An Aberdeen SNP councillor has been branded “racist” after making a colleague feel like she had “just come off the boat”.
Kairin van Sweeden is to be reported to the conduct watchdog over comments made in a debate about buying winter coats for the city’s most in-need kids.
A row over how best to spend public cash – whether on a new citizen’s assembly or crisis grants – was sidelined as all control was lost at the Town House.
Aberdeen City Council meeting marred by ‘racist’ comment
Ms van Sweeden took aim at Labour’s Deena Tissera during heated exchanges about how best to help Aberdeen’s worst off.
“I realise as a ‘new Scot’, Councillor Tissera maybe doesn’t know about the mitigations (to austerity) that the SNP government have had to put in over the years,” she started.
A low, stunned “oooh” slowly built around the chamber.
City officials behind her exchanged a shocked look.
The Tillydrone, Seaton and Old Aberdeen councillor continued: “For example, the bedroom tax… Maybe you’re not aware of the bedroom tax?”
‘Word choice matters’ – SNP council co-leader laments van Sweeden’s ‘racist’ comment
It was then Ms Tissera, and others including Labour group leader M Tauqeer Malik, jumped to their feet in protest.
Lord Provost David Cameron was shouted down as he tried to de-escalate the situation.
A five-minute break became 10 minutes, as councillors crowded those involved at opposite sides of the chamber like playground cliques.
Should Kairin van Sweeden be reported to the watchdog for what she said? Let us know in the comments below.
French-born SNP council co-leader Christian Allard moved to broker peace with Ms Tissera, who was flanked by Mr Malik and Conservative group leader Ryan Houghton.
“Word choice matters. Word choice matters to people who have made Scotland their homes,” he later told all councillors as he apologised for his colleague’s words.
First surrounded by SNP colleagues, Ms van Sweeden spent a lot of the adjournment sat alone, an empty chair to either side of her.
Discussions – clearly about her – were had by her 44 colleagues at arms length.
⬇️ In just 90 seconds, this clip shows the depths that this SNP / Lib Dem Administration have taken Aberdeen City Council to.
— Aberdeen Labour (@AberdeenLabour) October 12, 2023
SNP’s van Sweeden ‘apologised unreservedly’ for offence caused
When legal advice had been given, the SNP councillor told the meeting: “I would like to apologise to Councillor Tissera unreservedly if anything I said to you has caused personal offensive in any way.
“I hope you can accept my apology.”
Ms Tissera replied that it had made her feel “an outsider”, and that she was “absolutely hurt” by the words that had been said.
Born in Sri Lanka, the Hilton, Woodside and Stockethill councillor moved to Aberdeen for university study.
A British citizen, she became the first woman of colour to be elected as a city councillor in 2022.
‘Absolutely racist innuendo insinuates I had just come off the boat’
Hours after the attack, Ms Tissera told The P&J that what had been said was “absolutely racist” and slammed the “empty apology” offered.
“The innuendo was that I had just come off the boat and, as a so-called new Scot, I was not as Scottish as others in the room,” she said.
“And therefore, it insinuates I do not know about Scotland despite being a British citizen.
“This is a real low for the council and I have had offers of support across the chamber and from senior officers who understand that words matter.”
SNP leader Humza Yousaf to hear about Aberdeen City Council’s ‘racist’ row
Labour is to press SNP First Minister Humza Yousaf to suspend Ms van Sweeden from the party until her remarks are investigated.
And Ms Tissera confirmed she would be reporting the encounter to the Standards Commission, which polices the conduct of councillors in Scotland.
Ms van Sweeden dodged questioning by The P&J at the Town House last night.
She was not available to speak – in person or on the phone – even after it’s understood SNP HQ gave its input on the situation.
Instead, a written statement was issued by a spokesman.
It read: “Commenting, councillor Kairin van Sweeden said: ‘I unreservedly apologise for the clumsy language I used in the chamber today and the offence it caused – it could not be further from the values I hold’.”