Friday, 30 November 2007
I said that the biggest drivers for change in politics are values like fairness and justice. Everyone knew that the Council tax was seen as unfair. We even said so in the Edinburgh Labour manifesto. The Labour Party had no clear alternative that was seen as fairer so the SNP were given free rein to waltz in with its Council tax freeze, despite the fact their own advisor Professor David Bell now tells us that it will mean that rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, see here
All of this however, and most other political stories have been lost in the headlines over the debacle facing the Labour party over more and more allegations over the legality of donations the Party has received. Trust is built on honesty, openness and our actions reflecting than our words. We need to voluntarily expose all donations to public scrutiny quickly and completely. These recent times have destroyed the good work of the last 6 months rebuilding after the election. Only quick, decisive actions with real integrity will draw the line we so desperately need under this sorry tale.
Thursday, 29 November 2007
I was astonished to hear that Edinburgh Council’s SNP/Libdem administration are to cut almost 1000 jobs in three years as part of the Pathfinder project. They did so with no reference to anyone, least of all the trade unions who represent the 1000 people who will loose their jobs.
It was Labour that successfully obtained the money for the Pathfinder project (almost £1.5m)
We set out clear principles for what we meant by efficiencies
- Best value for the public pound by delivering services more efficiently by sharing services across councils as well as across departments
- Efficiency is getting more for the same amount of money
- If it meant job reductions, that would be without compulsory redundancies
We started this task of radical change to bring about real and lasting efficiencies and we did so openly and transparently. This secretive administration chose to announce its intention to the press before it went to anyone else.
- They have failed to prioritise efficiencies through working between councils, concentrating instead on Edinburgh Council alone
- They have understood efficiencies to mean primarily job losses rather than getting more from what we already spend. Budget cuts and efficiencies are not necessarily the same thing.
- They have not been willing to commit to no compulsory redundancies”
We want the Pathfinder Project to bring the best value and efficiencies we knew it could, but we will scrutinise every detail before we give any of it our blessing or at least out vote and we will not vote for compulsory redundancies.
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Today was one such day.
I was at the Youth Buzz Agm. The Buzz is a bus converted into a youth club. (see picture) It offers satellite Internet link up, PlayStation's, sports, music decks etc but more importantly it's a space that young people feel is their own.
Its a project I and a couple of others started working on in 2004. I and local police inspector went to Lothian Buses and asked for an old bus and amazingly they gave me one and the project has gone from strength to strength since it finally got on the road in early 2005. I still chair the trust committee. You can read a very recent inspection report here.
The Buzz goes out 4 nights a week in different places in my ward (Craigentinny/Duddingston) and average attendance is around 30-40 teenagers doing different things but mostly just chilling. The staff are outstanding in the way they work with and for the young people.
To hear folk tonight talking about the difference it makes in young peoples lives was just brilliant. It put a lot of the other things I worry about in perspective.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
Well well, the things you learn when you least expect to! It would appear that I am not banned from sitting in the House of Commons because I am ordained as I had first thought. (see here). When the changes were made in 2001, (see here) it was explained to me that I could stand as a clergyman but if I were elected I would have to demit my status.
On closer checking after being asked if I would put myself forward as a candidate to replace Gavin Strang, I discover that that's not the case and the 2001 act removing disqualification went all the way.
However, does it change my view about putting myself forward? No. I have said I won't stand and so I shall stick to that.I felt no sense of disappointment when I said I "couldn't" stand for reasons that appeared out of my control and so I read that as me knowing intuitively that whatever is ahead of me politically, that's a journey I should take in Scotland.
The answer is an emphatic no for one simple but crucial reason..If I were elected I would have to give up my ordination as a Church of Scotland minister. This is not a law of the church but the state. Along with Bankrupts, Peers and the mentally ill (oh and Church of England Vicars), I fall into the banned category. You can read a fuller list here
It used to be that a Church of Scotland clergyman had to demit their status when they were just a candidate, as Alistair Osborne had to do when unsuccessfully contesting Ayr in 1992, but recent legislation means we clergy can stand and only demit status (give up our vows) if we are elected. The new legislation can be seen here
That's all academic for me. I will give up a great deal to be involved in politics but I draw the line at loosing my ordination. I have always believed that I have never given up ministry, I simply live it out in a different way. To loose that understanding of being rooted in my sense of ministry would undermine any effectiveness I might have had should I have been elected an MP. That would not be a good start for any new political journey.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
A frantic run out after church to do the weeks shopping, I dashed to an excellent constituency debate about climate change before heading back to pick up my boy who had been playing mini rugby for Portobello Hornets against Royal High and Broughton, (they won both games), to go to watch Edinburgh Rugby play Llanelli Scarlets It's on days like this that I almost regret selling our car during the congestion charging debate, somewhat ironic given the discussions we had in the afternoon!
