Aberdeen City Council’s co-leaders have come under fire for refusing to remove a councillor embroiled in an anti-Semitism storm from a high-profile role.
SNP group leader Stephen Flynn moved to suspend standing orders in order to bring forward a motion to remove Conservative councillor Ryan Houghton as the local authority’s business manager and vice-convener of the staff governance committee.
Mr Houghton, who is standing as the Scottish Conservative election candidate in Aberdeen North, has been suspended by the party and will receive no backing in his campaign after a number of comments made online more than seven years ago were unearthed.
However, councillors voted 23 votes to 22 to reject the suspension of standing orders, with the SNP group taking to their feet in the chamber to voice their dissent.
Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, Mr Flynn said: “If the Conservative party themselves deem something serious enough to suspend the councillor then it makes you wonder why Douglas Lumsden and Jenny Laing don’t think it’s likewise serious enough to remove him from his key positions as business manager and the vice-convener of staff governance.
“Despite everything that’s going on and everything that’s in the public domain, it’s not going to be until March before Councillor Houghton’s position can be debated again.
“I don’t think that’s in the best interest of people in Aberdeen and quite frankly I think they’ll be outraged that Douglas Lumsden sitting silently by while the Conservative party itself can make a decision but he can’t.
“I am sure the people of Aberdeen will see this for what is it – keeping the administration together at all costs – but the reality is that the council’s reputation should be coming first.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill said his group would have supported removing Mr Houghton from the two positions, had they been allowed to consider it.
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He added: “We believe based on what Councillor Houghton appears to have admitted to posting online that he is not fit to hold those offices.
“We don’t believe he is fit to be business manager or hold any of our council offices and we would certainly have supported that motion had it been agreed to take it today.”
However, Conservative group leader and co-leader of the council, Douglas Lumsden hit back at critics, claiming “everyone is innocent until proven guilty”.
He added: “I think it would be wrong for us to remove someone from their role when these are just accusations at present and they’re being investigated by the party.
“The Conservative party takes things very seriously and there is a full investigation taking place.
“Unlike the SNP who seem to sweep quisling comments under the carpet, we do look at these matters very seriously and we will look to what the outcome of the investigation is.”
Mr Lumsden’s remarks refer to comments made by SNP councillor John Cooke before he was elected in 2017, in which he made comments about ‘quislings’ online.
Mr Cooke said the comments were made two years before he was elected and that he was “trying to be funny”.
Mr Cooke added: “I got it wrong and held my hands up. I made a full apology and I’m sorry if I offended anyone.”
Mr Lumsden added Mr Houghton’s investigation would “hopefully” be concluded in time for the next full council meeting in March, adding they can then make a judgement on the results of that investigation.
Mr Houghton, who has apologised for any hurt caused by the comments, has stated that he has never held anti-Semitic or intolerant views.
He added: “I await the outcome of the decision in the new year.”