Helen Martin: Get parties out of city politics

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BETWEEN community council, city council, Scottish Government, Westminster and Europe, we each have more democratic representatives than we can shake a ballot paper at. But not nearly enough according to the Boundary Commission, which thinks Edinburgh needs 36 more councillors long term and five immediately.

I have lived in Edinburgh for a quarter of a century and in that time I have contacted a councillor for help twice. On neither occasion did it do any good, not because of any lack of willing or competency on the part of the councillor, but because it appears their hands are tied. Councillors can only go along with what the officials say, whether they agree or not, for it is officials who draft the council policy. TV’s Yes Minister had more than a grain of truth in it, even at local council level.

Futility aside, there will be some residents who turn to their councillors a lot, and many others who have never contacted any elected representative in their life. So why should we pay for another 36?

The all-powerful officials and their battalions of staff , generally speaking, have better employment protection, conditions, severance agreements and pensions than the rest of us. We pay for them, too.

Scotland has always been public sector heavy. Edinburgh, if anything, should be proud that we have proportionately fewer councillors than many other authorities and should be striving to be even more streamlined, especially as we are saddled with such ridiculously accrued debt. The gravy tram has to stop somewhere and I am mightily impressed with Conservative councillor Cameron Rose who says we already have too many politicians on the payroll. He believes we should axe 20 of them. That would be a start.

The next step would be to get party politics out of local government altogether. It’s not little Holyrood or miniature Westminster. In short, Edinburgh City Council is not there to play politics but to make sure the bins are emptied, the schools are running and all the services are delivered at the lowest cost possible. That’s what’s important. It really shouldn’t matter what colour of rosette they wear because we’re not voting for a Tory approach to refuse collection or Labour’s take on the local swimming baths.

The only people who care about a local councillor’s party allegiance are other politicians who can say, as if they are playing a board game, that the SNP has “taken” such and such an authority or the Lib Dems are “in control” of another.

In terms of loyalty and allegiance, all the local voter wants to hear is that their councillor cares about them, their area and their city. A councillor’s political aspirations are neither here nor there.

Perhaps if we get independence, some of the bigger, more ambitious and often politically-driven decisions will be taken by the Scottish Parliament anyway. How much better off we would all have been if the trams had been a government project rather than an amateur city catastrophe, and if the council had left the regeneration of Leith and Granton to someone who actually knew what they were doing.

More councillors? No. Fewer councillors each devoted to Edinburgh and its people rather than a political party? Yes.

The penny has to drop

IT is rumoured that opinion is turning in favour of the trams. Not among any of the people I know.

I appreciate there are a few folk who just can’t wait to jump on for a novelty ride but I am convinced the vast majority will not be easily persuaded to forget about the

£776 million down the drain. Most will be falling over themselves in gratitude to Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown for making it clear there will not be another penny available for extending the line.

Please God, that is enough of a warning to stop Lesley Hinds throwing any more good money after bad. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

The way to get folk off the fags

THE numbers of people who have (be it temporarily or permanently) given up smoking cigarettes is soaring because of the vapouriser which delivers nicotine with none of the toxicity of tobacco, fag ingredients such as formaldehyde and arsenic, carbon monoxide or tar.

Hands up, I am one of them having previously tried everything from hypnosis and acupuncture to Allen Carr tutorials, chewing gum, Zyban and patches. Vapourisers didn’t originate from medical research or the NHS but from bong shops. Be that as it may, they are better than anything else. One colleague who has been on the vapour for a year has been told by her GP she can now describe herself as a non-smoker.

Please governments, doctors, drug companies and finger waggers, if you really want people off the fags, don’t meddle. It will cost the Treasury millions from lost tobacco taxation, but finally we have something that really works.

EXCESS BAGGAGE

After an accident, the car insurance company told us our excess was £150 if we used their nominated general garage, but £350 if we went to one that specifically dealt with our make of car. What kind of backhanders are going on there?