Where we are and where we will be

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

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Things are seriously hotting up across the pond

I haven't commented much on the American Presidential elections particularly since my early prediction didn't even make the subs bench but the choice of Sarah Palin has seriously set cats amongst political pigeons across the world! Just for one example, She may be credited with 80% popularity ratings but here's a site from Alaskan residents who must be in the other 20%.

I don't know if John McCain knew exactly what he was doing when he appointed her, but its has certainly taken an already interesting race up a gear or two.

Twice in a one week is a bit worring

This is getting scary. For the second time in a week I am going to congratulate an SNP minister....this time John Swinney for his comments on a high speed link between Scotland and England., I have been an advocate of this idea for some time. The key here was to get the first leg between Edinburgh and Glasgow which would mean we would get all the back office infrastructure, by that I mean the physical plant a well as the desk jobs thus creating more jobs for Scotland,. In some way more significantly however, is the symbolism of a high speed like being built from Scotland to England and not the other way round.

This can be achieved if there is the political will. A high speed link could travel between Edinburgh and London more quickly than a plane whilst stopping at 6 cities and produce a fraction of the carbon. So John, you go for this and I'll be right there with you. There's an offer you won't get very often!

Friday, 29 August 2008

It's not complicated but somehow to them it is...

In the run up to the 2007 election I argued successfully for CCTV at what is known locally as the Craigentinny shops, a street of local shops that are the nearest we have to a retail focal point in that area. It had been the target of some significant disorder so CCTV was seen as a deterrent.

Despite agreement being reached in February 2007, it was only this week that I received notice that the cameras were to be finally installed. I cannot decide whether its incompetence, conspiracy or sheer bloody mindedness but whatever it is, the folk who have suffered have been my constituents and so whilst i am glad the cameras are now in, I despair of the SNP/Libdems ability to deliver anything else for the city if that's how difficult they find the instillation of two CCTV cameras

Thursday, 28 August 2008

A wee sign of hope!

Some months ago we got a motion passed about colorectal services staying at the Western General Hospital (WGH), in opposition to the call by the SNP led West Lothian Council to have them moved to St Johns in Livingston. The SNP passed the motion to keep their hospital campaigner coalition partners on board. We now have the letter from the Health minister and somewhat surprisingly, she agrees with us and not her SNP colleagues in West Lothian. She say "NHS Lothian have indicated that there is clinical evidence, in the form of better clinical outcome, for retaining an integrated clinical service at the WGH... I support the Boards decision"

It seems on this occasion that the SNP have ignored their own councillors and sided with us for which I am very grateful. So, here goes, recognition for doing what's right and words I never thought I would write!; "I congratulate the health minister for putting clinical analysis before party political agendas. Retaining this service at the WGH will mean better patient care, more lives saved and better use of NHS resources." See, there, I've said it!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

An unexpected complement

I have just discovered that I made it into Iain Dales top 40 Scottish blogs at number 33. I am both pleased and bemused as I did not know how to vote so did not vote for anyone nor did I expect anyone to vote for my efforts. So many thanks to those who placed a mark (should that be click!?) against my name. I am very grateful for the support.

Feart doesn't even begin to describe them

A few days I ago I suggested that the Libdems were too "feart" to stand up for trams. Well the opposite is true of their SNP coalition "partners" who are only to ready to stand up and slam the tram despite knowing that their populism is inherently destructive for the city.

It is not good enough to stand back and let officials take the heat. This project needs real and visible political leadership otherwise it could still go seriously pear-shaped. On this, as on so very much else, the Libdems are failing the city and in doing so, they are failing the nation. They are just not up to the job.

No pressure, just victory every week will do!

I have been meaning to comment on the seasons start for my two teams. The Pars have started better than last year with 2 wins a draw and a loss but that still only puts them 4th in the table . Whilst conventional wisdom suggests not that heading back up after one season can be an advantage in the long run, we cannot afford another season in the second tier. So no pressure then lads.

Edinburgh Rugby on the other hand, though only one match in (and a friendly at that) have had a greats tart with a 22-15 defeat of London Wasps. Results like that could mean that this is our year..so no pressure there either! Whatever happens I intend that this year as well as following Edinburgh away from home as well as at Murrayfield, I will put in an appearance at East End Park as I haven't been down that way for too long. Surely that kind of commitment must mean some new heights can be reached by at least one of these two agents of great joy and frustration!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

He'll need more than a viking helmet for this job

I see that Tavish Scott has been elected leader of the Lib Dems. Interesting to note that the total electorate numbered less than than 2500 so it hardly a sign of a mass movement..

