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

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The birthday girl!

I had the delightful task this evening of visiting one of my constituent on her birthday.. her 103rd birthday that is! Still sharp in mind and able to "see as far as Arthurs Seat" she struggles to get about these days but is a whole lot fitter than many much younger than her. She still lives in her own home supported by a couple of hours a day home help, but otherwise about as independent as she can be.

She came to Edinburgh during the war to work in a biscuit factory and "just stayed". Its astonishing to think that she is 99 years older than my daughter and seen just so much change, (not all of it for the better, she says!). I hope that I have that ability to be independent when old age comes my way though given my state of health these days, I doubt I'll make it to 103!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Disaster is looming

The plight of the trams is seriously bad new for Scotland, not just Edinburgh. As rumours fly and opinions form and reform, we need to know who knew what when and what did they d about it.

Here are the 6 questions that we need answers to:

1. Is it true that the project is running 8 months late?
2. If so, why was the Princes Street closure put in when it was?
3. Did BSC warn the Council that there were problems?
4. who did they warn, when and what was the response of those they warned?
5. What are the so called "contractual obligations" that allegedly have not been met?
6. What are the costs of delay?

More than ever, this city needs leadership. It needs the SNP in particular to realise that to pull out now would make Edinburgh a laughing stock with no nerve. They need to get a grip and the Lib Dems need to realise that they cannot avoid the decisions before them nor can they blame someone else.. This is their time and they cannot fail us. Right now, much as I despise much what they have done to our city in the last 2 years, I don't want them to fail on this one, even if it meant that we were to benefit electorally. I am willing them to succeed. This is not about party politics any more, its about our capital city and our nation and we cannot fail or we will reap the pain for years

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Even a cold touchline is a worry

Spent some of today on the touchline watching my son play rugby for Portobello Hornets against Preston Lodge (a good win for the Portie boys). It is difficult to avoid the temptation to live our sporting dreams through encouragement of our children's enthusiasms but despite dangerous temptation I do find watching him play a real pleasure.

Having said that , this was the first competitive game his team has had since early December. I know that there's often a winter lay off but this seasons seems particularly bad. I am not sure of the reasons are as simply as the pitches not being properly looked after or a complex as global warming or somewhere in between but whatever the reason, the consequence is fewer games and the potential of hundreds of young people hindered that wee bit more. I hate to be a prophet of doom but we'll never win the big games if we can't get the wee ones sorted first. Unless we do it won't just be my vicarious dreams that will be shattered, it will be the Nation's.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Another bizarre piece of SNP "populism

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill's suggestion that killers would pay for their victim's funeral is bizarre. The last thing that a victim's family would want is cash from the perpetrator of the crime that has caused them so much pain but more significantly it could allow those to commit these crimes to feel they had somehow "compensated" for their deed.

It would be a whole new meaning for "blood money" and I don't think we should go there.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Tram brinkmanship is not a new ploy

This is not the first time BSC; the consortium delivering trams in Edinburgh have tried to hold the city to ransom. When the contract was just about to be signed last year, I was briefed as Labour leader along with the leaders of the other groups on the Council that at the last minute that the consortium wanted another huge sum, (somewhere between £12m and £15m), because of alleged "increased steel prices". We all knew it was brinkmanship and officials were encouraged to beat them down hard which they did significantly.

The SNP/Libdems need to face BSC down again. That is what they understand. Stare them in the eye and say no, you can't hold us to ransom and your attitude is unacceptable. That's exactly what they would do where they in our place and we should do the same to them. It's the only language these guys understand. My deep concern is that the Libdem don't have the bottle for brinkmanship and the SNP want trams to fail. These are bad times indeed for our city.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

SNP/Libdems will have to take responsibility for once

The public statement by TIE, the company delivering trams for Edinburgh that it will be the SNP/Libdem administration that decided whether the tram works stop the world famour Festival cavalcade this year is nothing to do with Festival floats and glorious costumes.

