Where we are and where we will be

Where we are and where we will be
The idea of Edinburgh is a combination of place, soul and symbolic leadership of a nation

Sunday, 30 December 2007

2008; a year of hope and opperchancity!

So, happy reader, in between the family gatherings and usual overindulgence of the festive season, here's my predictions for 2008. You will be pleased to know that they are an edited version! I will look again at these with you in 12 months and see whether my crystal ball was clear or murky.

In their writing I wish you good blessing for the New Year in all that it brings!

International Events
I predict that:
  • New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will realise that although the Republicans won’t win the election, no-one is excited about the two Democratic candidates (Hilary Clint0n and Barack Obama; Clinton because she is seen as more of the same despite her gender and Obama because he is seen as inexperienced and people are up for real change. He will stand and because he can fund his own campaign personally, he will rise above any funding issues and he will win. It will be close but he will win.
  • The death of Benazir Bhutto will change the face of world politics forever. Whoever killed her did not mean this to happen but her supporters and those of her opponents, principally Nawaz Sharif, will join forces to oust President Pervez Musharrif. Before that happens it will be very bloody but by a great irony given the objective of the assassination was to divide, the gathering of former rivals will win the day
  • The other big international issue will Darfur both because it matters and as a way of turning from their own domestic trials both America and Britain in particular will focus in finding a political solution to this continuing crisis.
Westminster Politics
  • I predict that Labour will slowly recover its ground but mostly because David Cameron will be exposed as not having the nerve or the capacity to step into the breach that Labour has inflicted upon itself in the last 3 or so months.
Scottish Politics

I predict that:
  • Alex Salmond will continue to dominate Scottish Politics but although he will remain popular as a leader who seems to know where he is going, support for the one thing his party actually stands for will plateau.
  • Wendy Alexander will begin to lead Scottish Labour with confidence but will spend as much of her time reforming the party as she will leading the opposition in the Parliament.
  • The Lib Dems will shy away from local income tax arguing that the SNP version is not their version (which is true), but deep down it will be because they know that if the SNP deliver on actually getting rid of the Council Tax as opposed to just freezing it, (which will soon become financially unsustainable), then they will win the next election by a mile.
  • The rest of the SNP commitments will fall by the wayside but with Council tax freeze delivered, much will be forgiven, (though not forgotten)
Edinburgh City Council Politics

I predict that:
  • The Libdem/SNP administration will present a balanced budget in February (as we did for 23 consecutive years) but they will do so by selling something (as we suggested in June and in August), but they will struggle to cope as pressures become tougher and those suffering from the administrations inability to make decisions become more vocal
  • The coalition will survive next year but only just as tensions between Libdems genuine attempts to run the city despite their total inability to make strategic decisions will clash against the SNPs one card which is to always play for the good news. The one change will be that the SNP locally will choose a new leader.
  • The administration will fail miserably to deal with schools issue and will see constant criticism from the voluntary sector who will argue that the compact is effectively over
  • The Labour Group will be seen as the voice of Edinburgh as the administration struggle to pay for their commitments and keeping the coalition from falling apart
Personal predictions
  • My team Dunfermline Athletic will appoint Jim McIntyre permanently as their manager and survive in Division one just missing out on promotion but most people will agree that this will benefit the club in the long run as an early return would mean us struggling in the top flight again
  • In my other spectator experience I predict that with the team spirit Andy Robinson has brought to Edinburgh Rugby the Capital side will have their best season ever in the Magners league although they just miss out on the silverware

Monday, 24 December 2007

The Spirit of Christmas in a simple gift

And so the waiting is nearly over. Christmas eve is upon us and the anticipation in the Aitken household is palpable. Sadly for the youngest two in the house its nothing to do with the coming of the Saviour and everything to do with the potential arrival of a bearded stranger in a strange suit who will enter their bedrooms when they are asleep.... with armfuls of presents and a penchant for airtravel with animals!

Actually they are not quite that cynical. They are looking forward to the Christingle service at 6.30 which is always a wonderful riot of weans running up and down the aisle whilst adults re-live blue peter and try to make the Christingle model without dripping wax or cutting themselves.

Christingle services go back around two hundred years. You can read about the symbolism and history here. There are a number of versions of the inspiration for the service but the one I like is the story of a family in poverty telling the story of Christs coming through their gift of fruit and sweets better than others with much greater wealth. A Christmas message for us all if ever there was one.

May your Christmas be one of peace and your New Year one of hope and new living.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

One win doesn't make a season but....

I never thought that I would be dancing at the news that my team (Dunfermline Athletic) had beaten Queen of the South but yesterday I was jigging in the kitchen at the 2-0 result!