I have met Tavish on several occasions and found him to be a very nice man but whether that is enough to qualify him for the task now before him is open to question. He was however, the cause of one of the weirdest phone call I ever took as Leader of the Council. I was about make a speech at Edinburgh University when my phone rang and the then MSP for Edinburgh East Susan Deacon's name came up in the screen. I answered and she said "I am in the parliament and I have several large men dressed as vikings before me including Tavish Scott who is also so attired. They're down to promote Shetland's famous Up Helly Aa Festival and would like to go into a school tomorrow to talk about such things!" "Sure" I said, as there seemed little other option and so I then made the immortal call to the Director of Education which began, "Hi, I've just been called by a dozen vikings who would like to visit a school..."

Not sure what it tells us about Tavish Scott's potential as a party leader but its a surreal wee tale anyway!

Monday, 25 August 2008

A new challenge for me

For the first time in my blogging life I have been tagged in a blog-meme, which apparently is a kind of bloggers chain e mail. My tagger is Malc in the burgh so he's the one to blame for this!

Where was I when...

Death of Diana, 31st August 97
I awoke to listen to an interview I had done for Radio Forths Sunday Morning programme "view from earth". I was the interviewer and was quite proud of the interview but now cannot recall the details. Instead of my interview there was some safe music and so I first thought that the station was down only to switch on the TV to find the true story.

It was Sunday and I had to think about what changes I would have to make to the service. Bizarrely, I had written a sermon about the dangers of the cult of celebrity in which I had used Diana as one of the main examples and so had to make virtually no changes to it. I had to re work the prayers and think about the words for the opening of the service but I used to always do that on the Sunday morning anyway to make sure that they were fresh and informed by the events of the day.

A group of teenagers turned up for the service looking for some kind of memorial. They stayed for the service and said it was what they wanted. My big struggle was that, being a republican I did not want to be giving support to making royalty significant and most of my fears of the cult of celebrity were played out in subsequent days but yet I had to find ways of helping folk deal with how they were feeling, not ow I wanted them to feel.

Thatchers resignation 22 November 1990

I was living in Buffalo New York at the time where I was pastor of a little inner city church called West Avenue Presbyterian Church. That day was American thanksgiving day. Members of my congregation who helped with the food pantry we ran for folk on food stamps broke the news to me as we opened up. I was delighted and said that it gave a whole new meaning to the idea of Thanksgiving day,,, but they didn't get it as for some reason they all liked her, even those whose politics were every different. They love a strong leader and she was seen by them as being such a leader.

Attack on the Twin Towers 11 September 2001

I was in the city chambers and had rung an official who seemed to be very distracted when we spoke which was unusual for her. Eventually I asked her if she was ok and she said quite angrily "have you not heard?". I said "heard what?" She told me and then blurted out that she had a close family member who was due in the trade centre that day. She was very distressed in telling me and so ended the conversation by encouraging her to go to her boss and ask for time off.

I made my way to the Councillors lounge and watch events unfold . The student minister who was on placement in my parish rang to say his brother was working near-by and there seemed so little I could say that wouldn't sound trite or platitudes.

England's World Cup semi-final v Germany 4th July 1990

I watched this at home and on my own. I just remember Gazza's tears and Gary Linaker trying to indicate to the England Bench that they should sub him with little success at least initially. It did set up a brief debate amongst the broadsheet columnists about male tears with the general conclusion that they do indicate a wuss but were probably a good thing despite that.

JFK's assassination 22nd Nov 1963

I was living in Nairobi at the time and was aged around 18 months so was more concerned about wet nappies and my next feed that the death of the American President, significant as that was for the world.

Now I need to nominate apparently...

Brian Taylor
Kez Dugdale
Lesley Hinds
Leith and North
Adam Smith was a socialist

Another SNP broken promise

I heard today of a project on my spiritual home of Iona to build 5 affordable homes on the manse glebe, a much better use of that land than at present

Only its not going to happen. Why? well the SNP government have decreed that all housing grant money, (the cash that builds new social housing), is to be given out at £73,000 per house no matter where they are being built in Scotland. In urban areas the benchmark cost of an affordable home is around £100,000. The price of building new social housing on Iona is nearer £200,000 because of the additional cost associated with building on a island as isolated as Iona. The housing association concerned just can't afford to build despite agreement from the church to let the land be used for that purpose.

This from a Government that claimed it would not centralise, would have a bias to the poor and the marginalised and support local people in setting and delivering local agendas.