Still, Edinburgh won for the first time this season, 27-17, in a cracking game. Is this an omen for a change of fortunes down Murrayfield way? I hope so.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
Despite my ICT limitations, sending and receiving Christmas Cards is one of my favourite parts of the Christmas experience. What I cannot stand is stupid debates about what should go on the Corporate card. Anyone who argues that Spiritual message on a card that celebrates a major festival of a faith community needs to prove to me that those who are allegedly offended also take absolutely no part in any aspect of the Christmas celebrations before I will take them seriously.
And they need also to ask why they are offended, but one of the first Christmas cards I have received every year since I was elected is from the Pakistan society which is nothing if not Muslim in its roots.
The fayres were their usual mix of home made festive consumerism, a cup of tea with neighbours and a visit to Santa’s grotto. (St Ninians wins the tablet award this year, that's my benchmark for Christmas Fayre home baking!)
I like my Saturday surgery. It has a different feel from the others, (I do an evening surgery on the first three Wednesday of the month and then one during the day on the Last Saturday for those who can’t get out of an evening. You can get full details at the bottom of the page). Because I do it for an hour rather than the weekday half hour, I find it less frantic although its usually my busiest, averaging around 8 inquiries.
Surgery work is often the hardest but the most rewarding part of being a Councillor. Its not unlike parish work in that you are given a privileged insight into peoples lives and when you do get something sorted, there's a real sense of achievement. But it also lets you see first hand just how tough some folks lives are, often through no fault of their own.
Friday, 23 November 2007
Its a fascinating experience of building relationships with people you might otherwise never meet or those whom you have something in common with but don't really know. At least that's what I think it's about. I know it's a good place to be both as a politician wanting to keep my profile up and noticed wherever possible and as some-one who likes communicating with others, especially those with different views.
Yet it feels also like a very vulnerable place and so I have been cautious about just how much of myself I risk exposing to others in case its used against me. And I am still not sure I really know how best to use it effectively both politically and personally. Why, for example, would some-one throw a virtual sheep at another person real or otherwise?
I would like to know your views, hints tips and opinions on where I think more and more of human interaction will happen, whether we like it or not.
Thursday, 22 November 2007
I spent (too) much of the day at the Full Council Meeting, The agenda can be read here.
It lasted a mere 6 1/2 hours which is short for recent times. (when we were in charge 4 hours was long and it was often less).
As well as the main business there were 19 motions for debate. This is where those of us in opposition can raise issues of concern to our constituents and other Edinburgh Citizens who want their voice heard.
The libdem/SNP administration have taken an odd line on this. Anything that calls for change or progress they respond with a motion saying "no action". This happened at least 7 times out of the 19 motions! Having gagged delegations of parents coming to speak about schools they want now to stop the opposition having their say.
Mind you, I should not be surprised. "No action" has become their motto (see Meadowbank and the Zoo, to name but two examples), although it got a bit farcical when they claimed that a commitment made by one of their number to begin the planning process for the new Portobello School at a public meeting in front of 200 people was denied. Its one thing to call for no action on our motions but its another to agree to something and then not to act.
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Even if the present Zoo Council are only talking about moving some things west right now , if they are made more welcome there than they have been made to feel by the LibDem/SNP administration then it could be the thin edge of the wedge for the the Zoo moving west lock, stock and Polar bear.
Anything that means the Zoo is no longer one of our (and Scotland's) premier tourist destinations is bad news for Edinburgh and for Scotland.
And the irony is, if the LibDem/SNP administration won’t help them achieve their ambitions in Edinburgh by raising money through build some houses on a piece of land that is at present owned by the zoo and not used or accessed by anyone and they end up leaving, the whole zoo site will probably become houses! And who wins then, certainly not Edinburgh
But it is a fragile place. And all the more so with the recent cyclone which has affected around 7 million people in Bangladesh, more than 10,000 people have died and there more than 1 million people homeless.The after effects of the cyclone is more devastating. You can find out more here
So there is a fundraiser down my way on Thursday 29th November 07 being organised by Dr Abdul Kadir in his Prince Balti House Restaurant on 6pm to 11pm, Address-- 11-12 Seafield Road East, Edinburgh EH15 1EB, Tel 0131 6571155. You can read a review here
but I can tell you from personal experience that its great.
