Edinburgh Tory councillor quits in protest at benefit changes

Ashley Graczyk celebrates her win with Ruth Davidson in the 2017 election.
Ashley Graczyk celebrates her win with Ruth Davidson in the 2017 election.
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AN Edinburgh Tory councillor has resigned from the party, saying the UK government’s policies on disability issues and social justice are “incompatible with her beliefs and conscience”.

Ashley Graczyk, who was elected to represent Sighthill/Gorgie at last year’s local elections, said she would now sit as an independent councillor.

Her departure from the Tory group means it can no longer boast of being bigger than the SNP, which runs the city in coalition with Labour.

Explaining her decision, Cllr Graczyk said: “I have lost count of the amount of times I have met with various disabled people and those in difficulties who have been immensely impacted by DWP at local level.”

She said she had seen people reduced to tears because of Universal Credit and other benefits, including Access to Work.

And Cllr Graczyk, who is deaf, added: “I also speak from experience, the Access to Work application and assessment process is far too bureaucratic, obstructive and is no longer fit for purpose. Quite frankly, it is a horrible process.”

She said the final straw was the government’s decision to close the Access to Elected Office Fund, which helped disabled candidates with the extra costs of standing for election and which she benefited from.

She said: “After a great deal of thought and angst, I have decided to resign from the Scottish Conservative Party as I am no longer comfortable representing the party due to current policies of the UK Conservative government on disability issues and social justice being incompatible with my own beliefs and conscience.”

Cllr Graczyk appeared to resign briefly in January, clearing her desk in the Tory offices and telling colleagues she was quitting. She was said to be “on the brink” of defecting to Labour, but returned to the Tories after an intervention by Lord McInnes, director of the Scottish Conservative Party and a former Edinburgh councillor.

Today Tory group leader Iain Whyte said Cllr Graczyk had sent him a letter of resignation, but had not discussed any of her concerns beforehand.

He said: “It’s very disappointing and surprising for me and the group that Ashley should resign in this way. Her concerns seem to be all about policy at UK level and nothing to do with the group. I would have thought these were the kind of issues you would fight within the party to change.”

But he said her departure would not affect the work of the group. “We will still be equal largest group on the council and will continue to press our agenda.”

Labour group leader Cammy Day said he would be happy to have talks with Cllr Graczyk about her future. He said: “Ashley knows my door is always open.”