Two Edinburgh councillors have been accused of “abandoning their constituents” for “safer seats” after it emerged they will stand in different wards to those they currently represent at the elections in May.

Leader of The City of Edinburgh Council’s Conservative Group, Iain Whyte, revealed he will seek re-election in Craigentinny/Duddingston, rather than Inverleith where he has served as a councillor since the ward was established in 2007. The councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, John McLellan, advised his intention to step down last year.

Cllr Whyte explained he has made the decision in a bid to “get elected somewhere that’s closer to home”.

He said: “Craigentinny/Duddingston is around about where I live, I don’t live quite in the ward, I live on the edge of it but I used to live in the ward. I have family who live there and I’m doing much in and about the area all the time.

“Essentially, it’s the nature of where we’ve been through lockdown and the pandemic. It’s a chance to get elected somewhere that’s closer to home.”

Meanwhile, fellow Conservative Councillor, Phil Doggart, is switching wards from Colinton/Fairmilehead to Liberton/Gilmerton.

Cllr Doggart will become the lead Conservative candidate for the south-east ward where he lives, as incumbent councillor Stephanie Smith bows out after having a baby in December. 

He said: “This is where I live, I’ve lived here for almost all the time I’ve been in Edinburgh. Stephanie beat me to the selection last time and when she knew she was pregnant she said ‘well I’m not coming back’ and I thought it does make sense for me to stand in my own patch.”

However, the council’s SNP leader Adam McVey argued the motivations behind the pair’s moves are more political than personal.

And he said it was part of a “full retreat” of Conservative councillors in Edinburgh.

“Seven of their group already see the writing on the wall and are standing down but other councillors, including their group leader, are abandoning their constituents to try and find a “safer” seat elsewhere in the City,” Councillor McVey added.

“Residents will see through this as nothing more than councillors who have done nothing to help their communities acting in desperation to remain in office. This again shows the level of contempt the Tories have for our residents by running away from accountability and democracy.”

Deputy Council Leader, Scottish Labour’s Cammy Day, said: “It’s politicians that are running scared and they can see the mess their party is in nationally, they probably accept that impact on them won’t be great.  the Tories I’m sure expect to lose some councillors this year and it’s abandoning constituents for their own personal gain.”

Cllr Whyte insisted his move is a “chance to feel more connected to a community”.

He added: “This ward is one that I’m living in and around and it’s just felt really difficult over the pandemic to keep close to the local community when you’re not living within it.”

The veteran councillor admitted feeling “a bit of a wrench” in leaving the ward he has represented for the last 15 years.

At the 2017 council elections, Mr Whyte received the lowest number of first preference votes out of Inverleith’s four elected members, whilst his conservative colleague in Inverleith Mr Mitchell, whose name will be on the ballot paper again this year, gained the biggest share of first preference votes with just under 20 per cent.

Comparatively, in Craigentinny/Duddingston the ward’s only Tory candidate John McLellan came out on top with 23.7 per cent of first preference votes.

Now confirmed as the Conservative’s lead candidate in Craigentinny/Duddingston, Mr Whyte will take the place of Mr McLellan.

Mr McLellan explained he will not seek re-election to Edinburgh Council to focus on his journalism career, whilst also citing frustration over restrictions on what councillors can comment on publicly. 

He said: “I have lots of things that I need to do in my newspaper roles and I also feel that – and especially more so now with the changes to the code of conduct – the ability to comment and criticise effectively is increasingly constrained and that restrictions applied on councillors are increasingly incompatible with those of commentators and columnists.

“I’m an amateur politician but I’m a professional newspaper man and I’ve got a lot of things to do with the Scottish Newspaper Society, teaching journalism and also hopefully working on public interest working group stuff that I’ve been involved with for the last year and a half.”

Mr McLellan has referred himself to the Standards Commission following a written complaint against him by Pinsent Masons and the lawyer leading the inquiry into matters around social worker Sean Bell.

Other Conservative members confirmed to be standing down at the local elections are Graham Hutchison (Almond), Callum Laidlaw (Portobello/Craigmillar), Nick Cook (Morningside, previously Liberton/Gilmerton) and Scott Douglas (Corstorphine/Murrayfield). 

In addition, Pentland Hills councillor Sue Webber will also give up her seat after being elected to Holyrood as a list MSP for Lothian last year.

by Donald Turvill Local Democracy Reporter

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency: funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector, and used by qualifying partners. Local Democracy Reporters cover top-tier local authorities and other public service organisations.

Sue Webber MSP for Lothian at Holyrood 9 June 2021 ©2021 The Edinburgh Reporter