3 course meals including tea or coffee only £20.00 pp and half of the food bill will go to the Cyclone victims in Bangladesh.This price is both for sit in or Take Away including Home delivery. End of the night DR KADIR will give half of the food bills to the Bangladesh High Commission relief fund.
If you can be there, please do so, you’d be doing something very important for the price of a curry.
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Its a very diverse school ethnically and also has the hugely successful Drummond Project (now also in two other schools) which manages to keep pupils in school who would otherwise have walked a long time ago and helps them not just stay but be successful in their studies.
The school also boasts the only multi media language base in Scotland, where pupils use computer technology to study languages, and do so with great success. Dare I say it is another Labour legacy for the city...
The language unit offers education in a wonderfully integrated way for pupils on the autistic spectrum. Many folk equate autism with the "Rain Man" set of symptoms from the film of the same name staring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, but its much wider and more complex than that.
The Christie and Miller classes as they are called do a magnificent job in giving the pupils a great education tailored to their abilities and I am in awe of the staff and the pupils. The classes are fully integrated into the life of the school. The pupils in the language class add something special to the school ethos and they give the pupils in the other classes an insight into their lives that they would otherwise not have the chance to experience.
Monday, 19 November 2007
I subbed for Elizabeth Maginnis at Education, Children and Families committee today as she is at her sons wedding. She owes me big time! I had suffer the trauma of listening to the SNP/Libdem administration spin the report that had been commissioned on what we had done previously that on school closures so hard it would have made even Peter Mandelson blush with embarrassment
The report, which can be read here, says without qualification that at no time after 2005 (when the last school closures happened), was a plan of proposals brought to the Labour administration for our agreement nor were officials instructed to draw up any such plan. What the SNP/Libdem motion said was that we had had a list of 10 schools and we had lost our nerve!
The truth was we had a cross party working group (an idea that they are now suggesting is the way forward!) and the only people that lost their nerve was the SNP who, after agreeing their hit list of 22 were taken into a room and given a right kicking by the senior party figures, (Chairman Mao would have been proud), and they backed off. I am told the word from Wee Eck Towers was "we only do good news".
The real good news is that a combination of ourselves, the Greens, the Tories and the Church reps voted their nonsense out, calling instead for the blame game to stop and concern for our kids education to take top priority as it should have done in the first place.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
I don’t do too many services these day, mainly “homers” like this one. My reason for leaving the parish was to give me more time with the family at weekends and so filling up every Sunday with pulpit supply would defeat the purpose! I enjoy leading worship. It probably what I miss most about not being in the parish but I also enjoy the fact that I don't have to do it every Sunday these days...
Saturday, 17 November 2007
Then it was the wait for the big game. Could Scotland go all the way with a win against the World Champions... Nervous anticipation was the name of the game as we watched the clock tick round to 5pm and then the family settled down on the sofa to find out if our dreams would come true
If ever there was a parable for what it is to be a Scotland fan it was this evenings events at Hampden Park. When Barry Ferguson that equaliser scored my son and I screamed so loudly that so much my wee daughter (she's only 2) though we were in pain and she got distressed! When Christian Panucci scored that sucker punch from a seriously dubious free kick my 9 year old son wept literally on my shoulder. I told him experiences like tonight are character forming but I don't think he believes his character needs that much forming.
Close but no cigar is as it ever was with Scotland. Yet somehow, it felt that at least this time, the feeling of pride for what had been achieved in getting so close was based on something real not our usual bravado. The climb from 88th in the FIFA rankings under Berti Vogts to 13th or there abouts is no mean feat, so well done to the team and everyone involved.
I spend much of Thursday and Friday working with colleagues behind the scenes trying to salvage something of the disaster that is the "Dodgy Deal" aka Concordat between the John (Arthur Daly) Swinney and CoSLA. Thankfully we were able to make sure that the final motion agreed by the Leaders meeting recognised that despite the words of Alex Salmond in the parliament, the deal is not agreed until each Council signs up to it. In particular, and here's a phrase I haven't written before, Well done Jenny Dawe for standing up and saying that its only Edinburgh that will decide whats good for Edinburgh and no-one else! Lets hope you have the nerve to stick to your guns in the Council Chamber
The trouble is that part of this "deal" is that if a Council does not sign up to delivering the SNP manifesto pledges, the extra money to freeze council tax is taken away even though the money to freeze Council tax is to do just that and not to deliver other pledges like smaller class sizes more cops, new schools etc etc with NO extra cash. And this is what they call a new relationship with local Government!
