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

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A New Year "to do" list but will it ever be a "now done" list...

My New Year predictions were not that accurate last year (something of an understatement actually!), so I thought instead I would try some resolutions instead; at least I would have some chance of making them happen!

so here goes;
  1. get fit; from the low starting point of my rapidly atrophying body this should be achievable; I hope its not too late
  2. loose weight; a perennial of many folk but as my son asked if my now rotund figure constituted a 12 pack something must be done!
  3. Spend more time with said children who already say "who's that man" when I walk in the door, though they are not alone in uttering that fearful cry when I appear....
  4. Read more political history. In the end all my political mistakes are my own but at least this way I might avoid repeating others as well!
  5. Remind myself that sometimes silence speaks more than words, (though not for a blogger!), so also to to really try to blog at least once a day, every day, on my return from the New Year break. I nearly managed it last year but I can always do better...
  6. Find something positive to say about the SNP/Libdems.. a harder task but I do believe in forgiveness even for them...
  7. Search for a new political language that takes me away from the bear pit of conflict without loosing the edge of scrutiny. No easy journey but I am even more convinced than ever before that the present political system of power held tight against an opposition who attacks whatever is said does no-one, least of all the voters, any favours.
  8. Campaign for restoration of the cuts to the No 42, 12 and 13 buses, defend school budgets against more swinging reductions and find a solution to the traffic problems at Craigentinny avenue, both ends..(oops, almost broke number 5 already!).
  9. Get to see Dunfermline Athletic live this season. Its been too long since I was actually at East End Park (over 2 years now) for me to even claim to be a fan, more of a follower of the scores...still, with a good chance of promotion....woops, that was too close to a prediction, lets not jinx them whilst they are doing so well,,,
  10. Keep on going to Edinburgh Rugby, easier to achieve and after that great win against Glasgow, may be this second half of the season will see some more great scores down Murrayfield way.
So we'll see how I get on. On revisiting last years predictions again, I didn't do as badly as I thought but still, this way I should be able to get closer to 100% which should really be my target! Sure I can... Happy new Years to you all.

p.s.-any resolutions that you'd like to use aitkensedinburgh to announce to the world....?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The wean in the manger is with us again

There is a deep irony in the interviews of radio and TV financial commentators when they say that the hoped for sales at Christmas have failed to materialise and more businesses are under threat. Its an irony because had the banks applied Christian ethics of meeting others needs not our own greed and prioritising people not pounds we would not be in this economic melt down adn these sales would not be so vital. Its also an irony that so many businesses have built their survival on a consumerist culture, based it would appear, in large part, on maximising profits driven by the commercialisation of the celebration of the man who came to tell us that sacrificial love, forgiveness and care for the stranger and our enemy made the world a better place not the "more, many and mine" world view that is the capitalist paradigm.

I have just read back that paragraph and my goodness I need a holiday! Here ends the sermon. I won't be blogging for a few days but will be back before the New Year. I hope that whatever Christmas means to you, it is as you hoped it will be. God be with you.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Pope teaches death not love

The Pope has crossed the line when he suggests that "saving the world from homosexuality" is more important than saving the environment. There is nothing more important than saving the planet. The human race is in self destruct mode at the moment but not over who we love and how we make love but how we are treating the planet without which there will be no place to make or be in love (or even both).

The Pope should spend what moral authority he may have calling people to consume less and care more about their carbon footprint than worrying yet again about who is sleeping with who. I believe that God made the world and it is sacred and should be treated as such. I also believe that God gave us the power to love another and we should celebrate human love in all its forms not decry a minority for their love for each other whilst all around the world in dying.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Where will I get my pick and mix now!?

The demise of Woolies is a sad day for the nation, at least in many folks eyes. The chain, famour for its pick and mix sweet selections, played a part in many people's upbringing. In my case I had a job sweeping the floors in Dunfermline's Woolies for about a year before the chance to play rugby for the school called again. Yet Woolies closure is a classic example of how capitalism has no place for emotional attachments which is why, in the end, it cannot truly meet human need as it suggests. For our humanness, our identity and our sense of belonging all revolves around our emotional attachments, our relationships and our sense of what matters in our memory of who we once were. The market will never meet our human needs, only some of our material ones and even then not always when we actually need them. Woolies death is a parable of why we need to do much more than find a new place to get our pick and mix....

Thursday, 18 December 2008

This lot never cease to amaze me...

I was wrong. The Council meeting only lasted 8 hours... but it was still 8 hours of uninterrupted chaos and a leadership free zone.