It is, instead, a sign that TIE are finally fed up with being the fall guys for the SNP/Libdem administration total lack of leadership. The SNP/Libdems want to take all the credit for the good things and none of heat for their incompetence. That's why they were posted missing when the closure of Princes Street fiasco happened but why they demand that their names are on plaques on all the new schools for example, (and I mean demand), even though these are schools Labour started and secured the funding for. Their motto is "it wusy me". This time however, it will be them in the firing line and not before time too.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

This is a do-able task, if we are brave enough

The comment that Labour will "fail" to reach the target of having child poverty may prove to be statistically accurate but is another example of how statistics make easy headlines but never tell the whole story. The fact is that Labour alone set the target in the first place. The Tories would have done it ever because their philosophy could cope with that kind of compassion. The Libdems wouldn't have done it because it would have meant making a decision and the SNP say they want to achieve it but want independence more than they want to have poverty otherwise they wouldn't have ripped regeneration funds from poor areas and hurt those least able to help themselves.

That being said, the fact that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation can identify the funds needed to get to where we need to get to as being only around £4.2b when we can find more than £37b for the bank bail out is a serious challenge to the labour Government. If investing in banking capital is worth that kind of cash, then investing our 12% of the same in the social capital of freeing children of poverty is surely a win win for all of us. This is areal chance for Gordon to practice what he preaches.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Its going to take more than a headline and a few easy words

Sir Peter Birt's comments on the "greed culture" are just the latest in a long line of similar comments from folk right across the political and business spectrum. Easy words but what are we now going to do about that culture? How are we going to change it? I have yet to see, for example, any calls by the financial services industry to review the Cadbury Code which is supposed to form the basis of good practice and ethical decision-making in the industry. Whilst legislation would help, unless the mood and the mind of those involved changes dramatically and voluntarily, then we will continue to be creating the atmosphere of decision-making where greed can flourish

Somewhere, somehow, we need to be asking what our economics are actually for. exploring how economics, far from being a morally neutral scientific endeavour is a reflection of human emotions and the quality of human relationships with the self, the neighbour and the stranger.

By defining success as a human being by the accumulation of wealth as had begun to happen, the production of profit moved from the creation of liquidity to being end result and so greed became justified as a means to achieve an idea of success that was then celebrated and affirmed. Far from fulfilling human need it ate away at our very humanness. It is these kinds of explorations that will change the culture that has brought us to the place we now find ourselves in. This has to be a debate and a discourse not about pounds and euros, dollars and yen but about morality, the soul and what it is to be human. Much more difficult to put into words than "its a greed culture" but the end result will be a better place for us all; the self, the neighbour, the stranger.

Monday, 16 February 2009

A sad day filled with tears and laughter

"Since God is of Heaven and earth
how can I keep from singing?"

No politics today as more fundamental things are on my mind. I attended the funeral this afternoon of an old friend and fellow Iona Community member Rev. Richard Baxter. Famed for his ability to have a song for every moment, Richard was a man of contradictions; an ex commando who became a campaigner against trident (including getting arrested several times), an irreverent man who was deeply respectful of tradition and ritual, a brilliant singer who knew the power of silence.

He spent 15 years in Malawi, helping to fight the British Colonial attempts to create a "Central Africa Federation" out of what was then Nyasaland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Instead, Malawi was formed and Richard help create their education system. He hasd such an influence on that country that that a letter of deep sympathy was read out at the funeral written by Malawi's High Commissioner on behalf of the President Bingu Wa Mutharika.

Committed to the Ecumenical movement, Richard believed in the strength of diversity. He was a very serious man, committed to social justice in every action who was always full of fun and laughter. A talented artist he would brighten up many a boring meeting with a wee cartoon quickly sketched and passed round on a scrap of paper!

I worked with him when I was assistant minister at South Leith Parish Church. He was a massive support to me as I struggled with the strictures of church, institution and faithfulness. I owe him a great deal.

There were well over 500 people there today laughing and crying as we laid to rest a great man whom we will all miss terribly. My thoughts and prayers are with Richards wife Ray and their family.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A good election result

I was delighted to hear the news that Rev Peter Macdonald of St Georges West Church has been elected the new leader of the Iona Community. I have known Peter for nearly 30 years and I feel very confident that he will do an excellent job as leader

I have been a member of the Iona Community for over 20 years and my membership is what keeps me both sane and continually challenges as I struggle with the idea of what it is to be a person of faith in the 21st global village.

Peter will have very hard act to follow in Rev Kathy Galloway who has been a brilliant leader for the last 7 years, (our leaders are only in post for up to 7 years), but he will carry the torch of leadership well.

Friday, 13 February 2009

An apparently smart move might turn sour soon...

It is not a surprise that most councils are setting a 0% council tax freeze. To do otherwise would cost money and set them against the rest of the country. But it is unsustainable. It puts less cash in public services, undermines local democracy and will mean cuts elsewhere. It seems fairer but actually will have unfair consequences and with the demise of the local income tax, simply perpetuates a system it was introduced to remove.