If you think being a Labour Party politician is tough going these days you want to try being a Pars fan! I have always followed the Pars though sadly I don't get to many games but its been a rocky road since our demise as an SPL member.

Our recently sacked manager Stephen Kenny seemed a nice lad but we were on a downward spiral and something had to give. I just hope its not a false dawn like the victory against Iceland was for oor Bertie. I hope they remember down East End Park that a winning ways should be for a season and not just for Christmas!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Tony makes his move

So Tony Blair finally follows his heart and soul and joins to the Roman Catholic Church.

Each to their own. I have a great deal of respect for Roman Catholicism but a church that excludes women from it hierarchy and even from the beds it its priesthood has a long way to go to becoming something I would want to join.

People often ask if politics and religion should be mix. For me they are by necessity intertwined. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, "when people say politics and religion do not mix, I ask them what bible they are reading"

The key is what role it plays in your politics. For me its not that God tells me what to do but that everything I do must be tested against the call of God to love not just my neighbour, or even the stranger, but my enemy. And to discern how to do that, to find the courage to do that, I need times of silence, prayer and stillness, times with God.

Religion and Politics do mix, just as atheism and politics mix. Its about knowing what you believe and then, in our frail and often failing human ways, living out that belief whatever the cost.

Friday, 21 December 2007

The sound of broken promises rings out

Its not the sound of jingles you hear, its the sound of broken promises crashing to the floor!

First the SNP say that they would "cut the quangos" on but now they have announced that they will create a new quango to run PPP, a quango that will be a private limited company with a "public limited ethos". I thought all quangos had that.. and if its a private company what makes that different from PPP as was, infact, its exactly what we have already running PPPs!

Then we hear they are NOT going to fund the Airborne initiative after specifically saying they would in their manifesto. Did they lie, no, probably not, its probably what they wanted to do, but did they make a promise they couldn't and now aren't keeping... YES!

I backed Airborne when my Labour Comrades closed it. They were wrong then but now the SNP are now just as culpable with yet another broken promise and a busted budget!

Clear desk before Christmas policy..why?

It used to be that the last day at work was clearing the in tray, now its the "in box"! I have spent most of today battering away at the keyboard trying to clear the desk for the Christmas break.

E-mail is becoming a burden not an efficiency but then most progress has its downsides.

Still, nearly there. Christmas meal with the group and the staff this evening. They deserve a medal, (the staff, not the group!), for coping with the massive change we have gone through with good humour and sheer dedication.

Daily blogs will be less likely over the festivities though you never know, though I haven't manged that this week either; why is it that the celebrations of the birth of the prince of peace so stressful.. but there you go, that's progress again!

A day of two halves

Yesterday was a day of two extremes. First, the Council meeting (you can see the agenda here) ran for 8 hours as the administration struggled to find anything resembling as sense of direction. The biggest laugh came when they said with a straight face over the sports strategy that the “council couldn't afford to procrastinate” and then proposed a motion asking for another report in three months.

We were accused of “flip flopping” on the issue by the SNP but given that they are led by some-one who has shown more flip flops than an episode of “Home and Away” we were little troubled by that smokescreen of an allegation.

We had a plan (I talked about it here), that was costed and delivered more and better sports facilities for Edinburgh. It was controversial however and the administration said they could do better. They have singularly failed to do so. You can see our motion here and their offering here. Make your own mind up.

The day improved immeasurably however, with the Leith Academy Christmas Concert. I've been involved in Leith Academy since 1991 and I have always been inspired by the quality of the musical events but last nights was in the top three. The tightness of the ensembles, the quality and breadth of the singing, the high level in inclusion of ability and age were just some of the highlights. It was the perfect antidote to the Council meeting and I am grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.

The only sad note was that it was the last day for the head teacher Sandy McAulay who has led the school with passion, vision and wholehearted dedication for 13 years. He has changed lives again and again and the City and Leith in particular has much to be grateful to him for. I wish him and his family well.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

We're on our way to Bethlehem

A day filled with nine meetings finished with the Craigentinny/Duddingston neighbourhood partnership meeting of which I am convener. You can see the agenda here

This is the Councils attempt to devolve the power from the centre into communities (as opposed to centralise which is the consequence if not the objective of the SNP Government)s recent actions)

What's most interesting is that each partnership has a majority of non councillors on it. Its the nearest to those in power giving up that power that I have come across.

This is a Labour model but the Libdems have spoken warm words of support. I’ll believe it when I see real budgets devolved.