This is just an injustice and should be challenged at the highest level.

wetting the baby's head in poetry

I was well chuffed today to see the launch of the Poetry in St Andrews Square gardens with wonderful words from Richard Holloway (Chair of the Scottish Arts Council) and Ron Butlin, the Edinburgh Makar. followed by a symbolic launch of paper lotus flowers with poetry on them. Richard and Ron spontaneously described poetry like a good quality whisky, something to be savoured and treasured in small amounts for it is too rich to consume in large quantities.

Poetry for me has always been a window on the spiritual, time for stillness and reflection which has always been how I have seen my whisky. This project has had its hurdles and its detractors so it was a real pleasure to see its " birth" with a metaphorical wetting of the baby's head!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

A visit to Greenbelt beckons

Off to Greenbelt, the annual Christian festival at Cheltenham Racecourse for the weekend so won't be posting for a couple of days... see you all Monday

Another SNP U turn, so many they are dizzy

There was today however a wee sign of another SNP U turn. When asked about tram line 3 and support for it, the Council Leader suggested that the SNP were "persuaded of the business case..." I think we should be told if this really is another Damascus Road conversion!

Sound of silence save the washing of hands

Today's Council meeting was mercifully short, (only 4 hours!) but that was as much top do with the lightness of the agenda than the new traffic lights the administration have installed to stifle debate!

The propensity of the SNP/Libdem administration to always blame some-one else remains their one and only strategy and they used it with a vengeance today to knock back everything they hadn't thought of themselves. They even suggested that it was Lothian Buses fault that the credit crunch had come and they should have been ready for it!
As one of my colleagues put it "they wash their hands of responsibility so often they give Pontius Pilate a bad name"!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

A sign or two of hope

Just in from the Edinburgh hustings for the Scottish Labour Leadership and Deputy leadership contest.

Three things came to light;
  • This contest puts to bed the myth that there is no depth in the Holyrood Labour Group. all three are capable of leading the Party. Iain Gray was the best of the three winning on passion, policy and personal conviction but the other two were also good.
  • Joanne Lamont was superb. I've never heard her speak before but what came across is Labour is in her DNA and justice for the poor and ex clued is her middle name
  • These hustings should be the start of Party debates not simply a method of electing new leaders. When we were tearing ourselves apart in 1980s the solution was to stop debate; that was a mistake and we have suffered at our core because of that. A healthy family is where everyone matters and all view are heard. The Scottish Labour family has not been healthy for a while but there are signs tonight of some recovery.

They do not tell the truth

I have just spent an excellent and thoughtful away day with the staff from my department in my new job. My reflective mood was shattered when I returned to an e mail from one of my constituents who had requested permission to attend as a delegation to Thursdays Full Council meeting to discuss the number 12 bus (I have put up a motion following the decision to cut the bit of its route that goes through my ward). Here's what my constituent had to say;

"I have just received an email saying the Lord Provost has deferred this matter to the Transport Infrastructure and environment Committee and a meeting will be held on 23 SEPTEMBER at 10 am.

Since the proposed change is supposed to take place on 1 October there is little chance of us having any effect on the decision to axe the bus.

I am incandescent with rage at the moment!!!

Is there anything else we can do?

I have written to Lothian Buses and asked if anyone would come to a residents meeting to hear our views but as yet have not had a reply.

It smacks of delaying tactics so that we will be too late to do anything".

The SNP/Libdem administration did not tell the truth to the people of Edinburgh. They said they would listen more, they would be more transparent, they would be more accessible and as well as all that, they they promised better bus services. They have failed on all counts.

They just don't get it. My constituent is not a political animal, just are just an ordinary voter wanting to be beard but who instead is dismissed and ignored. The SNP/Libdems may think its safe to ignore us, but their dismissal of ordinary voters is politically fatal and it will be a self inflicted wound.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bored is not an excuse

This weekend some idiots put a smoke bomb in a stairwell in my ward. An old man got the fright of his life and others were seriously shaken up.

I have had several e mails and calls from irate residents demanding action and so they should. But the solution lies at first in their own homes. I have call for this before and I will again; its time we use the powers we already have to intervene in these teenagers homes and demand that the parents take responsibility for the actions of their children.

i am not talking about fines or jail here, far from it. What I want is systematic interventions that change behaviour. Its no good saying "there's nothing for the kids to do" or "they are just bored". Boredom is not an excuse for nearly inducing a cardiac arrest in an old man. We need to help parents be parents and if they won't take help voluntary we have to find ways of making sure they do even under duress.

Friday, 15 August 2008

They are just feart!