Thursday, 15 November 2007
- There appears to be no provision to meet the costs of PPP payments as more schools are completed.
- There appears to be no provision for new school building. The SNP pledged to match Labour’s plans for school buildings (a further 250 schools) ‘brick for brick’ – it seems Councils will now be expected to deliver this without extra resources to do so.
- Those Councils which agreed to increase local taxes to pay for payments for new schools will now have to find that money from elsewhere.
- The budget contains no money for class size reductions.
- 50% increase in nursery provision is not being fully funded
- There is no guaranteed extra money for free personal care, at this stage
- It is not clear how other key funds for Councils will be distributed, eg, for flood prevention/coast protection schemes. Councils may have to fund above average costs themselves?
The SNP announced on Wednesday that they had secured a deal with local councils to freeze council tax. In return for doing this, councils and the Scottish government would reach agreement on which policies need to be implemented.
However today (15 November) at First Minister’s Questions, Alex Salmond went further and made commitments which would have a significant impact on councils:
Wendy Alexander - "Yesterday Mr Swinney held up a piece of paper from CoSLA. Today I’d like to do the same.
This is also a paper from CoSLA– it makes clear that in the budget there is not a penny more to reduce class sizes. Not a penny more for new schools. No extra money for PE and sports facilities.
I know the FM is not very good at yes or no answers but parents across Scotland need to know the answers.
Does every local authority in Scotland have to make year on year progress to achieve your pledge to reduce class sizes even if pupil numbers are rising? Yes or no?"
Alex Salmond – Yes, it’s item number 4 in the agreement, local government will be expected to show year on year progress on class reduction.
Yet that's not what it says nor is it what Fiona Hyslop said
This is the first, but probably not the last example, of the SNP changing this deal to suit them, at the expense of local services and a big financial cost to councils.
We are in trouble and somewhat ironically its the council tax payer (who think that they are getting a freeze) that will pay the price in the long run.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
The sight of John Swinney doing his "peace in our time act " with the CoSLA Concordat in Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament was a sad day for Scottish democracy. As a former CoSLA spokesperson myself I an devastated that the organisation I was proud to represent has sold us down the SNP river.
Not withstanding the fact that despite the still wet signatures of the president and his vice presidents were on the paper Swinney was waving about its not been agreed by CoSLA leaders and is valueless without their agreement. And if they do agree it, they will be signing away all that autonomy we in local Government have fought to protect for so long. Phrases including turkeys and Christmas spring to mind.
The crux of the matter is the fact that we only get the cash to freeze council tax if we agree to deliver the SNP manifesto. I am not even sure that that is legal far less morally or democratically acceptable.
The trouble is, the Council Tax is such an unpopular tax that arguments about the sanctity of local democracy will be lost in the roar of its demise. The SNP understand populism to premier division standard but this will one day be seen as an astonishing own goal by CoSLA, or it will be if we can't save it in the extra time that is Friday's Leaders meeting.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
There has been much talk in last few days about Council tax .It is clear that the SNP have failed to cost their manifesto commitments. This puts Councils behind a difficult eightball The SNP want to freeze council tax levels and put in place a range of policies that local government must implement, including recruiting more police and reducing class sizes but have failed to how this will be done.
The SNP have three options :
a) Fully fund a council tax freeze and the implementation of all the SNP’s manifesto pledges. They do not have the cash to finance this option.
b) Fund a council tax freeze but not the true cost of the SNP manifesto pledges. This is what is on offer to Councils. It would leave Councils responsible for implementing SNP manifesto pledges without giving them the cash to do so – unless they make cuts elsewhere.
c) Fail to agree a council tax freeze with the Council Leaders. The SNP are threatening to punish all Councils if they do not sign up to a deal.
With 24 hours to go before the SNP budget, they have already decided what they can afford to offer Councils. They SNP cannot afford option A – only options B and C are on the table.
Before she accepts any deal Jenny Dawe must do three things:
1. Get a specific agreement from the SNP government on what they expect us to achieve
2. Get agreement from the SNP government on the exact cost of any pledges that we are expected to implement and receive appropriate funding to do this
3. Get full details from the SNP on any pledges made in their manifesto which they no longer expect to implement.
A council tax freeze would be good news, but only if Edinburgh chooses it not because John Swinney said so or at the expense of vital services.
