Edinburgh Tory councillor ‘on brink’ of defection to Labour

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A TORY councillor in the Capital was “on the brink” of defecting to Labour, crucially shifting the balance of power at the City Chambers, before party big guns were called in to change her mind.

Ashley Graczyk, unexpectedly elected to represent Sighthill/Gorgie at last year’s council elections, cleared her desk in the Tory offices and told other councillors she was leaving the Conservative group.

Cllr Graczyk celebrates with Scottish Tory Leader, Ruth Davidson last May.

Cllr Graczyk celebrates with Scottish Tory Leader, Ruth Davidson last May.

It is understood she also wrote to Tory group leader Iain Whyte to notify him of her decision and voiced concern about UK government welfare reforms.

She is said originally to have planned to sit as an independent, but Labour sources claimed she was ready to join them – until Lord McInnes, director of the Scottish Conservative Party and a former Edinburgh councillor, was brought in to persuade her to think again.

She has now moved back to the Conservative group rooms.

The city’s SNP-Labour administration has 31 of the 63 seats on the council, while the opposition parties combined have 32. But the coalition is currently one down because SNP councillor Lewis Ritchie is on leave of absence.

If Cllr Graczyk had defected to Labour, it would have left the administration and opposition effectively tied with 31 seats each, handing the Lord Provost the casting vote in cases of deadlock.

Sources claimed Cllr Graczyk – appointed Tory communities spokeswoman last July – had removed the Conservative party label from her Twitter account and the council intranet had even been changed to say she was an independent.

One insider said: “She quit the group and then came back. It was a five-day wonder.

“The weekend before last she moved all her stuff out of her office.

“When the Tories went in last week they found her desk completely cleared, as if no-one had ever been there.

“She sent a letter saying she was not happy with welfare reform and she was leaving.

“There were protracted conversations between her and Mark McInnes and she was persuaded to return. She moved her stuff back on Friday.”

Another source said Cllr Graczyk, who has a hearing disability, had declared: “I’m working class. I can’t support welfare cuts and the benefit cap.”

The source added: “They pulled out all the stops to bring her back, but if these are her real views is she really going to stay for long?”

Cllr Graczyk told the Evening News she did raise concerns over policy.

She said: “I can confirm I had some discussions with my party on policy issues and I am content that these have been taken on board and remain committed to the Conservatives.

“My clear intention is to continue working on a social justice platform because I believe in caring capitalism. I have a very good relationship with my group colleagues and will continue to work with them and our parliamentarians to get the best policies for Edinburgh, especially on disability issues.

“I was invited to join the ­Labour Group, but I do not believe socialism works and have no intention of joining Labour.”

Tory group leader Iain Whyte said: “Ashley is a valuable and valued member of the group and that’s how we will continue.”

Labour group leader Cammy Day said: “My door is always open to anyone who does not agree with right-wing Tory policies like the mess of Brexit and the horrendous welfare ­reforms.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com