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

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Something must be done

I came in this morning to two angry e:mails from constituents in the Findlays area of my ward complaining bitterly about the wanton damage wreaked on around 18 cars during the night by.. we don't know but folk locally have their thoughts.

As ever, its a small group damaging not just the property but the quality of life of many. I am working with police and the anti social behaviour team to solve this one but its not easy.

At a deeper level though I have to ask the question how did these kids get the idea that this kind of behaviour was acceptable? Or, as is more likely, they know its not acceptable but choose to do it anyway, so who has led them to that place where they make such a choice? It seems to me that they at least in part, learnt it in their living room and so I would suggest that as well as chasing the kids we should be confronting the adults involved and help them take some responsibility for the avtions of the kids.

Some years ago I set up a parenting project in my ward run by Circle to support parents whose kids were going off the rails. I also helped set up an city-wide early intervention project and supported the work of the Council's innovative Intensive family support service. Parenting is the hardest job in the world and we can all use a helping hand. The Circle project has proven to be hugely successful in giving that helping hand as have the other two, but they can only help so many, partly because of funding but also because there are some who can't or won't take the help they clearly need.

I want to help rather than simply condemn but I also want to challenge as part of beginning to get that help in past the doors behind which these kids learned how to make bad choices. I am not talking about prosecuting parents here but I am arguing that unless we help those adults who are at home with these kids, we'll never get the real change we need. Its time to use all the powers we have, and we have many, to offer and then if that's refused, to impose on these adults interventions like the kind of work Circle does, so that we can achieve not just change for them and their families but the kind of quality of life and peace and quiet we'd all like to enjoy.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A victory for local voices

I was delighted to see that planning committee rejected the application today for a waste disposal site on the Harry Lauder Road which is just on the edge of the ward. I and many of my constituents had objected strongly to the application, not least of which because it would have meant more than 100 extra lorry journeys through the ward every day.

It was all very well for the applicants to claim that it took lorries off the road elsewhere but that was too big a price for my area to pay. Huge credit must be given to the local campaign (Portobello Opposes New Garbage Site) with their wonderful acronym of PONGS for their excellent work in leading the fight and making sure the community's voice was heard

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

No direction at transport committee

Transport committee today, subbing for one of my colleagues. A wee success in getting a report on the cycle lane to the Edinburgh Royal infirmary which has lots of steps(!) after an excellent delegation by of of my constituents and a doctor from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where my constituent works, and some folk from Spokes the cycling people! and on a potential new pedestrian crossing in the ward on Restalrig Rd Sth..
View Larger Map(I got the money for one agreed during our administration but it wasn't finally committed and the new administration voted it down so I am back to square one sadly, but I will not give up)

Labour also backed an emergency motion on the prams on buses debate but other than that, the incredible thing was the absolute lack of any sense of direction, strategy or coherent political philosophy from the SNP/Libdem administration who are still divided on green parking charges and trams. I could loose the will to live!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Time for a change

I have worked with most of the candidates in the Scottish Labour Party leadership contest and I like them all, so fence sitting would seem a wise option. But as my Gran used to say; "if you spend to long on the fence you get splinters in your bottom" so here goes...

Every so often you come across a politician who has something different about them, something that makes you pay more attention. In Iain Gray's case it's often not high volume or a floor show, though he is very capable of both. It's that sense that he sees things other miss, important things like not who's shouting but what is behind the issues that others are playing politics with.

And then you read his cv and you realise why that might be. This is a guy who hasn't just read about Rwanda during the genocide. This is a guy who doesn't just know about the destructive force of HIV on developing countries. He's seen both first hand with Oxfam. This is a guy who doesn't just talk about the challenges of education in Scotland. He's been there as high school teacher.

Its these kinds of experiences and the political decisions that helped cause or fail to help them that have fed his passion for real and lasting change, not just in Scotland but across the world. He gets the idea that the suffering stranger is our neighbour and we have a moral duty to reach out and help.