We did manage to vote through the next stage of Portobello High school being rebuilt and the next stage of trams but not without great fudging and stumbling from the SNP/Libdems. In those 8 hours those "listening parties" (aka the SNP/Libdem mal-administration) also managed to;
  • try to stop one delegation from being heard on a technicality
  • limit the time the public up on delegations has to speak to 3 minutes, (it was 10 minutes when we were in charge and we still had vastly shorter meetings (there were 14 delegations, all angry about their proposals on several issues!)
  • shut a community centre that had been only opened 8 years ago
  • vote through cuts to voluntary groups that will mean job losses
  • refused to let some members of delegations answer questions put to the by councillors
  • not understand what is meant by putting a question and instead just made statements to delegations
  • ask questions of delegations and then chat to their mates instead of listening to the answers
  • blame me for the funding debacle at Inverness airport, (I am not making that up!)
  • consistently ignore what was said and mis quote at will, even when the words were said in front of everyone
  • get very defensive when challenged on their performance on responding to the global credit crunch
It would have been funny of it wasn't sad that their lack of leadership continues to mean the city struggles to play its role in what are tough enough times anyway.

10 hours of my life that I will never get back again

Tomorrow, or actually later today I face yet another 10 hours or more of a full council meeting dominated by the incompetence of the SNP/Libdem. 11 delegations, the good news of a new school lost in a badly articulated argument about the site, an astonishing u turn on school meals, anger over cuts to community groups and an over unnecessary stubborn refusal to consider providing more time home care shows the complete lack of political leadership and an astonishing ability to make even good stories into bad ones. I know I stood for election and so I can expect no sympathy but I do expect to be loosing the will to live before mid-day....!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Surely not....

Now I have heard it all! Tonight I learnt that there is a proposal from the SNP/Libdem mal-administration to rename librarians as "audience development officers"!

What mad mind thought this up! I cannot believe that they would be so stupid, but then given their track record over the last 20 months, there is every possibility that they would be....

Monday, 15 December 2008

When democracy needs to prove itself worthy of the task

Brian Taylors excellent post about health board elections is provocative and captures the issue. Democracy is not an end in itself. It is a tool to an end and its application in any given circumstances must to tested against the outcomes hoped to be achieved.

In the case of health boards that must be; accountability, scrutiny, transparency and good governance. There is nothing about direct elections that will inherently deliver these things any better than other systems that avoids the dangers of single issue campaigners or decisions about serious clinical issues being taken by people with no clinical training or expertise. This is case where democracy in the form being suggested must prove itself rather than been seen as a ethical good in no need scrutiny. Link

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Is there no end to this man's idiocy

It says something that shoes were thrown at President Bush at his press conference. What is even more worrying however, is Bush's response, (see video in the link above), where he says "so what the guy threw shoes at me" As the piece says, the soles of shoes and of feet are the most extreme of insults. To compare it to heckling at a political rally or people gesticulating at him when he drives past is to, as is so often the case with the 43rd president, utterly miss the point. No wonder the world is a seriously less safe place than it was when he took office.

Friday, 12 December 2008

another libdem broken promise

The Laotian buses fare increase is not good news. It is a result of a number of pressures but whatever the excuses, its more cash flowing from peoples pockets for the same product.

Although I understand the pressures that Lothian Buses are under, I also turn to the libdem manifesto for the 2007 election where I see a commitment that bus fares would increase under their administration only in line with inflation. Compare that promise to the real world where they have risen by much more than inflation which is actually falling.

Yet another promise at best naive and undeliverable, at worst broken beyond all repair. But then we expect little else for this lot these days.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Choose a stamp for Christmas

I am not someone who tends to believe in conspiracies, even, perhaps especially when they are accredited to big organisations. So I was a little suspicious when I received this message;

Some information you might like to share with as many people as possible.

This Christmas the Post Office are to issue both secular and religious stamps; but just like last year, you have to stipulate if you want religious stamps!
Apparently each Post Office has been asked to send to HQ the totals for each (possibly to say there is no demand for religious stamps).

Please make as many people aware of this as possible
But given my experience of those who, in their desperation to be inclusive, manage to exclude everyone for not being the same as everyone else, whilst at the same time trying to tell us to celebrate diversity, anything is possible. I don't know if this is true but just to be on the safe side, I'll be asking for those religious stamps....just to keep the numbers up you understand!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

We are still in the land of the Chocolate teapot when it comes to schools!

Something purporting to be good news for Portie High was released by the less than competent SNP/Libdem administration this afternoon. The press release was headed;

"Go ahead for Edinburgh’s Portobello High school"

which sounds great. Sadly the release then went on to confess that its not the go ahead for Portobello at all but "A proposal to invest an estimated £41.5m in a new Portobello High School" that is "the subject of a report to be considered by the City of Edinburgh Council next week". and that its "part of a programme that will be at least 14 years to deliver and will represent a significant challenge". which means that "it is estimated that construction work (on Portobello) would start in 2011/12 with the new school being open in 2013/14".