Of the many things we discussed perhaps the most obscure was changes to who gets to name streets. It used to be the Head of Planning in conjunction with the local member. Now it will be the Head of Planning in consultation with the Neighbourhood partnership

I helped name streets several times in the last 8 years as a local member. My favourite was for a site that had been until recently a bakery. I suggested Bethlehem Way as Bethlehem is the Hebrew for House of Bread. Its probably the only bit of Hebrew I know except for Shalom but its nice that it finally came in handy!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Everyone loves a winner, except if you are homeless

So Leon won. Huge congratulations to him. That I should even know his name was a surprise to my family and even to me but its a great achievement for the lad from Whitburn.

I see the Libdems have an emergency motion up to congratulate him at the Council meeting on Thursday even though he come from Whitburn, which, when I last looked, isn’t in Edinburgh.

Why is this relevant? Well that's the same Libdems who refused to back our motion in August to mark the victory of the Scottish Homeless world cup victors because only one of them had an Edinburgh connection.

Rank hypocrisy I’d call it. But nothing new there then when there is the chance of getting some-one else's glory to cover your own inadequacies.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Christmas is Santa's birthday, right?

Went to the church nativity play this morning. My boy was the main character in a "21st" century version of the old story. This included Santa as the narrator. Given that significant numbers of children think Christmas is the celebration of Santa's birthday I was not sure that this was the wisest casting choice but all went well.

There was of course the usual chaos of such events. My wife was drafted in as an angel at the last minute to substitute for the non appearance of some of the heavenly creatures due to colds. The prompt worked overtime as stage-fright was rife but it wouldn't be the same if everything went slickly and smoothly.

I love the whole build up to Christmas. I know that for many it's no longer a religious experience but for me its so crucial in my own faith journey from the manger to the cross and then the empty tomb. The problem for me, as it is for the whole Christian community is that the rest of the world wants to keep the baby in the manager to avoid the deeper message of the Christ among us, that the peace of the world will happen only when we love not just our neighbour, or even the stranger, but our enemy as would have them love us. Easy words but tough to live; but imagine a world where we did so.

Friday, 14 December 2007

What's the meaning of life anyway?

The latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) report has looked at Scottish Schools and is calling for a radical shake-up of the exam structure including the demise of Standard grades.

Nothing new there. The end of Standard grade has been predicted for some years. Education needs to evolve with the times as does its exam structure. It also comments on our high numbers of those leaving school and not finding employment, training or more education.

Real change is needed to deal with this deep rooted issue. What we must not do however, is creates a false dichotomy between vocational choices and academic ones where the vocational ones are there for those who are "disengaged" and the academic ones are for those who can cope with the system.
That still puts the system in charge, not the pupil.

Disaffection comes for many reasons and usually begins not in the classroom but the living room. The classroom solutions need to free not restrict. That will mean all of us changing our view of success from things that can be counted and put in league tables to ways of expressing success in term of progress towards the goals young people have themselves.

Not easy but its the only way the system won't still be in charge.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Sometimes we need to stop and take stock

Some weeks put everything into perspective. This has been one of those weeks and its only Thursday

Earlier this week I was e mailed by a constituent who wanted me to pray for their spouse who is dying of cancer. Nothing more, just prayer.

Today I spent time with a member of my former congregation who is struggling with a long-term and painful illness and for whom recovery will be a long road

On Saturday, for the first time in several years, I am doing a scattering of ashes. This is for a family who no longer live locally but for whom I did two very difficult funerals around 10 years ago. They have had to cope with another tragic early death in the family want their loved one to be with those who went before.

Its been an unusual week so far and a salutary reminder of whats important in life and in its living.

Would you buy a second hand car off this man?

If John "Del Boy" Swinney is true to his word and Edinburgh gets the financial support it needs to be the Capital Scotland needs it to be, then I will be first in the queue to praise him. But I will not be queuing anywhere until I see the cheque, ink dry and with a total that meets the needs of Scotland's capital.

This is a story that is not just about cash. I laid out in March and again in April of this year a 10 plan for the Capital city that covered everything from infrastructure to hosting Government to our role as the cradle of the Nations story. Capital City Status much more than simply more cash for the Council. The work of being the capital city is of national significance and we need work with many people across the nation for it to be seen as that. My plan included a tour of Scotland to ask the question of the nation, "what kind of Capital City do you want Edinburgh to be?" You can read my speech here.

What we have so far is a promise, no more. Given the sound of broken SNP promises that are echoing round Holyrood as we speak, that's not much to go on. Bit it could be a step in the right direction, but it needs to be backed up with action. And that's a whole lot more than simply a cheque, welcome and necessary as that is.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A new start for some-one and the city

Spent all day in interviews for the new Director of City Development. Its a crucial job. If we get the development of Scotland's Capital wrong, its not just the city that suffers, its the nation. But after 10 years of growth, 55000 new jobs and unemployment at 1.7% the time has come to look differently at how to build on that success.

