Edinburgh council elections: SNP makes three leadership critics go through extra vetting

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Lord Provost Frank Ross and two other SNP councillors who have clashed with the leadership have been required to go through extra vetting in their bid to stand again at the local elections in May.

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Cllr Ross, Alison Dickie – who has now resigned from the SNP group – and planning convener Neil Gardiner all had to be interviewed by a party vetting panel which decides who goes on the list of approved candidates, while many other sitting SNP councillors were approved with no interview.

Insiders said both Cllr Ross and Cllr Gardiner were also called back for second interviews.

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Alison DickieAlison Dickie
Alison Dickie

Sources said the vetting process was now "complete". But with the full list of approved candidates yet to be made available and selections still to take place, it is still not clear which councillors will go forward as candidates.

Only approved candidates can be chosen by local branches to stand in the elections.

It is understood the vetting panel receives reports from the would-be candidate’s branch and, in the case of existing councillors, the group leader before deciding whether to call people for interview.

Cllr Ross, who represents Corstorphine/Murrayfield, is a former leader of the SNP group and had been set to become council leader five years ago, but he was ousted by current leader Adam McVey after the SNP emerged as the biggest party at the last council elections in 2017. He became Lord Provost instead.

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Neil GardinerNeil Gardiner
Neil Gardiner

In November 2019 Cllr Ross resigned along with the entire board of Marketing Edinburgh after the council axed its funding. Soon after, he also quit as a director of three other bodies – the Capital City Partnership, CEC Holdings and the Bio Quarter advisory board – in apparent frustration at the council's handling of the city's economy.

And SNP colleagues were said to be furious after he abstained in the vote on the council's budget in 2020 because it did not include a commitment of cash for a community centre in his ward.

Cllr Dickie, who was education vice-convener until her resignation on Thursday, has not gone into detail about her reasons for quitting the group, saying only she had "an increasing number of significant concerns".

But the Southside/Newington councillor has been an outspoken advocate for whistleblowers. And there were tensions within the group over her forthright comments in a piece for the Evening News in September expressing concern about the council's response to whistleblowing allegations and calling for "full accountability for any wrongdoing".

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Lord Provost Frank RossLord Provost Frank Ross
Lord Provost Frank Ross

Cllr Gardiner spoke up in defence of Cllr Dickie at a full council meeting last year when she was branded "Miss Marple" in a jibe by Labour group leader Cammy Day over her persistent questioning over the council's response to a whistleblowing case.

And he is said to challenge the leadership regularly behind closed doors in group meetings.

Cllr Gardiner, who represents Pentland Hills, also came under fire soon after being made planning convener for not devoting enough time to the job. He was accused of spending just two days a week on his planning and council responsibilities combined. He replied he managed the demands of the role flexibly.

Cllr Ross did not respond to requests for a comment. Cllrs Dickie and Gardiner declined to say anything.

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Cllr McVey denied any suggestion he had sought to block the three councillors from standing again.

He said: "No. We have a great field of candidates coming forward, we've a great election strategy and we've got a fantastically strong message for the people of Edinburgh.

"I am not part of the vetting process. The process is an independent one so any attempt to suggest anything else is totally wrong."

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