Ian Swanson: Familiar faces leaving City Chambers after election

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With a host of familiar faces quitting the council, Ian Swanson examines the impact of their departures

SOME familiar faces will be missing from the City Chambers after the votes have been counted in Thursday’s elections.

Seventeen of Edinburgh’s 58 current councillors are standing down of their own accord – and others are likely to be voted out by the electorate.

That means there will also be an influx of new politicians, an army of freshly-mandated representatives eager to make their mark and play their part in running the Capital.

The last local elections in 2007 saw half the city’s councillors replaced. All but two of the 12-strong SNP group were completely new to the council, as were eight of the 17-strong Lib Dem group with whom the Nationalists formed a coalition administration.

Many former councillors had decided to retire under the “golden goodbye” scheme which offered payments of up to £20,000, depending on length of service, to persuade veteran elected members to make way for new blood.

There is no such incentive available this time, but the number rushing for the exit – plus those kicked out by the voters – could easily be almost as many.

In contrast, previous elections have seen far lower turnover of personnel. In 2003, just 11 of the 58 councillors elected were new.

So how much does lack of experience matter? Does it deprive the city of the strong leadership it needs? Labour group leader Andrew Burns says: “On a positive side, I would be the first to acknowledge a turnover is a good thing in terms of bringing in new blood. Sometimes, local authorities can become a bit staid.

“The danger is if you have an overwhelming influx of inexperienced councillors it can leave the local authority adrift. I think that has happened over the past five years.”

He points out that when the Lib Dems and SNP got together to form the administration in 2007, only one person had any previous experience of being in administration – SNP group leader Steve Cardownie, who had been part of the Labour regime before he defected.

But Cllr Burns says five years on, the picture is different. “The same thing won’t happen this time – there is now a group of experienced SNP councillors and whoever forms the administration, there will be more than one person with that level of experience.”

Cllr Cardownie accepts that new councillors face “a bit of a learning curve” but defends the administration’s performance.

Recalling the 2007 result, he says: “Apart from me and Rob Munn, the other ten were brand new, but they have all risen to the challenge. I think they have done tremendously well.

“We discussed whether we should go into administration as part of a coalition or just go into opposition, given that we had so few people with experience. But I said if we went into opposition, then after about a year, when they had got through that learning curve, they would be kicking themselves that they were in opposition for another four years.

“Even those who were sceptical were won round and later said it was the right decision. We now have a solid base of councillors with experience of administration.”

Eleven of the councillors now quitting were only elected in 2007.

But Cllr Cardownie says: “There will be sufficient councillors left from all the parties who will have some experience.

“New people coming in gives a fresh look at how the council operates and they might come up with new ideas about how things can be improved. I don’t think it was to the detriment of the city last time and I’m sure it won’t be to its detriment this time.”

The parting figures

Con

Alastair Paisley

First elected at a by- election in Baberton 1996, he was Tory regeneration spokesman and served on the licensing board.

Kate Mackenzie

She won Cramond in 1999 and made a name pursuing planning and conservation issues.

Gordon Buchan

Elected in 2007 for Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart.

Lab

Ewan Aitken

Former education convener and council leader. First elected in 1999 in Restalrig where he is councillor and parish minister.

SNP

Elaine Morris

Former Buckingham Palace press officer, elected as a Lib Dem in Forth ward in 2007, defected last year.

Colin Keir

Elected in Drum Brae/Gyle in 2007, became MSP for Edinburgh Western last year.

Stuart McIvor

Elected in 2007 for Inverleith ward.

Nick Elliott-Cannon

Elected in 2007 in Sighthill/Gorgie.

Lib Dem

George Grubb

Lord Provost since 2007. Retired Church of Scotland minister, first elected in Queensferry in 1999.

Phil Wheeler

First elected at South East Corstorphine by-election in 2001, served as transport, then finance leader.

Marilyne MacLaren

First elected as a Lothian Region councillor in 1986, she represented Marchmont and has been education leader since 2007.

Joanna Coleman

Elected in 2007 for Sighthill/Gorgie.

Charles Dundas

Elcted in 2007 in City Centre ward.

Louise Lang

Elected in 2007 for Leith Walk.

Conor Snowden

Elected in 2007 for Liberton/Gilmerton.

Stephen Hawkins

Elected in 2007 for Portobello/Craigmillar.

Green

Alison Johnstone

Elected in 2007 in Meadows/Morningside, became Lothians MSP last year.