I want real change in Scottish Labour and Iain Gray offers that fresh start, a new voice shaped by real experiences that people like me are looking for. There, I've said it. My apologies to the others in the race but my Gran, as ever, was right about the dangers of fence sitting and our Party is in enough trouble as it is....

Saturday, 26 July 2008

We need change and fast

Well, I would say it's good to be back as the Aitken's had a superb holiday on Iona but returning to the aftermath of the worst fortnight the Labour Party has had in years thanks to the Glasgow East debacle is no pleasure.

Still, watching from afar but unable to participate in the Glasgow meant I could step back and reflect a little. There are many reasons why we lost Glasgow East but for me the tipping point was not the credit crunch, fuel prices or even the "couldn'y find a candidate" farce. It was a sentence, or more truthfully the lack of a sentence at Prime Minister's Question Time some weeks ago.

When David Cameron asked Gordon Brown if he backed Wendy Alexander's view on the need for an immediate referendum on independence if he had said "Wendy Alexander is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and so is best placed to decide the Labour Party's strategy in Scotland and so I back her judgement" instead of prevaricating, we would have faced Glasgow East with a strong leader of a distinctly Scottish Labour party, the SNP referendum bluff called and a confident prime minister who would have shattered the image of him always trying to "control" Scotland Labour.

All the other factors that were hammering us would still have been around and it would have still been a very tough by election to win but I believe we would have.

Glasgow East is an object lesson in why giving up power will always bring you more influence then trying to hold on to it. Unless that lesson is learnt fast by Labour, and in particular its leader in Westminster, (its not too late but it's close), we face the doomsday scenario of an SNP/Tory cross boarder coalition, (remember it was the SNP who brought down Jim Callaghan's Government), breaking up Britain for their own political ends.

Friday, 11 July 2008

A break, a rest and a wee refereshment

I am off to the sacred isle of Iona, my spiritual home, to spend time with the Iona Community of which I am a member, for a wee break which means blogging will not be so frequent.

I will do what I can but have no fear, normal service will be resumed on my return!

Happy holidays everyone!

Chaos when its not needed

View Larger Map

The road works to convert the Kings road roundabout into traffic lights at the entrance to Portobello are a pain but will produce a better and safer result. Sadly, as ever with this SNP/Libdem mal-administration manage to screw up the implementation of anything and everything and this is no exception.

They shut off all the side roads in the surrounding area so that rate running would be reduced. Fair enough. But then they shut off Wakefield Avenue which joins Craigentinny Road, ie the main, arterial route through the ward, which meant buses were diverted. Suddenly everyone in that area who doesn't have a car, and there are a significant number, had no access to public transport. When I suggested they open Wakefield to buses only, the reply was, we can't, motorists would abuse the rule. So, instead of encouraging public transport use, we are once again ruled by the few petrol head idiots who ignore the rules of the road. Once again, those whose choices help the environment are discriminated against and those car drivers who obey the rules are tarred with the same brush and this SNP/Libdem lot are not brave enough to stand up to them. (they also refused to cover the bus stops so folk were standing there waiting for buses that would not come)

Mind you., its those same fuel imbibing morons whose stupidity means we have to spend a fortune on traffic calming and traffic management to keep kids safe. It really irritates me that these fools mean all car drivers get a bad name and we can't spend the hard earned tax payers cash we spend on limiting their excesses on things that would be constructive like schools and sports facilities

Thursday, 10 July 2008

More broken promises

Once again, the SNP/Libdems say they are listens, promise what they think folk want to hear and then quietly renege on the pledge. This time is free parking off Leith Walk to help traders during the tram works.

