‘Alcohol doesn’t cause hate crime, the Ku Klux Klan is teetotal’ - that’s the message which landed Eric Milligan, convener of the city’s licensing board, in hot water.
The standards watchdog has now cleared the former Lord Provost of acting in an “intimidating” and “rude” manner at a meeting at City Chambers in which he made reference to the KKK.
Councillor Milligan said he had been “vindicated” by the ruling which centred on a conversation in which he used the Ku Klux Klan – historically teetotal – to illustrate his point that hate crime was not linked to alcohol.
The veteran councillor, boasting 40 years of public service, has routinely denied that the spread of pubs and off-sales across Edinburgh fuels antisocial behaviour – a stance disputed by Police Scotland and NHS Lothian.
Cllr Milligan said he referenced the white supremacist group in context with his argument that alcohol-free countries can still be hotbeds of hate crime.
He said: “It’s not alcohol that causes hate crime.
“Indeed, when you mention hate crime, the first thing somebody will think about is the Ku Klux Klan – and they were actually anti-alcohol.
“So you cannot say that because somebody enjoys a couple of pints of beer, that somehow they are going to be responsible for hate crime.”
During the meeting – which took place last year – he was accused of being “rude” and showing “a lack of respect” to David Griffiths, of disability group ECAS, and Iain Stewart, general secretary of Edinburgh Interfaith Association, who challenged his position on the overprovision of alcohol.
They later complained about his behaviour to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.
Commissioner Bill Thomson ruled that while Cllr Milligan’s manner may have “surprised people who had not spoken to him before” – and may have rendered them “ill at ease” – his behaviour did not amount to a breach of the code.
A source previously told the News that Cllr Milligan had behaved in a “bullying” manner during the meeting – an accusation he strongly denies.
He said: “I’ve never bullied anybody in my life – I take great exception to that.
“I think I’m a model of good behaviour, of generous spirit, and I give my time and my ear to all sorts of people – many of whom have strong disagreements with views that I hold.
“But I do it in a courteous way, and I do get rather irked when people take exception to what I may have said, drawn completely out of context from a private meeting.
And he added: “At the meeting I spoke to them in my usual direct way and they have taken words out of context and misrepresented what was said.
“I actually thought it was a good meeting, and it ended on us shaking hands. I was astonished that two individuals chose to write to the Standards Commission alleging I had said words they found inappropriate, or showing a lack of respect.
“Whether they deliberately misrepresented what I had said or whether it was simply that they were unused to speaking to somebody like me and didn’t follow what I had said in the context in which I had said it, I do not know.”