Ex-Tory councillor turned independence supporter founds new Edinburgh Common Weal group

Independent councillor Ashley Graczyk has also endorsed local tax reform, and argues that Brexit justifies a second independence referendum

ASHLEY GRACZYK, the independent councillor for the Sighthill/Gorgie ward in Edinburgh who left the Scottish Conservatives earlier this year after voicing her support for independence, has founded Scotland’s newest local Common Weal group to engage Edinburgh voters of all stripes in grassroots activism and local democracy.

Graczyk, whose political journey from a No voter in 2014 to a supporter of Scottish independence led one of her former Tory colleagues to call for her resignation, is now part of the newly established Edinburgh South-West activist group of the Common Weal think tank.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Graczyk said she decided to engage with Common Weal because “we need more grassroots engagement in politics and policies if we are going to make a convincing case for independence.”

She added: “The South West of Edinburgh has a diverse and vibrant local population but has been historically disengaged due to limited local resources. I know there are many people here who would like to get involved in local politics but aren't able to travel across the city to do so.

READ MORE: 'My journey from No to Yes': Full statement from Edinburgh councillor who quit the Tories and backs independence

“I believe a local Common Weal group will be an excellent platform to engage more people in discussions around the type of Scotland we want to live in in future. Like Common Weal, I believe we need to be honest about the realities and issues with independence, and continue to come up with credible solutions to address these.

“I've always found Common Weal's approach to be constructive and inclusive and in fact Common Weal's excellent research and policy work was pivotal in convincing me of the case for an Independent Scotland and its exciting possibilities on my journey to Yes.

“I'm getting involved because I want to use the best possible avenue to produce quality and transforming policies that benefit local people first and foremost, while trying to convince the 'don't knows' and soft no voters. Plus, I'm interested in a special focus on local democracy as I believe checks and balances at a local level are important.”

Graczyk’s political views have further evolved since she publicly came out in support of independence. The councillor told CommonSpace: “I am further convinced that it is now more important than ever to put the people before any political party. I have some grave concerns about the impact of Brexit and it is time for politicians and governments to put all of us first.”

“I'm definitely in favour of more powers to be devolved to local government level. It's time for a new approach to local taxation and for powers to make a real difference at local level.” Independent Edinburgh councillor Ashley Graczyk

Since her dramatic conversion, Graczyk says she has been “overwhelmed by support, in my constituency in Sighthill-Gorgie where there are many passionate advocates for independence, as well as more widely. I have received so many messages of encouragement and support from people across the movement and I'm very grateful.”

Asked how, based on her experience as a councillor, she felt local democracy in Scotland’s capital could be improved, Graczyk replied: “We need grassroots organisations to advocate for their communities and the issues that are most relevant for them. For instance, I have found out that our community here in the South West is significantly under-funded, and part of my work as a local Councillor is of course standing up for my constituents and ensuring that these types of inequalities are addressed.

“Then in terms of wider structural reforms, I think that Common Weal, as a non-partisan think tank, can constructively challenge the government and elected members to do better in developing structural reforms designed to ensure the economy is better able to realise its growth potential in a balanced way which benefits all of us.  I'm definitely in favour of more powers to be devolved to local government level. It's time for a new approach to local taxation and for powers to make a real difference at local level.”

Asked to comment on Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s recent threat to quit her position, should any eventual Brexit deal inadvertently bolster the case for Scottish independence, Graczyk said: “There is no doubt in my mind that Brexit bolsters the case for independence. When voters in Scotland made their decision in the independence referendum in 2014, they were told that one of the choices was the status quo, voting for Scotland to remain within the UK and in the EU.

“It is now clear that this option no longer exists, so I believe the electorate should have the chance to revisit this decision in the light of what is substantial constitutional change.”

Picture courtesy of Patrick Franzis

HELP US BUILD A COMMON FUTURE TOGETHER: Support our work at allofusfirst.org/donate