Which tells us three connected things

  1. They don't even have the £41.5m for one building far less the £182m they need for their whole 14 year programme,
  2. which means that despite getting more cash from Westminster, the SNP Government is still offering no more cash for Councils
  3. which means that the SNPs Scottish (no) Futures Trust (SFT) is still a chocolate teapot of an idea.
So there will be no dancing in the streets of Portie tonight methinks and I wonder if even the conservative estimate of 13/14 opening is achievable given the paucity of cash support from the SNP Government, the dysfunctional nature of the SFT and the incompetence of the SNP/Libdem coalition. Not a combination that gives anyone a great sense of confidence.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Roll on the zimmer squad!

Tonight I witnessed something special. I was at a public meeting in my ward which has a long track record of heated debates about "Youth disorder" and what was I going to do about it.

The police gave their report which said youth calls were dropping to much muttering and shaking of heads... and then this elderly gentleman who had arrived using a "zimmer on wheels' contraption, (what my grannie called her birdcage!). I waited for the harsh words. Instead he said this; "The trouble is we don't talk to these kids. I speak to them, tell them my name and they tell me theirs. They like that. Now they hail me from a cross the road, and check up that I'm ok. They ask what I am doing and I ask what they are up to. Its not complicated. Its just a wee bit respect".

The whole tone of the meeting changed and one person told a story of how she had been told that this chap had been seen "surrounded by teenagers" and the police had been called. only to discover that this chap was just standing talking with the kids and they with him!

What a wonderful example of some-one seeing past the prejudice and looking at the human being. I was inspired as was the rest of the meeting. It was a brilliant moment of hope and challenge to us all and I will drink deep of its strength for some time to come.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Another broken promise..

In the Libdem Edinburgh manifesto, a commitment was made to produce a fully costed and financially viable plan for the south suburban railway by summer 2007.

Today we see that their plan was to ask the SNP govt for more cash. Like that was ever going to happen! Having been knocked back, they will now "look at more options" which is a long way from a costed plan by 2007.

What I want to know is why they wrote the promise in the first place? Had they no idea about what it would involve to get a plan in place? Its a classic indication of why they are so incompetent in power. They have no idea of how to deliver what they promised, they just said whatever they thought would get them votes...

We should have seen it coming...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Advent, waiting and wondering

Fighting my way through Christmas shoppers this weekend, that consumerist army who seem no fewer in number than usual, I find myself reflecting on Alistair Darling's pre budget package to stimulate the economy and I am torn between two thoughts; the truth of stats and what I feel is true.

Statistically its a great package. Despite the hysteria from those who just want Labour to fail, it is well within our debt limits; at 40% our public debt to GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the G7 and will remain so even if it goes up to 57% as one scenario suggests it will.

On the other hand, in some ways, at 1% of the national income, £20b might not be enough rather than be too much, (The US package is 4% of national income). In my guts I wonder if 45% on earnings over £150,000 is enough, was £2.5% off VAT enough, will public works in themselves restore confidence and much more?

Advent is a time of waiting in hope. Never was a moment in a liturgical year more apt for political circumstances, but just as Advents waiting is an active time so our waiting to see is Alistair got it right requires action too, the action of consumption. But will more consumption really be the answer to over consumption. The numbers might tell us so, but I worry that some deeper, more significant change needs to happen to really bring us the peace we desire...and that will always take more than tills tinging and sleigh bells ringing. Welcome to advent waiting with a difference.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A time for big thinking

The Scottish Governments Council of Economic Advisers are saying what others have already been banging on about for some time, "lets build our way out of recession" That we are all Kensynans is not news, (well nearly all, save a few bampot tories who are so thurled to the market that any intervention is ideologically unacceptable, even if it helps stave off human suffering, but that's Tories for you!). What we need to be news is how we achieve this programme of public works.

We need three things:

1. The Scottish Government to make its Scottish (no) Futures Trust actually work.
2. Local Authorities (LAs) given cash not just as capital but also to borrow( forget new borrowing for Holyrood, LA's have more than enough powers to get what we need, they just need the cash).
3. The political will of those in power at LAs to make tough choices about what can be built and what will have to wait.

This is a time for risks, for big ideas and for serious leadership over decisions that might not be popular. History will show which we had in what quantity and tht consequences for the rest of those leaders that were lacking one or more of each department.

Holyrood Climate Change bill is good news....

The new climate change bill announced today in the Scottish Parliament is astonishing for its vision and willingness to put environmental issues at the forefront of everything we do. No, not a quote from a SNP press release but what I think about this SNP proposal. There is no issue more important for our society and on this one, I have to say, no matter how hard it is to type these words, the SNP have shown some real leadership. Infact, so much so, that at a gathering of "green and environmentalist" journalists this week the complaint was "what are we going to do now because the SNP have rolled over and given us all we wanted"! Who said politics was about giving the people what they wanted.

