Gina Davidson: City needs some Danish guidance

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ARE you watching Borgen yet? If not then where have you been for the last four episodes?

Danish drama has ruled the Saturday night TV schedules for the last year or so, but now that detective Sarah Lund and her Faroese jumpers have been retired until The Killing III makes an appearance, the Danes are giving us another sub-titled masterpiece in Borgen.

It’s a political thriller where the main protagonists – from the prime minster to the investigative journalists – are female, attractive, and so far anyway, prepared to put principle before personal profit: so much so that the Moderate Party’s leader, Birgitte Nyborg, refuses to use information which proves the prime minister used public funds to buy an £8000 Mulberry handbag for his ill wife, believing that exploiting the situation after he had repaid the money was no way to make it to the top. You just can’t imagine that ever happening here.

But what has made it even more fascinating has been watching a foreign political process at work. Denmark (which according to psychologist Oliver James is perhaps the most contented country in the world thanks to its even pay scales and equality between genders) has been run by coalition governments since 1909, a minority administration aided with the help of one or more supporting parties. In Borgen, it has meant that the Moderate Party and Birgitte have been calling the shots pulling support from left and right as they’ve seen fit to get their policies through.

Such a multi-party approach is so foreign to us here. Yes, we’ve got a coalition at Westminster, but only of two parties, and one in which it’s hard not to believe that the Lib Dems have sold their souls for power. And yes we’ve had coalition government in Holyrood and right now it exists at the City Chambers. But the Lib Dem/SNP alliance is nothing as to how things could result after this May’s local elections, when the machinations currently being played out in the fictional Danish drama could be all too real on the High Street.

The SNP, led by Steve Cardownie, does appear to believe that it could yet win an outright majority in May, on the back of the current upsurge in support for the SNP and is considering fielding enough candidates to make that a real possibility. Yet there’s little evidence that his party has won any more friends in Edinburgh since its decision to go into coalition with the Lib Dems in 2007. Whether the SNP likes it or not, it will be seen as the party which failed to stop the tram works turning into a disaster – a crime made all the more serious by its claim to be against the whole project from the start.

However it will undoubtedly be one of, if not the, largest parties in the City Chambers. So who will it look to for help?

The Lib Dems will be a busted flush. The people of Edinburgh would not stand for the same coalition partners to rule together again but with the Nationalists taking the reins of power this time round. There’s too much anger about how Jenny Dawe and her colleagues have run the city in the last five years for that to be a possibility. It would be met with the same incredulity as when Gordon Brown believed Labour could still carry on in government after the last general election.

What about Andrew Burns’ Labour Party? Could they bury the hatchet, forget that Cardownie used to be one of them, and bond over the fact that neither party wants to privatise council services? If so Labour could be expected to make big demands – such as convenerships of economic development, children and families and possibly even transport. Could Cardownie and his group swallow that and be happy to sit at the head of the council but let Labour do all the hard work?

And if Labour and the Lib Dems have enough seats between them to take control? It’s hard to imagine them working together – especially after Dawe dumped them as soon as Cardownie came a-courting after the last election. A political party scorned is a political party desperate for revenge. It is more likely that Labour could make common cause with the Tories – if they agreed to disagree over the outsourcing of council services – and perhaps even the Greens.

It’s just a shame that Green councillor Alison Johnstone isn’t standing as she’s now also an MSP. She would have made the perfect Brigitte, and could even have forced the issue of just who would be Lord Provost.

Our councillors should probably take a look at Borgen and learn how to make consensus politics work. After all, a year after it was broadcast in Denmark, the Danes elected their first female prime minister. Perhaps we could just end up with a coalition which actually improves the lives of all who live here.

Award is priceless

HAD a wry chuckle at the news that the council has won a Gold Investors in People award for its commitment to staff. Can this be the same council which has been sued by its female employees to get a fair salary, which wants to privatise the services its staff carry out, and which admits that absence levels are too high? Ironic doesn’t quite cover it.