The Council tax freeze, as a precurser to the local income tax (much as I think that was more unfair) was, in itself, a clever political move in the short term. Now the short term is getting longer and longer, it may well come back to haunt the SNP in ways they never imagined.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

A strange idea of consensus

The City Council Budget meeting today could best be described as an example of poor political theatre; no vision from the SnP/Libdem mal-administration and a torrent of personal abuse from those on their benches with nothing helpful to contribute. One wee interesting thing came to light; the SNP/Libdems had had "budget talks" with the Tories and the Greens, but admitted that they decided not to talk to us. Apparently their idea of consensus politics is to only talk with those they agree with....

If they had talked with us they wouldn't have had to push through their cuts; instead they could have done these things;

On Schools - reversed last year’s funding reductions in those budgets giving schools an extra £2.7million; established a ‘£2million revenue’ schools “Energy and Efficiency Fund” for the city – established a ‘£1.2million capital’ school ‘Refurbishment and Upgrade Fund’; to provide funding to undertake the essential works at Wave3 schools; and to establish a new (year 1) £12million ‘capital fund’ with further funds being prioritised in future years to enable development of the remaining Wave3 Schools.
On Economic Development - made an additional investment of some £1.3million in ‘economic development activities’, and established a £5million “Affordable Housing Fund” for the provision of affordable housing across the city.
On Protecting the Vulnerable - invested an additional £2million revenue in ‘Care for the Elderly’ and ‘Respite Care’ services and accommodation services for ‘Young People with Disabilities’; provided an additional £320,000 to towards the provision of 10 new, local Police Officers; and 2 new ‘Care Homes’ for the city.
On Transport -invested an additional £300,000 to protect and enhance all currently ‘supported bus services’ ‘£1.5million capital’ in bus-priority measures and to re-phase all non-essential ‘capital’ roadworks for the duration of the current tram works, prioritising pavement repairs to a ratio of 60%/40% -£8million of capital expenditure in 2009-10 on pavements and £5million of capital expenditure on roads.
On Local Environment - invested £0.6million to provide £50,000 per annum, of new monies, to each of the local Neighbourhood Partnerships. £0.5million per annum to World Heritage Trust to protect the fabric of the city.
On Culture and Leisure - Invested £120,000 towards cultural education and outreach work and to invest ‘£2million capital’ in parks, pitches, pavilions and play areas.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Is this the end of the big (Council Tax) freeze?

I never thought that the local income tax will succeed but i never thought it would falter so quickly. There is no doubt that it was not only unworkable but that it would have cost more and produced less in terms of cash for public services.

But lets look at whats happened here. A minority Government has admitted it can''t build a consensus in parliament so it has dropped a manifesto promise (a pretty major one at that). It is at least honest; " we can't build a consensus so we won't waste time trying any more" but that does also mean that immediately others get the blame rather than any real analysis of why the policy couldn't get support. "the unfair tax remains because others would not help get id of it"

It means getting bad news over and done long before an election so any "broken promise" opportunities have lost their edge. But it also begs the question "what about the council tax freeze?" It was an interim measure for a policy that won't now be implemented. It will, by 2011, have removed £240m from the public service budget but not removed the tax it was introduced to help shift. So the question becomes, will it stay? If the SNP removed the freeze next year that would do two things; first give them an addition £70m to play with, (a tiny amount in the whole Scottish budget but hey, was the price of the Tory votes on the budget), but it would also allow them to argue that the Council tax rises have returned because the other parties wouldn't let the SNP get rid of it; "they wanted to keep it so let them pay the political price if it being used again"

It would be a risky strategy but would mean that the locus would shift from a broken promise (and a big one at that) to look what these nasty opposition parties have done to you....call me a cynic if you will but....

Monday, 9 February 2009

Kez is back!

Just delighted to see Kez Dugdale back in the blogosphere! Kez is the reason I started blogging again after my post election blogging break became a habit that needed breaking. She tells me that she is also now a convert to "twitter" which I have not yet mastered but life should be an adventure so maybe soon I shall be also in the world of the twitter!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Diversity is our strength

I never had the opportunity to meet SNP Bashir Ahmad MSP. who died this weekend and, as is the custom of his faith, was buried within 24 hours. Nor did I know to much about him but those who spoke of him we fulsome in their plaudits and praise.

