The former leader of Aberdeen’s Jewish community has spoken out in support of a councillor whose past anti-Semitic remarks have repeatedly come back to haunt him.
Mark Taylor, who was then chairman of the city’s synagogue, first met Ryan Houghton in 2016 when he helped a Jewish family who were being persecuted.
Mr Taylor was taken aback when, as Mr Houghton was campaigning to be elected as an MP in late 2019, offensive remarks he made on a message board seven years earlier resurfaced.
Mr Houghton appeared to flirt with Holocaust denial while typing on a forum, saying that while there was “no credible evidence to suggest the Holocaust did not happen … I do find some of the events fabricated”.
Earlier this month, the George Street and Harbour councillor made a fresh bid to scale the political ladder.
Now 29, Mr Houghton put himself forward to be co-leader of the council following fellow Tory Douglas Lumsden’s election to the Scottish Parliament.
As the Conservative nominee, it was expected he would stand unopposed and inevitably assume the senior role.
But the controversial remarks he made several years ago again scuppered his ambitions.
Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill refused to back Mr Houghton’s nomination, claiming he “still has questions to answer” over the “alarming” comments.
Within days, Mr Houghton was forced to climb down – lamenting that his prior mistakes had become a “political football”.
BREAKING: Cllr Ryan Houghton withdraws his bid to become co-leader of Aberdeen.
He was previously suspended by the Conservative party over comments made online several years ago. pic.twitter.com/vz7OhCPFgM
— Original 106 FM (@originalfm) May 11, 2021
Mr Houghton’s links with Jewish community go back years
Mr Taylor decided to remain quiet when the comments were uncovered 18 months ago, but has today broken his silence.
The 60-year-old, who is now a treasurer for the city synagogue, stressed he was speaking in a purely personal capacity as he explained how the Conservative councillor helped the Jericho Cosmetics firm when the owner was targeted.
He said: “I first met Ryan when he came to visit the synagogue a few years ago with Ross Thomson, who was an MP at the time and Ryan was his assistant.
“I got to know him more when a Jewish businessman and his family were being abused because of a concession stand they ran in a shopping centre.
“A group of Palestine protestors began campaigning against this businessman.
“They harassed him, his family and his workers for several years and it felt like there was nobody willing or able to support them.
“The group was holding him personally responsible for what was happening in the Middle East, which is complete and utter nonsense.
“Yes, they have every right to protest but not to abuse an individual who has nothing to do with it, just because he is Jewish.
“The businessman and his family eventually just left Aberdeen as it got so bad.”
Plea for people not to judge councillor
Mr Taylor added: “During this time, Ryan was supportive.
“He tried to help this man and his family, he tried to get something done.”
When the previous quotes emerged in 2019, Mr Taylor called Mr Houghton to discuss the remarks.
“What he wrote in his blog wasn’t right, but it shouldn’t be held against him for the rest of his life”, he said.
“I read the comments in the context of where he was at the time, and his age at the time.
“He clearly had certain thoughts and questions in his head about how does the world works, and he expressed them poorly.
“If you want to, you can say ‘he’s an outright racist’ and so on, but I believe people change and become more aware of information as they grow older.
“I think it is wrong for it to always be dragged up, he should be judged on what he has actually done.
Decision to break silence
“We reached out to him in 2019 and also spoke to some of the leading Jewish organisations, who had some very strong views.
“After discussing it with Ryan privately, we decided not to make any public comment.
“But now it feels like this will keep getting called out, and being used against him, and we don’t think that’s fair.
“I am speaking now because I want to see an end to this.”
Mr Taylor added that he was not making any comment on the other controversial statements Mr Houghton has made in the past.
In the messages from 2012 Mr Houghton was also quoted as saying he did not see how homosexuality was good for the human race.
He further claimed that Islam’s core teachings had the goal of “world domination” and that some Muslims had big families with the aim of creating “Eurabia”.
The councillor today told us that he appreciated Mr Taylor’s show of support.
The RAF veteran, who was based at Lossiemouth and served in Afghanistan, said: “Mark, in his previous role as president of Aberdeen synagogue has seen firsthand anti-semitism here over the years.
“I have tried to be a force for good for the Jewish community since being elected as a councillor and want to continue that going forward.”