Last month they said it would happen. Now its not going to happen. The SNP/Lidem mal-administration should be saying to the officials not, "ok you've said we can't do it so we won't" but go and find a way of doing it. There is always a way if you are willing to try to find one but this lot are depending on people saying "ach well. they tried" but soon enough they are going to find it won't wash with the citizens. It's just not good enough for Scotland's Capital City.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

safer streets but nothing to do

I see that the police are working hard to ensure that the summer experience for the city is not one of crime and bad behaviour. Good on them. There's no doubt that Lothian and Borders finest o a great job and are very creative in their approach. That's why Labour started funding police officers for specific tasks. (90 in all) and its good that the present administration now agree that's a good plan despite initially voting against the funding for those officers.

The summer would, of course, be even better for all, if the SNP/Libdems had not cut the funding for the GO4IT programme, Scotland's biggest programme of activities for young people. But hey, anything to balance the books, never mind the consequences for those they are support to serve.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

history that tells the future!

I was given a wee bit of history today, a tram timetable from around 60 years ago. (there's no date but there is a reference to a national health optician so I am guessing it is post war). What's interesting is that the time table is for both buses and trams. Yes, an integrated public transport system in Edinburgh is not a new concept!

Interestingly, I note also that business is now buying up land and options along the tram route. I know that the works are tough going, infact at time serious pain, but it will be Worth it and it would seem that those who make their living from investing for the future are "on the same track" (sorry, couldn't resist that!).

Monday, 7 July 2008

Choosing to stand up for what she believes in

A few days after my announcement that I was resigning the leadership of the Labour Group to take up a job with the church I was stopped by Margaret Curran as I walked through the Parliament. She said what many have said; "It was a wee surprise you going back to the church I am sorry to see you step down but congratulations on your job". My response to her was as it was to the others; "I might be changing jobs I will be standing up for the same things that I always have".

Now its her turn to choose a change of direction by standing for Labour in Glasgow East. And good on her. She will be standing up for the things she has always stood for; Justice, equality and speaking up for the silenced. And she will do it well as she always has. And as she has so often, she has stepped up to the plate when others faltered. so even more power to her elbow. Thanks to her choice, I think that Labour can win this seat and begin again to get Labour values back on the political agenda.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

A weapon is only a weapon when its held by a person

Its nice to see Sunday Herald commentator Ian Bell and I on the same track when it comes to air craft carriers and our need or lack of need for them.

On the subject of weapons I thought Bishop John Sentamu's comments of knife crime were spot on as well. He is absolutely right to say we need to start with the child and not the knife. The systemic change in youth culture that is needed to stop knife crime will not be achieved by punitive legislation or constantly increased levels of enforcement. The trouble is, because political debate is now being being framed by the right wing agenda of people like the so called Tax Payers Alliance and their ilk, their consumerist agenda when "you pay your money and you get product" means they want instant answers for problems that cannot be solved overnight.

The tax payers alliance is an oxymoron because the last thing they want to do is pay tax. They certainly don't want to spend money on the kind of real and lasting solutions that Bishop Sentamu is calling for, to look past the knife and start healing, not criminalising the child.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Happy Birthday NHS

I was proud and humbled to be out in the streets of Edinburgh today encouraging people to sign a birthday card for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. It was Clement Attlee's Labour Government created the NHS out of the Labour values of equality, justice and fairness, not simple because it was a better way to manage health care and it is those values that need to be at the heart of any debate about the future of the NHS.

A some-one who has readily used the services of the NHS for many years both for my own ailments and those of my children I cannot sign its praises highly enough. I know that it doesn't get everything right and that, because of its size, managing its bureaucracy is very difficult but thanks to its existence literally millions of peoples lives are better, healthier and longer.

We saw how the market philosophy of the Thatcher years nearly destroyed it (and interestingly one of its main architects!)and there is no doubt that there continues to be much to do. But I would rather be trying to reform what we have than for example the American system where millions live without access because of their poverty or many continental systems where access is by the gatekeeper of insurance and where, for example, I have seen with my own eyes, ambulance drivers refuse to take some-one to hospital until they could show that they had cash in their wallet and an insurance card.