What I do know is that he achieved two important firsts; first Asian MSP and first Muslim MSP. That is a record to be proud of in any ones book and the Parliament will be the poorer until the 2nd (and more), of each is elected. Diversity is a strength and he gave the Parliament some of that strength in, I am told a quiet, unassuming but powerful way.

What will be a true tribute to him and those who hopefully follow him in being other ethnic and/or faith community first would be when the time comes that the ethic and faith (including those whose faith is not in a divinity), diversity of our parliament is such that no one is counting and there's no need to herald firsts.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Another fine mess you've got me into

Regular readers will know that I have been banging on about the fiasco that is the junction project at the Kings road roundabout. Having produced a plan that was "dangerous" (their words), the SNP/Libdem administration the signed off a plan B that was uncosted and is now 6 months late. I called for an investigation. The report is probably the most damning review of any council project I have ever seen. It includes the immortal line that traffic planners had "failed to predict driver behaviour!" I thought that was what traffic planners did for a living!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

the truth is out!

Today's City Council meeting only lasted about 2 hours. Thank goodness for small mercies though it was mainly because the big debate is next week on the budget

There were some highlights though;

When challenged about a broken promise, one leading Libdem admitted that their manifesto was "mostly aspirational" rather then promises they had made to the electorate! It would have been nice if they had made that clear to the voters

The SNP/Libdems admitted that, despite claiming that the new Scottish budget was a potential "lifeline" for Edinburgh schools, there is no new money in the budget for school buildings. Not much of a lifeline then..

The SNP said that to ask for a sustainable approach to air travel was unacceptable and madness...that will be the Green vote grabbed then!

Roll on next week and the budget meeting; that is going to be soooo much fun! I will lay money that it will last a whole lot longer than two hours.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Not a vote winner

The proposal to separate council election from Scottish parliamentary elections is one of those things that seem blinding obvious, so much so that it blinds us from the fact that it is an unnecessary and unhelpful move.

There is no evidence that peoples clear confusion with the Scottish parliamentary elections was in any way caused by having the election on both days, evidenced by the fact that the new system introduced for council elections caused far fewer spoilt ballot papers.

The idea that Councils will be called to account on their own record has to be countered by the clear evidence that midterm Council elections are always seen as a opinion poll on the Government.

If this is a response to what happened in 2007 then its the wrong target. The solution lies in having the ballot paper as it was before, with the list vote second.

If it is about making Councils more accountable then it will not achieve that to the extend that might be assumed and there remains the issue of voter fatigue. There are better things for Parliament to to be doing with legislative time and resources.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Another Libdem (and SNP) U turn

Its good news that the Budget will get through the Scottish Parliament tomorrow. After what was probably a helpful shot across the SNP bows, the time for working together was now and it would appear all have heeded the call.

Interestingly however, there's a wee twist to this tale. According to the BBC, one of the parts of the deal that brought the Libdems to the table was an agreement that some schools will be commissioned under PP/PFI because the Scottish Futures Trust remains a chocolate teapot.

But isn't that the same Lib Dems who on Edinburgh Council voted and campaigned against PPP. Will they now bid to be amongst the Councils to have school under PPP (and will there be level playing field support as there was under Labour...)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

In the name of God!

Two prayers for comment. First is the sad story of the nurse who's been suspended because she offered to pray for client. From what I have read she probably wasn't wise to make that offer in that context but what annoyed me is the comment of the woman who complained, saying that she wasn't offended but was worried that some-one else might be.

The offer to pray would have been no more than a statement of concern for another human being who was ill. Who is this mythical person who "might be offended" by what was a misguided act of compassion? If they do exist and are offended, let them speak up for themselves. Would we suspend anyone else to investigate the speculation that some-one "might be offended" by a nurse who in the course of conversation with a client who happened to be a Christian said, "I don't believe in God". No chance. This was an unwise expression of care, not a hanging offence. We need to get a grip here otherwise, in the name of equality, the Christian community is being treated unequally.

And the other prayer? It is the allegedly "long lost second verse" of Burns Selkirk grace which I was given a copy of by the Portobello Burns club who invited me to give their immoral memory this year. I will tell you it as long as you promise not to be offended by a prayer or on behalf of those without their own teeth;

"some hae teeth to eat the meet
whilst others o' this nation
rely on gums and porcelain
to aid their mastication!"

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)
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