There are 3 things that flow form this however , that are crucial to understand

1. That word s are easy, making it happen will be what matters and having set high standards, the SNP will be judged by high standards
2. This needs to be embedded in all parts of political life, so, for example, where class sizes of 18 can be achieved by the redrawing of catchments rather than the building of new classrooms, that should happen, no matter how unpopular that is locally
3. the Bills objectives will only be achieved by radical changes in our lifestyles. that needs modelling by Government and unpopular choices. especially over cars and road building. Are the SNP brave enough to be unpopular now for a better time to come... Their track record so far would suggest otherwise, but we shall see.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

This Christmas listen to those who are not usually heard

I was honoured to once again MC the lighting of the Christmas tree in our community. Over 200 people turned up to sing songs led by a joint Choir from Craigentinny and St Ninians Primary school, hear the Christmas story and prayers and do the count-down to the lights on.

Every year we get some-one significant to do the lighting up but this year was some-one with a different type of significance. I have met many famous and powerful people in my life but the ones I am really in awe of tend to be ones not in the headlines. Today was no except. Lynn Roberston lost her 5 year son Adam at the beginning of November to a pontine glioma (Brain stem tumour). She is one of the bravest people I know. She shared her journey from when Adam was diagnosed 6 months ago with the world in an astonishingly powerful blog which spoke volumes to all of us who read it.

It might seem odd to mix bereavement with Christmas celebrations but part of the Christmas message is about seeing hope in tough times and the idea that by sharing our struggles together we are stronger. Tonight our community stood with Lynn and the boys as they light the tree. In do so we said that we are with them in their sadness. We know we cannot take it away but we also know that community that shares pain of its members is a stronger place. And we were also inspired by their bravery in being willing to stand up and do such a public act of celebration when their pain is so great. As has been the case for the last 6 months, they were an inspiration to us all.

Tonight more than ever, I was proud of the community I have the privilege of representing for being so fully human in giving yet again a glimpse of the power of the divine, of undefeatable love.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Talk about the wrong priorities...

At a parent council meeting in my ward tonight, one of the ruling SNP/Libdem councillors admitted that school budgets are likely to be cut up to 2% in next years budget. This is on top of the last years 1.5% cut they were hit with. Those cuts translated into cuts of about £90k per high school and £20k per primary school which schools won't get back again as well as whatever 2% will mean.

We then find that the SNP/Libdems say reserves are their priority. So lets get this straight, kids education will suffer so they can get money in the bank. Its a scandal.

Despite what the present administration claim, we left £50m in the bank. we protected schools from cuts and built or refurbished 34 buildings. They are offering cuts on their previous cuts, an ever increasing overspend and no new schools so they can squirrel away cash for some, as yet undeclared purpose. I don't know how they sleep at night.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Calman, a work in progress perhaps hindered by itself..

The interim report from the Calman commission does not have a lot of hard proposals but then, given that it is a "work in progress" that should not be a surprise. This is about the future of Scotland and so seven months of listening and reflecting, whist not insubstantial, is not enough time to do justice to the task. That being said, the two serious issues that the commision has excluded, a second chamber and full fiscal autonomy, need a wee comment or two.

A second chamber was never going to happen when there is still a view by some that we are already over our quota of layers of government and politicians., Despite the fact that this is not a actually true if we are compared to other countries of a comparable size, in politics perception is all and a conclusion that we needed more politicians, was never going to be popular.

Fiscal autonomy is another story altogether, ruled out because it is "inconsistent with the union" is not helpful. The message it send's out is that, in the most crucial of areas, we are not going to consider all the options.

I have long agreed with the view that the most significant theological decisions are made in the finance committee and so it is the same with political decisions. The block grant model cannot stay. It feels like control from London. It isn't, but it feels like it, and because it feels like it, the case for devolution as an effective expression of self identity is undermined. We many not be yet at the stage of moving to full fiscal autonomy but to rule it out at this point was not wise for it suggest a lack of confidence or ambition which is not helpful to the Unionist cause of which I remain a committed member.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Great news for Portie!

The announcement today that the Council has had legal advice which means that it is possible to build a new high school for Portobello school on Portobello Park even though it is common good land is great news.

the key quote is:

"In terms of the scheme, no private finance or third party partner will be involved. Accordingly, no interest in title to land passes to any other party. No other party will accordingly acquire interest in title to land such as to constitute a disposal within the meaning of s.75(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

The advice of Senior Counsel in their Joint Opinion is that the Council do not require the prior consent or authorisation of the Court under s.75(2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 to the proposed appropriation of part of the park at Portobello for the construction of a new Portobello High School."

What is interesting is that this is what we said two years ago based on what our legal officers had told us, but it has taken the SNP/Libdems two years and two QCs to get to the same point. Speaks volumes really!