The values of the NHS are values that I believe in. that when we help others, even those we do not know, so we ourselves are helped, for what happens to our neighbour or to the stranger happens to us also.

Friday, 4 July 2008

The farce continues

The farce that is the (un)Fairer Scotland Fund. we are now told that "community engagement" i.e. putting resources into helping groups get set up so people can help themselves is no longer allowed. Instead, those groups themselves are supposed to do community engagement. Yet without those resources, those groups will not exist and so won't be able to do that engagement!

This is what this means for my area. Three years ago, when I was able to get around £1m over 3 years for Restalrig and Lochend the community quite rightly decided not to spend any money on creating a local bureaucracy as has happened in other places. Instead what we did do was fund a post, managed by the Council, which actively supported for groups to get set up and running in a very hands on way.

The postholder has done a brilliant job. I can identify over 10 groups she has helped start or support or develop their work. These include the hugely successful Lochend boxing and fitness club and Lochend football Academy, which between them have around 250 young people on their book. They have no paid staff but with this workers support they have proper governance, they are trained in child protection, first aid, health and safety etc. She has also been able to get them grants and other support. She has done similar things for the other groups and the Community council.

Without her these projects would have struggled as would the others she has been involved in. But aapparently that's not good enough for the SNP Government nor the Council's SNP/Libdem mal-administration. They know best of course and so it looks like this post will go and along with it all the hard work !

Well I can promise you I am going to fight this one all the way. It is a scandal that they claim to want communities to set their own agenda but then take from them the very tools to do that.

A statue for an "invisible hand?"

The unveiling of the statue of Adam Smith today in Edinburgh is a fitting acknowledgement of some-one who has influenced how we see the world in ways he could not have imagined.

Its interesting that he is always described as "the father of economics". The metaphor of "father" is used a great deal in public life; "father of the house", "father of the nation"," city fathers", founding fathers". Is this because, as the American thinker George Lakoff suggests, its too complex to explain something like the beginnings of a nation, or the story of econ mics so we use a metaphor we understand, a family metaphor.

I think that there is something in this idea. The trouble is, as Lakoff shows, if our idea of family is one where there is a strict, authoritarian father who sets the rules and imposes harsh discipline for those who break the rules so that's how we will see how society should be, whereas if we see family as a place of nurturing parents where caring for others is how we care for ourselves, so we will want society to have the same values.

Politics and economics are human constructs so must be about values. Making sure we know how are values are shaped is as important as know how to speak of them. And we need know that how we speak of them is not the way in which they are being shaped.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Swords into Ploughshares?

I know its not exactly local government territory but the signing of the contract for aircraft carriers got me thinking about whether it really is the great thing it appears . Sure it "saves' jobs but despite being a 10 year programme, its another example of short-termism in Government.

I know that we need some capacity to replenish out of date military equipment but it strikes me that we need as a society to make a choice about what kind of nation we want to be. We should use these 10 years to look seriously at how the skills and talents of the workers in the shipyards resources can begin to be moved from always being dependent on military projects to more peaceful purposes. As well as being of more benefit to everyone this would avoid dependency on what become political decisions – keeping order books open at the last minute – and lead to more sustainable jobs in years to come.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Another one bites the dust

Now none of us saw this coming! Nicol Stephen resigning for family reasons, I know it has caught even some of the most season hacks off guard, even those who pride themselves of having ears so close to the ground that they need surgery to remove them.

I can say with some conviction that, if it is family that are the reason for this, and I have no reason to doubt that, then he will have made the right decision.

No matter anyone achieves in political life either in terms of position or practical outcome, nothing will ever be more significant that being with family, nothing will buy back the time you couldn't be there for important events or even just to do the bed time story, nothing will replace the energy you didn't have to play with them when they were full of fun and you were knackered.

I write this not for sympathy, far from it. Politicians at all levels should go into politics with their eyes open about the demands on time and energy. But nothing can buy time with yer weans....

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