THE ousting of a senior SNP member of Edinburgh’s ruling coalition has been branded “the takeover of the newbies”.
Gavin Barrie, a key figure since being elected to the council in 2012, was removed as the city’s housing and economy convener by fellow Nationalist councillors at last week’s annual general meeting of the group and replaced by Kate Campbell, who joined the council last year.
The meeting also saw Cllr Barrie replaced as chair of the group by new councillor Eleanor Bird and Cathy Fullerton, another councillor elected in 2012, replaced as group whip by newcomer Ian Campbell.
The changes are being seen as a major shift in power within the Nationalist group at the City Chambers.
“This is the newbies taking over from the old guard,” said one source. “Many of the councillors elected last year came into the SNP through the Yes campaign during the independence referendum. They are now replacing the older, more experienced hands. There’s quite a divide within the group.”
Another insider said the shift in power marked a move away from the era of Steve Cardownie’s leadership. He led the Nationalist group from 2007 until 2015, taking the SNP into power through coalitions first with the Liberal Democrats and then with Labour.
“Gavin Barrie and Cathy Fullerton were seen as the last of Steve’s crowd. This signals the end of Steve Cardownie’s influence.”
But it is understood the move to replace Cllr Barrie came as a surprise to SNP group leader Adam McVey.
“The leadership were only planning a couple of minor changes in personnel,” said a source. “Adam only knew about Kate’s bid for Gavin’s job a few hours before the meeting.
“The changes were unexpected. Some people are concerned because housing and economy is a huge portfolio and it has now been given to an inexperienced councillor. But Kate is switched on and she’s a hard worker.
“The bigger concern is that virtually the whole SNP frontbench is now new councillors.”
It is understood that once it was clear he was being challenged for the housing and economy role, Cllr Barrie was urged to put his name forward to be planning convener, but he declined. Now he finds himself on the backbenches.
Another source suggested the changes had strengthened Cllr McVey’s hold on the leadership. “It has secured Adam’s position. Gavin Barrie thought he could be the next leader, but this has shown he does not have enough support in the group.”
At the SNP annual general meeting, Amy McNeese-Mechan was elected as vice-convener of the culture and communities committee in place of Ian Campbell, who now becomes the council’s representative on Lothian NHS board, separating the role from Labour councillor Ricky Henderson’s post as chair of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board for health and social care.
Cllr McVey said: “I think we have a strong SNP team. I have always tried to make sure the full group is involved in administration and I will continue to do that, making use of all the talents.”