On the subject of school buildings, I see the SNP are winging on about PFI allegedly costing more and that's because it involved private sector cash . This is the party whose so called Scottish Futures Trust is a private company who job it is to lever in private sector expertise and private sector cash... and the difference is...?

Sunday, 30 November 2008

An impressive event

I was honoured to be a guest of Hutchison Vale football club last night at their award ceremony. I was only able to stay for the first hour because of another engagement but what an impressive event. They have 20 teams with over 500 players aged 10 to 21, male and female and the whole organisation is run by volunteers. Who says all kids are apathetic, don't do sport or join anything. There were many statistics shared last night but one that particularly impressed me was the fact that there are 110 professional players playing this season who are former "Hutchie" players.

It was brilliant to see so many parents and family and friends there to support and celebrate the achievements of these young sports people and I was grateful for the opportunity to be there if only for a short time. I pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of the veritable army of volunteers who make it all happen for Hutchie, who lead by example, and the compatriots in sports clubs all over the city and beyond, giving literally 1000's of young people the chance to achieve great things through sport.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A win, a congratulations and a question

Watching Edinburgh thump the Osprey's last night at Murrayfield was a joy even though the second half performance was not nearly as good as the first half and the freezing temperatures meant that there was limited shouting and dancing as we huddled for warmth! The Ospreys were without many of their internationalists as they were down in Cardiff ready to ( as we now know) defeat the Aussies and serious "hats off" to them. I caught the last bit of that match and the Welsh seemed to deserve their win despite a hairy last few minutes. Hopefully I can see the highlights later on.

On the subject of highlights, can anyone tell me why the BBC website has highlights of all the recent matches except the England South Africa.... wonder why....?

Thursday, 27 November 2008

WIll we be voting again soon...?

There has been much talk of an early election, (June 4th is the date suggested), and I think it may well happen. There's no doubt that no matter how good the "rescue package" is and its about as good as it could get, things will still be tough by autumn next year and it won't be a good a time to go to the polls. If the date is June then if three things happen, there will be a Labour Majority;
  1. The recession is not too deep and Labour can associate itself with that being the case
  2. Cameron continues not to build a credible economic alternative strategy
  3. Labour continues to produce policies like the new to rate of tax that make people feel that those who can help more in these tough times are being asked to do so
The journey out of this recession will not be about economics but emotions; "how do I feel about my situation, who do I trust to get us through tough times, is what is being done to get us out of this situation fair" will be the basis on which most people will vote.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A word to the rich from a place of the poverty...

Avid readers of this blog may remember my stories about one of my heroes, the wonderful ex monk Paul Baker Hernandez whom I had the joy of re acquainting myself with last year after nearly 18 years. Paul is a wonderful activist and wandering minstrel who lives these days in Nicaragua. His Charity Echos of Silence supports some of the poorest and moist oppressed people in the world. He's just written to folk here in Scotland with his view of the Global crisis from a place where abject poverty is not a political football but a personal reality. Its worth a read...

Crisis! The spreading econo-eco tragedy is bringing home to us all what most Nicaraguans live through day after day: homes, savings, jobs, forests - even lives gone. And of course, charity also contracts when the system that supports itself largely by decimating the 'Third World' goes into shock, so the outlook for serious international support is more than ever bleak.

However, solidarity is different. In the best Nicaraguan and human tradition of courage under fire, we believe this crisis is actually the moment for us all to reach out across frontiers and divisions and really go for building the new world order we've longed for so, an order based on peace and justice, cooperation and community. Now, at last, as individualistic consumerism begins to self-destruct, we can reclaim our values, our children, our very planet.

So, instead of the usual Christmas cry for help, Echoes of Silence invites you to join us in Water not War, a campaign requiring all governments to commit 1% of all military budgets and personnel to providing fresh water to every person on Earth. Not only would such a measure save millions of lives and reduce global warming significantly, it would also make the profound psychological shift of beginning to build down weapons and war, while preventing ever more terrible resources wars.
Please check the WNW website: http://waternotwar.pbwiki.com. Time is of the essence. And, especially since the collapse of the UK pound has devastated our income, donations are still vitally needed (www.PeaceWorks.com). Thanks, and much love from our tiny but indomitable Nicaraguita.

Now there's a wee challenge to our ideas of how to respond to the credit crunch. For get your cash for more spending, lets give up a little more to help a lot....

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sometimes its not the news thats important

I know that I really ought to commenting on the well thought out and bold pre budget package aid for the recession package announced by Alistair Darling or the outrageous and morally offensice comments by Tory MP Andrew Landsley that the "recession is good for us" but actually its tonight's debate I had with Margo Macdonald about assisted suicide that I flagged up yesterday that is on my mind so these other matters will have to wait for another time.