Jenny must stand up for Edinburgh!
Monday, 12 November 2007
This is the party that refused to come on a study trip to see how individual access to ICT will revolutionise education and said in their manifesto that they were cautious about more ICT in schools. It was Labour that set in motion the journey towards real integration of ICT and education, creating more of a seamlessness between life inside and outside school for young people. We understood how important that was for at 21st century education experience, the LibDems are only now being dragged kicking and screaming into our ICT innovation slipstream.
They walk naked into power and remain naked in their fairy tale land of changing history to suit their moment.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
I wasn’t able to attend the Civic Remembrance Service at St Giles Cathedral because my wife is still not anything like fully fit and so I was on childcare. It meant however that I was able to go to the Remembrance service at my local church for the first time in several years
I was reminded by the faces I saw there that I know only attend on this Sunday every year of just how important it is to have a real and meaningful ritual of remembering every year in each community. I was also reminded that this is a remembering of real people. Its not about armies or militarism or victory or who is wearing a poppy. Its about people, real, flesh and blood people, some of whom died in places they or their families never knew, others who returned and carried the burden of knowing their friends had been left behind. Its also about those who waited (and in some cases are still waiting) back home, in hope and in fear for news that would either lift or sink their hearts.
Saturday, 10 November 2007
Sports continued to be theme of the day as my son and I went to watch Edinburgh Rugby play Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. He and I are season ticket holders and getting the chance to watch what was a good number of the French international team was a real treat. Although we lost 15-19 Edinburgh played really well. Had all our kicks gone over we would have won as we scored two tries to their one but that's rugby...
It also might have helped if the referee had understood the "knock on"rule, or at least French for "its a knock on" as they seemed to be able to drop the ball all they wanted and get away with it! (not that I am bitter or anything!). Still, I was able to get my dose of stress therapy by letting rip at him and cheering on an excellent Edinburgh performance
Spent the morning shopping for spikes for my son who is a keen athlete. We ended up at a shop in Dalry called run and become that seems to do much more than simply sell sports equipment.
It’s roots (its part of a wider chain) lie in the teachings of a Bengali born philosopher and athlete called sri chinmoy about whom I knew nothing until today but I now want to know more. Suffice to say that his philosophy was that sport should be seen as an essential ingredient in a holistic way of living, bringing the optimum health required for a dynamic spiritual life.
I was fascinated but my boy was more interested in using the strip of artificial grass they have in the middle of the shop to test out your potential purchases! Both us got something new from our shopping experience however, one internal and one external, which is the kind of effect sri chinmoy though was how it should be.
Friday, 9 November 2007
So Glasgow won. Brilliant! The Commonweath games will be great for Scotland. Well Done to Glasgow Council leader Steven Purcell and his team for a great victory for Scotland.
I remember in 1970 watching Lachie Stweart and Ian Stewart win their Gold Medals at Meadowbank. I can still see myself standing up from me seat and screaming in sheer joy as they came through..
The challenge for Edinburgh is to find a way of delivering on our contribution, a revamped Commonwealth pool now that the present administration have have stopped the previous plans
Thursday, 8 November 2007
I tried today to do the ultimate multi tasking: push a buggy holding a brolly in high winds. It got so bad even one of my contact lenses was knocked out and my brolly was blown inside out. On days like this it feels like it would be a better plan just to head back home and get back under duvet.
I spent the afternoon looking after my daughter. My wife has started working on Thursday afternoons (though at present she’s still laid up in bed with her bad back) and I am going to do the child care for that time. Its one of the positives about loosing in May, I can now choose to take an afternoon to devote to childcare. Time with the wee one is great joy and a real gift its something money can’t buy.
Loosing in May has meant all of us have had to change our way of working. The trouble is that at present we have a new way of counting the votes but an old way of doing business. I set out my solutions to this in a article last week in the Scotsman which sadly you have to pay to read on the Scotsman website, but if you go to the Edinburgh Labour Website, you can see it there.
I went further today in another Scotsman article that it is possible to read online without paying! Wendy Alexanders words of change in her leadership campaign just the beginning. For Labour to win we need to know that we can’t just replicate the past. We need to do things differently including the realisation that the future will be built on power shared not power possessed.
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
(no appointment needed, all during school terms)