Things like Peak oil, Climate change and a potential global downturn will need a radically different approach including, as I was saying earlier in the week, things like transition towns..

From an excellent field I think we, (it was a cross party panel), have made a great choice. Sadly I can't tell you who it is but it will be public soon enough. It was a unanimous choice as well which bodes well.

I suppose the only trouble is if he's successful it might make the Libdems look better than they are, but the city's success is more important than such worries!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Letter to Santa Salmond isn't a good enough plan

The Libdems hit "spinsville" again with their claim that they would build 1000 new affordable houses was shown to be little more than spin and wishfull-thinking when the next headline was "Libdems to ask for £350m for SNP Government"

1000 more than what, where will they be built, by whom and who will pay...?
We all want new affordable homes but what we need is not a letter to Santa Salmond but a plan that gives us the money, the land and the people to do the building. Headlines don't build homes, clear political leadership and a touch of realism do. Both would be helpful items on this administrations Christmas pressie list as they are sadly lacking them at present.

Monday, 10 December 2007

A Nicaraguan experience not to be missed

I meant say that at the Iona meeting last Friday I agreed to front a concert of one of the more amazing human beings to walk this planet.

I met Paul Baker nearly 30 years ago when he had just come out of 7 years as a Trappist monk. He kept me and over 200 others at a youth event enthralled as he sung his life using a guitar he built from a chest of drawers and a table leg!

He still uses that guitar as he now promotes the lives of the very poor in Nicaragua where he now lives

In Nicaragua Zero Hunger is the flagship programme of the new Sandinista government, dedicated to the vision that, 'For the first time ever, every child in Nicaragua will have food to eat, every day',

Paul works closely with Zero Hunger, promoting it both within and outwith Nicaragua. He specializes in the beautifully passionate songs of Chile's murdered singer/songwriter Víctor Jara.

Paul has worked in Chile with Inti Illimani and Joan Jara, Víctor's widow and lived with Salvadorans under death squad attack in Los Angeles, where he joined Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen and countless 'ordinary' people in protesting unjust US wars.

He lives now in Nicaragua where he often sings with Carlos Mejia Godoy, Salvador Cardenal and others who carry on the passionate tradition of Joan, Victor and their friends.

He is International Coordinator for Echoes of Silence, a network of 'artists with dirt under their fingernails'. Based in Managua, with his ex-guerrilla wife, Fátima Hernández, and their family, he is also co-founder of the fair trade cooperative Café Sandino and the Victor Jara Workers' Movement.

Paul will be in Concert at St Georges West Church on January 31st at 7.30pm as part of a national tour. Entry by Donation. He works gratis full-time in Nicaragua, relying on tours to stay alive.

I haven't seen Paul for over 25 years. I cannot recommend strongly enough to you to try to meet him for the first time when he is in Edinburgh in January.

A Community on the up in danger of being beaten back down

I visited one of many community groups facing extinction in my ward because of a lack of clarity about future funding.

The Piershill Community flat has almost single-handedly turned round an area with a very negative reputation to one where people are wanting now to stay.

Trouble is the flat is funded through the NHS who are struggling to make ends meet and although they are perfect candidate for Community regeneration Funding, that valuable pot of cash seems to be be rapidly shrinking. John Swinney's announcements seems to suggest that it has been reduced by a three quarters and that its priorities are changing.

Despite this these folk were full of hope and enthusiasm and we talked through all the possibilities of how they might get funding. It does seem galling however that they have to scrabble about for cash when those who could fund them see them as extras yet everything they do saves the state money.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Transition towns, an idea whose time has come

I went to a fascinating and scary meeting this afternoon to discuss the idea of Edinburgh Becoming a Transition city. This is a response to the problem of Peak oil and Climate change which essentially means the combination of when we can no longer produce the oil we need to keep the economy running as it is combined with the need to radically change the levels of carbon produced by our lifestyles.

Peak Oil is when we can no longer produce enough oil to meet our energy demands at a price that we can economically afford. To give you an example of what I mean. When Oil was first drilled commercially in the 1850's, for every unit of energy that was put in to get the oil out, the oil gave 100 units of energy. Now its a 1 to 10 ratio and dropping.

You can read more about Peak oil as an idea here and here and here and transition towns here. You can also read about a Welsh and and English experience of attempting the transition town experience here and here and the wonderful Portobello group PEDAL work here. They will explain this idea much better than I can, suffice to say that this quote from the Transition Towns movement website captures the enormity of the task:

"for all those aspects of life that our community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"

This is about producing what we need rather than what we want and doing so locally with a very different understanding of what we mean by economically successful.