I see that theres more news on tram progress and the challenges that brings in the short term for those trying to get round the city and for some traders. Whilst I firmly believe that trams will revolutionise Scotland capital city for the better, there is no doubt that the journey there is not easy.

Trouble is that some folk seem to have lost the belief that it is all worth it. I hear that there is now something of a movement amongst traders in Leith against the trams that that drawn in former supporter. Whilst I would argue that some of this is just an SNP front, there's no doubt that some folk are angry. The Council company charge with delivery (TIE ) have done all they can but whats missing here is leadership from the Lib Dems. their SNP bedfellows won't do it so its up to the Libs to lead on this and they have singularly failed to do so. They need to be out there leading the charge, taking the challenges on the chin and facing the critics head on. we have publicly committed to supporting them and standing with them but they are just too feart. Full of bravado at election they crumble at the first sign of opposition. And without political leadership this project will struggle. Once again this city ash been failed by a party in power but not in charge.

The labour party needs Political Pyromania!

I didn't get to post last night as we had a Fundraising Dinner last night for Edinburgh East Constituency Labour Party; guest speaker Tony Benn- he was outstanding! 83 years old, spoke without notes but with wit and devastating insight; "the people are now to the left of the Labour Party; real change comes through movements not personalities, real hope is built on moral values that people feel speak to them, it is our task to fan the flames of justice and hope" and much much more. I wish I had recorded it, (especially the bit about us being political pyromaniacs!) but it did leave the packed room in no doubt that a return to our core values will bring us back to being the servants of the people and that we can again be in a position to use power we are given on their behalf.

As some-one who, when he gave up being an MP said "Now I am free to get involved in politics" in many ways he reminded us that the first step to wards being able to work towards being in power for the people is to know what it is to be powerless and so instead of bemoaning our fate we should recognise it as the beginning our journey. It was a joy and a privilege to hear him. I just hope that the rest of the Party hears his message also.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Another view of all that stuff

I had to move office today, (I'm still sharing a an office with two others as before), and I was bemused by the clutter I seem to have collected despite only moving office 15 months ago! I kid myself that its all merely a combination of necessary resources and things that "mean" something, (there's a straw grasping rationale if ever there was one!) Then some-one put me on to the Story of stuff website. Brilliant. It give a radically different view of the how, why and what if of stuff. But instead of me failing to do it justice here's a wee taster and then I would simply encourage you to view for yourself. It might not change your life but you'll view your stuff in a whole new way!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

SNP/Libdem cuts mean sad faces down my way

Here's an example of what I mean by their cuts. One of the community centres in my ward put together a great summer programme for all ages as they have for some years now. It then became apparent that some of the activities were getting cancelled or stopped. So some parents wrote, as I did, to the Children and families dept to complain.

Here's an extract from the reply I received yesterday;

"I fully realise there have been some disappointments about the programme this summer but this has been because of staffing difficulties with one (staff member) having been off (ill) and (another) having left under the voluntary severance scheme.

CLD have had an organisational review which lost 16.5 jobs across the city and a budget reduction of £865000K.

It is unfortunate that what has previously been provided in the past cannot be sustained in the future particularly given the above reductions".

There it is, in black and white. The SNP/Libdems are admitting that their cuts mean they cannot deliver what we delivered for young people. It is a scandal that those in most need are suffering because of SNP/Libdem incompetence. Of course, we now have a "city dresser" so all those young people who previously enjoyed these services can head up to Princes Street and enjoy the flags...oh hud me back!

Monday, 11 August 2008

They fly the flag then wield the axe

I see the SNP/Libdem administration in Aberdeen are cutting schools to balance their budget
eir SNP/Libdem colleagues in Edinburgh are, of course, following the same course. At one of the local primary schools in my ward 12 staff left and were not replaced. At another the head teacher said that the "cuts were the worst she had ever known " and she worked through the Tory devastation of our public service. And it gets worse with this administration putting flags before schools. I really fear for our children's futures and I speak as a parent as well as a politician.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Gordon, the time for change is now

Tom Harris MP is, I am sure, a nice man, well meaning even, but he is wrong to dismiss the need for radical change in the way the Labour Party is structured. At times of crisis, and I struggle to think of another word to describe where we are as a political party, you have two choices, to batten down the hatches and hope that it will all go away or you can offer real and lasting solutions to get you it of the crisis. Tom Harris it would seem, is a "batten down the hatches" man. I am not, nor are many of the Scottish Labour Party. We have known for some time that change was needed in the way the party was structured and how power was used. Just as Donald Dewar called devolution a journey not a destination, so the Labour Party and its constituent parts needs to adapt to the changes that journey brings.

