A FORMER MP selected to stand for Labour at next year’s local elections has been told she is disqualified from becoming a councillor – despite offering to pay back a £16,000 “golden goodbye”.
Sheila Gilmore, previously the city council’s housing leader, accepted a payout to stand down from the local authority at the May 2007 elections.
The payment was part of a drive by the then-Scottish Executive to “refresh” local government and bring in new blood before proportional representation was introduced.
But those who accepted it were also barred from standing as a councillor ever again – something Ms Gilmore said she didn’t realise until after she was selected as Labour’s candidate for Morningside last Friday.
She told the Evening News the rule was something she had “genuinely, absolutely” not been aware of until a fellow ex-councillor had drawn her attention to it.
She said: “I genuinely didn’t know. I never would have put my name forward if I had known. I wasn’t trying to pull off some sort of move.
“I knew I could not stand immediately following the election [in 2007]. [But] it appears to be a disqualification forever, which did slightly surprise me.”
More than one-third of Scotland’s councillors applied for similar payouts of between £10,000 and £20,000 in 2007, depending on their length of service. The payments – which cost the Scottish Executive around £7 million in total – blocked them from standing as councillors again, but did not stop them standing in Holyrood or Westminster elections.
The move was aimed at bringing new faces into local politics ahead of the change to proportional representation, which sought to end one-party dominance.
Ms Gilmore was elected in an Edinburgh District Council by-election for the Moredun ward in 1991, and became the city’s housing leader in 1999. She later served as the MP for Edinburgh East from 2010 until last year, when she lost the seat to the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard.
She said she was “disappointed” that 2007’s payout barred her from becoming a councillor again, adding: “I think we [councillors who accepted 2007’s payout] are the only people in the world who are not allowed ever to stand again.”
She added: “You could be in prison, and then after five years you could stand. It does seem strange that it’s so absolute.
“I don’t recall being told it was a forever thing. But it’s possible it might not have seemed all that significant at the time. I had been on the council for 16 years. I’m very sorry for the people who supported me. I’m disappointed.”
She said she had even offered to pay back the £16,000 to enable her to stand again, but was told this was not possible.
It is understood Labour will now select another candidate for the ward at the beginning of January. Next year’s local elections will take place on May 4.
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