Politically and culturally it would mean huge change for parties like my own but actually philosophically its much closer to our roots of common ownership and common cause that we perhaps are these day.

It is a truly radical proposal. I know it will take a great deal to get my party on board, but it is only with this kind of thinking and action that we will make the fundamental change we needt is to make to prepare for the consequences of climate change and peak oil. Otherwise our time on this planet may become limited.

I was inspired by not just the message but the insight and commitment of the 60 plus people who gave up their Sunday afternoon to debate this. We’ll be meeting again in January. I will keep you up to speed on progress.

Tights with pointy toes- why!?

I took my not quite yet three year old (but going on 30). daughter to her dancing class yesterday. Before we left she had to be dressed in her wee outfit. I have two degrees and experience in handling many difficult situations involving the human experience but her ballet tights nearly defeated me.

Who invented tights that have a pointed toe and a seam that needs to be perfectly in line! Its madness!

Of course she knew exactly how they should be put on and gave me a running commentary on my failings as I wrestled with this insane hosiery. What will she be like when she really is 30!

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Iona Community, God's awkward squad

Off to an Iona Community meeting tonight. I've been a member for nearly 20 years now. It's the Iona Community that does more to keep me sane than almost anything else.

When I was elected leader of the Council I received 100s of letter of congratulations. When I lost the leadership, the only letters I received were from fellow members of the Iona Community. They keep me in the church and ground me in my politics. They have a lot to answer for really!

The beginning of the end for Local Democracy

The problems with the CoSLA Scottish Government concordat go from bad to worse.

The CoSLA team that went to the Parliaments Education and lifelong learning committee on 5th December to talk about the class sizes policy. (you can read the minute here) Everyone knows there's no cash to deliver it but the CoSLA paper which you can read here somewhat bizarrely say that the agreement was based on "costed understandings". Yet despite heavy pressure form the committee members, the CoSLA team could not, (or would not), give figures.

Edinburgh knows what it would cost (around £40m), Glasgow knows, most other councils know, but CoSLA wouldn't give those figures.

Why not, well because the defence of the Concordat has become all important. More important than the needs, it would appear, of the Councils CoSLA is supposed to represent.

I predict that when this promise is not kept, (and it won't be), it will be Local Government that gets the blame and it will be the Scottish Government that will be doing to finger pointing. And hiding figures to defend and agreement that is a disaster from day one will have done us no favours

Debt for Debts sake

Doing my surgery this week I was told the tale of a constituent who, having got into financial trouble with their rent because of a problem with benefits is now having to take daily crisis loans whilst the benefits are sorted, a process that will apparently take some weeks. So, having got onto debt, they have to go into more debt whilst the problem gets fixed. Something is not right there.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

A local Hero gets noticed

I did an interview for BBC sport for a feature about the Lochend Boxing and Fitness Club that was launched this year. Its been a huge success and Terry McCormack who has been the driving force is, in my view, a real hero.

The club is Terry's vision. He came to see me at my surgery in late 2006 to ask if I could help get him premises. I have to say I am not a boxing fan but here was a local guy prepared to open a club 5 nights a week that focuses on fitness and well-being for kids, not just come to me and complain about them. So who was I to dump my hangups on him. So I worked away at getting premises and managed to achieve a lease on an old scout hut that I had been trying to get for ages.

Terry and his team took over and got the place looking great. We held a public meeting becuse some locals were unhappy and Terry charmed them. He said “I just want to be a good neighbour!

The club opened in the Summer this year. The first night the club was overflowing with kids of all ages and that's still the case

There are kids in that club who have never made a good choice in their lives. Now they are turning up, training, working hard and choosing not to do daft things that wind others up. he’s introduced fitness classes for girls and I hear there’s to be activities for older people also.

I still don’t like boxing as an idea but what Terry and his team has done has create something that's about taking care of the whole person. Its a privilege to have had in some small part helped make something like this happen.

I let you know when the features are to be broadcast

Surgery Times

1st Wed @ Piershill Library, 30 Piershill Terrace.
2nd Wed @ Craigentinny Community Centre, Loaning Rd.
3rd Wed @ Duddingston Primary School, Duddingston Rd.

All 7:15pm -7:45pm

and the last Sat. Lochend YWCA, 198 Restalrig Road South
12noon -1pm

(no appointment needed, all during school terms)
Printed and Published by Ewan Aitken on behalf of the Edinburgh Labour Party, 78 Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9NH