Margo was her usual thoughtful but firm self, challenging but respectful and open minded. For her, the moral imperative of autonomy over the choice to die when life becomes in tolerable was paramount. For me, the issue was (and is) how we as a society would reconcile the desire to allow a release of pain in an individual that we can only imagine and the danger that accepting the view of a life, even by the persons whose life it is, is a burden, or without meaning, or valueless. Once we do that we open a door to a role of death in life that can only invade already struggling relationships in a dangerous way.

I do not presume to judge.. I do not see this as a debate about right or wrong but my fear is that in our desire to be compassionate we loose something significant about the value of life in and of itself.

What is clear is that the status quo cannot continue. we need clarity as a society about what we will permit and why whatever we conclude is the case. So whilst I do not agree with Margo, I will be contacting Iain Gray to say that this debate should happen ans Labour should help make it happen, whatever the views of individual members on the subject matter.

Monday, 24 November 2008

A debate of life and death proportions

Tomorrow night I will be taking part in what will be one of the toughest debates I have ever engaged in. I am "in conversation" with Margo MacDonald MSP on assisted suicide, 7.15pm at St Johns Church in Princes Street.

I hold Margo in the highest regard and her private members bill on this subject is brought with the deepest of thought and the most compassionate of motives. But I cannot go to where she is. For every case where the choice of assisted suicide seems understandable, there are other circumstances that would make me fear that a decision was not being taken with a full sense of awareness of what other options there are.

This cannot be a debate about moral judgementalism or condemnation nor can it be reduced to situationalism. It must grapple in some form with deciding which a moral 1st principle to hold as being closer to protecting us from ourselves; the right to choose when to die or the right of a society to say we will act sacrificially to severe every need of a fellow human being and not see it as a burden but as a gift and an opportunity so life may continue.

Yet even as I try to write with clarity I know that this is not about a God of black and white but a divinity of the grey areas. This is really going to stretch my thinking and my feeling and though I know where I want to go I am not sure that it is where I will end up...

I will let you know what happens

Sunday, 23 November 2008

You heard it here first, (maybe!)

Well mercy me! Could it be that Alistair Darling reads my blog. Certainly if he does as is suggested here and puts up the top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 then, even if it didn't get it from me I will be very pleased. Its the right thing to do and will very much send the right messages of support and commitment to those who are struggling.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Saying no to racism is not enough

I think Hazel Blears is right! Now there's a sentence I didn't expect to write too often! But on the BNP she is spot on. The drift of folk to the BNP who at one time were Labour supporters is as much an indictment on my Party as it is a concern at the rise of racism. If some voters feel that we no longer speak for them and they choose to go elsewhere politically is part of the political process. But when they feel we no longer speak for them and there is no-one else doing so except a bunch of far right racist nutters, then we have failed them as to support the BNP in that case is an act of political desperation.

The Labour Party cannot afford to dismiss this as a tiny trend that is a political side show, We have the means to stop it. We need to listen hard (getting past the racist rhetoric or the fears of immigration spun by the BNP to pull them in) to those who have made that move make sure we do what it takes both to bring them back to the fold and take them away from racist solutions that damage not just the reputation but the soul of our nation. Link

Friday, 21 November 2008

loosing the will to live

10 hours is how long the City of Edinburgh Council meeting lasted today. 10 hours almost to minute of directionless, badly handled and incompetent decision-making where even good news stories are making people mad.

Today the SNP/Libdems:
It was an astonishing display of weak leadership and defensive politics. Its 10 hours of my life I'll never get back but more importantly it is ten hours that mean the city will continue to suffer under their incumbency

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A gift is not what it might seem

The revelation that business leaders are against the SNPs Local income tax, (LIT), proposals might at first appear to be music to Labour ear but we need to be careful here. Implementing the LIT is never the issue. Being seen to be fair and equitable is. That's why the SNPs council tax freeze was so effective. It does not make fiscal sense because it removes £240m out of public services but it does make political sense because people feel, for good or for ill, unfairly treated by the Council tax. They do not have to implement the LIT, which on all figures show that it would produce at least £400m less tax take than at present. They only have to be seen to try, because what they want to be seen as is fighting unfairness. Another barrier, like business objections, will help them seem even more on the side of the little guy, without having to go through the hassle of implementing a policy they know is deeply flawed,

Gift horse, false dawn, call it what you will, but this attack on LIT might well have the effect of stopping the change but helping the SNP to achieve a greater goal of more support eventually, for independence. Labour tactics need to move from the difficult ground of who might win or loose from LIT to focusing on the "broken promise" of LIT and the really dangerous thing of Independence where our struggles to survive would be only just beginning.

such insenstivity will just rub salt into the wounds..

When I had political responsibility for schools in Edinburgh I proposed he shutting or merging of 14 schools. I didn't like it but it was the best way of improving not only buildings but the resources we put into schools. That meant that teachers, already doing great job in difficult circumstances, could do even better with new resources and support. Every pupil in a school we shut or merged went into one of 34 new or refurbished schools. In additions we spent millions of pound spent on maintenance and development of other schools.