I have said before that Gordon Brown missed the mood both of the Country and the Party with his Commons answer about Wendy Alexander's call for referendum at a level much deeper than simply the issue of the referendum. He could go some way to beginning to repair that damage by heeding the call of people like Tom McCabe for a federalist Party that puts the Scottish party in a position to be the Party it can be for Scotland.

The sad thing is, the Scottish Labour Party has a whole lot more control over its own affairs that is often portrayed but truth in politics is 9/10th perception and saying "its not like that, really, honest!" is no longer good enough., Real and palpable change within the Labour Party has to happen for the Scottish Labour Party to once again be perceived as it once was, the party that is best able to stand up for for the values, aspirations and hopes of the Scottish people. In doing so it would make a far greater contribution to the survival of the Union that it is at present able to do.

Edinburgh, where peaceful protest is banned...

On the subject of protests, this is an extract from an e mail I was sent whilst I was away;

"Yesterday (August 6th) 13 of us braved a downpour to sing, give readings and contemplate Hiroshima (as we do every year).

This year we decided to meet at Mound precinct. We were hassled by fringe staff (who appeared to be employees of a private security firm) for being in an area allocated to 'fringe festival' activity. We explained that our understanding was that it is a public gathering place, we were being careful not to form an obstruction and that it was a vigil for the dead of Hiroshima. They said that it was for performers only.We pointed out that there was not a performer in sight, the performances having been cancelled because the area was awash with rainwater.

When we refused to move they called the police, who were much more reasonable in their approach: checking how long we intended to stay, what we intended to do etc."

That's right, this was not Beijing, this was Edinburgh. Be assured I will be asking serious questions of the SNP/Libdem administration about this unacceptable attitude as it is they who, in the end, have responsibility for this.

Ian Thom is a hero

Ian Thom is a hero. The Edinburgh man who shined up a lamppost in Beijing as part of the Free Tibet campaign should be congratulated again and again for making sure that despite all the razzmatazz, the voice of the Tibetan people is still heard. He and his partners in protest should get medals for their bravery and their humility. Well done to them all

Well, at least now we know

It's good to be back!

Some interesting things came through the door in my absence; like the information about road repairs in my ward. Although I had raised the issue of the need for repairs on the road in question in recent times, this was the first indication that I had had as local member of the works. So much for the SNP/Libdem claims of a new openness.

The leaflet did expose one thing. In it the administration note that between 2002 and 2007 £64m was spent on road maintenance but that for 2007-10 the sum proposed to be spent will be £85m. The £64m over 5 years was the most ever spent on road maintenance but the SNP/Libdems have made a choice, they want to spend even more on roads. That's fine, that's democracy. But that means they have made a choice to spend that extra £19m on roads rather than on schools, for example, or to support buses to keep more folk out of cars, or towards the contribution the Council will have to make for the trams.

The supposedly greener than green SNP/Libdems have chosen cars over kids, cars over buses, cars over trams. Well, at least now we know.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

An important week for me

Off again for a few days for some R 'n R and to re take my vows as a member of the Iona Community, the religious community whose spiritual home is the island of Iona which I have been member of for 20 years now. We re take our vows every year as part of the discipline of membership of the Community so we don't take them lightly.

The five fold rule is a commitment prayer and bible study every day, account for our use of time, account for our use of money, commitment to justice and peace and commitment to meeting together. Its what keep me going...

Normal service will be resumed soon.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Quiet in the busy moments

Shock horror probe.. the Church of Scotland is doing the Fringe..! But instead of doing what others do and be opinionated from afar in over the top moral outrage, its offering something of itself, a gig called Nitekirk based on a model developed in Copenhagen

Its at Greyfriars Kirk every evening 20.00 – 24.30 starting tomorrow, 2nd August and ending on Friday 8th August

Its a place to sit still in a busy time and reflect on what's been happening and what you have experienced, a sacred space where folk can retreat from the festival noise and from the noise and busyness of our lives.

There will be opportunities for people to meditate, offer prayers and there will be art installations and other opportunities for people to use the church building for some kind of spiritual nourishment or enquiry.

Its for anyone who wants to go no matter what they do or don't believe about God, life or anything else. There will be periods of silence and other moments when poetry will be read and music offered. A time of worship in its broadest sense at 22.30 and at 24.00.

Many years ago I worked on a similar project at the Glastonbury festival. I was amazed at the number of people who just popped by for a wee literal or metaphorical breather, time to take in what can be very moving moments from the performances and just being in the place. I am sure that the Nitekirk will have the same contribution to the place we call Edinburgh at Festival Time.

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