John McLellan is dismayed by a Conservative defector to the cause of independence, Ashley Graczyk, and the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s recent remarks about the burka.
It goes without saying that as a Conservative councillor I don’t support the break-up of the UK, and those Craigentinny/Duddingston voters who gave me their first preference at last year’s election knew exactly what they were endorsing. Similarly, those who endorsed SNP candidates knew they were advancing the cause of independence.
At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work, but that assumption has been challenged this week by the decision of my former Conservative group colleague Ashley Graczyk to embrace Nationalism; in so doing she has turned her back on the 1,600 people in Sighthill/Gorgie who gave their first preference to a candidate whose campaign literature said “We don’t want a second referendum” above a picture of her with Ruth Davidson.
Across the city, those people who opposed independence but didn’t support the Conservatives had the choice of voting for the Labour or Lib Dem candidates, but they voted for the candidate they thought best placed to oppose the SNP and as a result the Conservatives won the highest number of first preferences.
Although it was a council election, there was no doubt the national picture was at the forefront of voters’ minds, while local concerns for people likely to vote Tory centred on initiatives closely associated with the Labour-SNP administration like the tram project and the blanket 20mph speed limit. First-time candidates like Ashley and I should have been under no illusion people would be voting for the party, not individuals.
The basis of the system relies on the candidates knowing exactly what they are representing. What they can’t do is within a matter of months say it’s all been a big mistake, that they didn’t really understand what they were representing, but then hang on to the seat and the allowance.
Councillor Graczyk hasn’t quite been able to make the full leap to membership of the SNP, and although her conversion to Nationalism hasn’t quite been Damascean, as recently as April she was posting pictures of herself on social media with a Union Flag.
Three SNP Edinburgh councillors have also left their parties, one following allegations of misconduct and the other two because of in-fighting, and while I still believe all three should have resigned, none have renounced the banner of independence under which they were elected.
Ashley was elected as a representative of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party by people who believed in the Union and change in the council. She no longer represents us and the only way to find out if the views of those electors of Sighthill/Gorgie who backed her have altered is to ask them. If she really believes in representative democracy she should resign and fight a by-election.
Bojo the publicity seeker strikes again
Someone whose loyalty to the Conservative cause has never been in any doubt is Eastwood MSP Jackson Carlaw, fighting campaign after campaign throughout the years when the Scottish party was at its lowest ebb.
For him, whatever may be going on behind the scenes public unity is an absolute, so I can only guess at how angry he was to use social media to condemn Boris Johnson over his Daily Telegraph burka column. “Just to be clear this is not a debate about the prevalence of the burka”, he tweeted. “It is about the casual, typically sensationalist and gratuitously offensive rhetoric deployed by Boris Johnson. It has caused real offence to many of my constituents. Bluntly, I’m fed up with him. Enough.”
He was on relatively safe ground, given both Theresa May and Ruth Davidson had called on Johnson to apologise, and he now faces a formal party investigation. The problem was not the point of the article, which argued against a ban “because it is inevitably construed – rightly or wrongly – as being intended to make some point about Islam”, but his description of Muslim women looking like letter boxes or bank robbers.
His critics would doubtless agree with the conclusion that “if you go for a total ban, you play into the hands of those who want to politicise and dramatise the so-called clash of civilisations”. Indeed, Ruth Davidson’s comparison with banning crucifixes is echoed in the article, pointing out that prohibition of veils would “risk a general crackdown on any public symbols of religious affiliation.”
Having duly fanned the flames of grievance, he predicted “you risk turning people into martyrs”, but Johnson is no martyr. Quite the opposite. Having made what was for him a low-key resignation speech and Westminster now becalmed in recess, he has successfully grabbed the headlines without actually calling for anything, and what might otherwise have been a 24-hour story could go on for days.
The greater the outrage, the greater the publicity which in turn feeds the outrage and mounts pressure on an increasingly compromised inquiry. The party is hanged if it doesn’t punish him and hanged if it does, while Johnson carries on regardless. If it had been a genuine misjudgement in which his eagerness to entertain went too far, then it would have simple to issue an immediate retraction. He didn’t.
Maybe he will issue an “if I’ve caused offence” apology today, just in time to catch the Sunday papers and political shows in sleepy August, or maybe we all have to wait until the next instalment in Monday’s Telegraph. But he’ll have had a week’s worth of publicity, appealed to a sizeable chunk of the electorate who won’t even have read the article, and been paid about £5,000 for the piece into the bargain.
Just a couple of stinging similes and bingo, everyone is talking about old Bojo again. Shameless isn’t in it.
No US trip for council deputation
Another withdrawal up at Edinburgh City Chambers, not a councillor, but the offer from the council’s IT supplier CGI to fly a group of five officials and councillors to the US and Canada to demonstrate how well they operate after mounting complaints about their performance here. Why the change of heart? Surely it can’t be because an anonymous councillor snitched to the Evening News? Or perhaps CGI realised a clean bill of health from the delegation could lead to accusations, however unfounded, of buying off criticism while the opposite would mean the company had met the cost of a kicking.
No hold-ups on affordable housing Getting on with the day job... After the Prime Minister and First Minister formally signed off the £1.3bn Edinburgh Region City Deal this week, attention now switches to delivery. So much has been promised about the positive impact the investment will have that public expectation needs careful management, but there should be no hold-up with Edinburgh’s affordable house-building programme now the council has ownership of large tracts of land in Granton and approved the management process to create 4,000 new homes.