Having failed dismally to shut 22 schools as they first proposed, The SNP/Libdem mal-administration that we now suffer under want to shut 3 schools with no investment or building programme. What's worse, they have managed to insult staff and pupils along the way with their arrogance. I am told that one of the arguments given at the public meeting to debate the shutting of Westburn School was informed by that " a bigger school will mean better teachers for your pupils" . What a slap in the face for staff who are working extremely hard in difficult circumstances. No wonder this lot are getting a reputation for riding roughshod over the views of local people and not listening to anything that challenges their limited view of the world.

Monday, 17 November 2008

It shouldn't have happened but a witch hunt won't help

I have waited all weekend to write about Baby P to see if I could calm down but I haven't. I find myself angry on three levels;
  1. that adult humans could do these unspeakable things to a child who should have been held in their love and protection;
  2. the tragedy could have been avoided if decisions had been taken;
  3. and at the veritable witch-hunt by press an politicians which will do nothing whatsoever to make children any safer.
I have been on the end of the phone getting the call from senior staff in a department for which had political responsibility saying there has been a tragedy and that child protection procedures I had helped put in place had not stopped it.

I have listened to social workers going over every minute detail, all of us wishing they had made a different decision-making.

I led the restructuring of a department so that we might make sure the right decisions would be made and still some fell through the net. It is utterly impossible to create a legislative system that will mean every child, in every circumstance will be safe, or that every social worker will always make the right decision. And lynch mob responses to their mistake s do not lessen the chances of them recurring.

A witch-hunt against hard pressed staff who have to make the most difficult of decisions in often volatile circumstances will not make children safer. It will instead create a climate of fear, defensiveness and isolation for those we ask to make those tough calls. It will mean few folk will want to do the job and it will mean those that do will leave before their experience is honed such that they are more likely to make the right decision. Yes, different decisions should have been taken and yes those involved need to be challenged, but unless we change how we deal with our collective anguish at such tragedies then we will continue to fail to honour the short life of Baby P.

Friday, 14 November 2008

A novel idea but not a new one

Rumours of tax cuts from Gordon Brown are rife and there's no doubt that they might boost a little confidence in the short term. make folk feel that they had a little more cash again. The trouble is, as I have said before, e.g. here, to meet a failed consumerism with more consumerism is not a sustainable strategy. If effective political decision-making relates to how people feel however, and I think it is, there is one thing Gordon could do in conjunction with tax cuts; raise taxes for the rich. Not for those just over the 40% bracket, but say an additional 1 or 2 % for those earning over £150,000 or even £200,000 of which there are still plenty. This would have three effects
  1. It would raise some cash to pay for the tax cuts for the less well off so limit the political damage caused in folks minds by the idea of increasing government debt even for tax cuts.
  2. It would be classically redistributive and not a difficult political sell once the high volume protests from the few who were having to pay a little more had died down.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, it would feel like he was being fair, because he was being so.
  4. The Tories would not have anywhere to go with it as to object would see them the party of the rich and to support gives them no political traction with their followers.
So how about it Gordon; there's always room for a wee move back to your roots ever now and again.....

another movement for change

I spent this evening at an excellent event to celebrate the registration of the 200th eco-congregation. in Scotland. It was good to see MSPs Des McNulty and Patrick Harvie there, both members of the Scottish parliaments Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change committee, Patrick being convener. Both spoke well and Patrick did the presentations.

Eco congregations are part of an ecumenical movement of congregations who commit to changing not just the energy use of their buildings but also reflecting on their individual lifestyles. They have the potential to be huge catalysts for change in the communities they serve, not simply as within their congregational life.

They also epitomise the perspective that acting ecologically is not simply a response to scientific warning but a moral stance that connects the consequence of all our actions on others. In fact it goes further than that. We act ecologically not because we are in danger of loosing something but because the world is sacred and should be looked after, whether or not global warming exists. We know it does, but if it did not, we still should not waste what has been given to us to look after.

It was great evening and there's more to come from this movement, I promise you

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

one last wee laugh before reality hits

I was sent this video which purports to be the reaction at SNP HQ to Lindsay Roy's great win in Glenrothes. It is a bit over the top, especially some of the language, which sadly takes the edge off it a bit, but there are some very funny lines in it....

Hope in difficult places

I spent some time this afternoon visiting the outstanding mediation project amber which specialises in helping parents and teenagers sort out their difficulties. Identified as a method of early intervention to stop teenagers end up homeless because they can't get on with their parents, it has proven to be hugely successful in its 18 months existence. I was privileged to be part of the launch back in 2006 and my high hopes then have been more than exceeded.

