

Cllr Barrie blasted Cllr Main, saying the Greens’ stance meant constituents with independent councillors were being denied the same sort of representation as other.

He said: “I find it incredible that some councillors who are members of parties that would normally be first to call out regimes that silence opposition parties find themselves justifying doing the same in their own political forum.

“To suggest any elected member has ‘no mandate’ as Cllr Main did is a travesty to the electorate that voted for these councillors.

“Our mandate comes from our electorate not from any political party, and it is to them we are answerable to, and the current stance denies us the right to represent them in the same manner afforded to any other elected member.”

Speaking at the meeting, the leader of the Conservatives, Cllr Iain Whyte said: “I think it is very important from a democratic point of view that it reflects the membership of the whole council and we know that there is one small group that is excluded but also we need to look at current numbers on the council which have changed recently with a by-election being called.

“Especially at this time when council isn’t meeting, then we should reflect the makeup and membership of the full council in any arrangements we have in its place.”

Adam McVey, leader of the council, said: “In the interim we have a way for council to be very well reflected in terms of its decision making.

“I do disagree that a P&S of 17 members and the makeup of it doesn’t reflect our council because actually it reflects our decision making in council very well.

“The opposition still has a majority on that committee as Labour and SNP still have to work for agreement across party otherwise our business will not get through and that reflects council and it reflects normal business through the year on committees as well.”

All three of EPIC’s councillors, Cllr Barrie, Cllr Lewis Ritchie and Cllr Claire Bridgman were elected under the SNP banner in 2017 but have since left the party.