What is really exciting about this project is that it mot only prevents homelessness but it also rebuilds families by the simply method of teach folk to listen to each other,. its not rocket science, but it does work. I left enthused by the dedication and commitment of the staff, but also the inspiration of the stories I heard of families healed and lives turned round. Unsung hero's and heroines; the lot of them Link

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Another fine mess you've got into!

View Larger MapAnd from the global to the local. There a huge piece of road infrastructure happening in my ward. The roundabout at Kings Road is being changed to traffic lights. its a good move and will improve traffic flow and safety. but then I would say that as it was an Edinburgh Labour plan with funding Edinburgh Labour obtained that's now being put in place,

Trouble is, once again, the SNP/libdems have managed to make a good story into a bad plan. Their recent announcement that the project plans have had to change drastically are just yet another chapter in this sorry saga. The project is now late and will not be finished before Christmas. It was supposed to be finished at the end of October. It has meant more than a dozen roads being closed and many angry locals being given conflicting and unhelpful information. Its also meant teh closure of Portobello high street which inspire the classic bit of SNP/Libdem spin that "shoppers could enjoy the calmer atmosphere of no cars!"

Sure, I/m all for car free zones but shoppers can't get near the place in the first instance thanks to the roads being blocked to everything including buses and, having cut 4 bus routes in the area, there's few enough of them as it is!

We need good safe roads. But we also need our money spent well and we need projects to run to time and budget. Sadly, the SNP/Libdems struggle to make sense of such simple ideas and so any good ideas are lost to their botched implementation

tax cuts might make us feel good but are they good for us?

I am worried. Gordon's tax cuts make some sense in the short term because of the "feel good factor" they will bring. All of ecomonics is based on how we feel so its nt a bad move from that perspective. But I have real concerns about how sustainable this is.

Firstly, given that it was consumerism that helped fuel this crisis, why do we look to the same response as the solution. Tax cuts are a market driven solution and its the market model that ahs failed us. There is some sense in giving for cash to save, but to encourage spending again as the solution suggests that lessons have not yet been fully learnt.

Secondly, despite the views of some that all tax is bad, we actually pay taxes for good reasons; to invest in our communities, to build infrastructure to meet our needs and to help the vulnerable. Additional spending under Keynesian thinking uses these infrastructure needs as a vehicle to keep the economy going when the market fails (as it always does in the end). Keynesian models have a track record of working, but if we reduce the tax revenue at the same time as spending more on infrastructure, then we will be less able to help those in need, especially those who are suffering because of the market failure.

Tax cuts may buy time and a little popularity but they will not help in the long term aim of making sure more and ore folk are lifted out of poverty. In fact they may well mean instead that more and more folk find themselves in poverty without the support to get out again and that's not a good place for a Labour Government to find itself in.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Rememberance Day as it ought to be

Today's Remembrance Service seemed to go well but were I doing it again I would not write or say anything.

Instead I would simply play this video from youtube that Guido Fawkes has on his blog. As ever, music, images and the insight of folk younger that I speak far more effectively than I could ever do even though its about something neither of us have actually experienced. Link

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Preparing a silence to tell a difficult story

Preparing to take a Remembrance Day Service at a church that has no minister at present has proven to be an interesting journey back down my changing view of how these events should be approached.

I started out my ministry taking a very anti war, no militarism line. My services were about peace not war and no words of victory and God on our side ever left my lips.

i still hold to those views but they manifest themselves in very different ways now. These days I focus on the real human stories, not simply those of the service men and women but also those who had to stay behind and wait, never knowing if the knock on the door meant a telegram and or a reunion.

I also take the view now that war is never good, but sometimes, just sometimes, thanks to our human frailties and selfishness, war is all we have left to bring peace. This is not an argument for a "just war" that still remains for me a rationale too close to saying some wars are are good. I don't think that can ever be true, just that sometimes they are simply the last resort. The Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan don't fall into that category but I think now that, given what went before them, WW1 and WW2 were eventually unavoidable and we should mark and continue to mark their ending in a manner that recognises that and the sacrifices that were a consequence.

This idea is, in part at least, captured in this poem

A time for Silence

A time for silence
and a time for noise

A time to remember
and a time to forget

A time to be mournful
and a time to know joy

A time to read
From the war memorial
Names we recognise
sacrifices we can’t imagine

Lives we have heard of
but will never really know

Love we can guess at
but heartbeats we will not hear

Hopes we can speculate
but dreams we’ll never see

in the silence we can hear many things
in the silence we can glimpse another time
when war because what the time demanded
no matter how we wanted another way

and when waiting meant an eternity
waiting for news
waiting for orders
waiting for words
to bring tears of laughter
to bring fear or relief
to bring danger or safety
to bring new times or old worries

In the silence
so much to remember
so much to respect
so much to question
so much to take in
so much to mark
so much it can’t be said
only the silence can speak for us now

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