John McLellan: ‘Mansplaining’, egos and testosterone at Edinburgh Council

Susan Rae of the Greens is unimpressed by council culture
Susan Rae of the Greens is unimpressed by council culture
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Edinburgh councillors staggering from meetings “dizzy and reeling” was not an uncommon occurrence in the heady days of the Jinglin’ Geordie and lunchtime boozing. Staggering to meetings wasn’t unheard of either, but that’s not what the Greens’ Susan Rae meant in her cry of anguish at her party’s conference last weekend.

The newly elected Leith Walk councillor instead launched a scathing attack on the culture she has found in the City Chambers, complaining bitterly about how she has “staggered from council meetings, dizzy and reeling from the scent of testosterone and seething ambition”.

It's a jungle out there for cyclists. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

It's a jungle out there for cyclists. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Really putting the boot in, she thundered: “I have been frustrated by the pervasive excuses that are designed to halt progress and rendered absolutely catatonic by relentless and really, really tedious mansplaining.”

And, just to narrow it down a bit to the higher echelons, she added: “I now know in some council chambers we are dealing with egos so enormous that only a private office can contain them.”

Phew, that must rule me out because I haven’t had my own office for years now, the same day my sense of ambition was suddenly replaced by the survival instinct. OK, so the testosterone charge might stick, but I’m not going to feel guilty about something which has given me three kids.

The strange thing, though, is that despite Susan complaining that her ambitions are being stymied, of all the parties in the City Chambers the Greens are the ones doing the best given the election result.

The Greens came second last, yet they effectively control the policy agenda because without them the SNP-Labour administration can be out-voted. And with the best will in the world, the eight Green councillors must accept their world vision is not shared by everyone, not least the 28 per cent of the Edinburgh population who gave their first preferences to the Conservatives.

It is not naïve of her to express discontent, as she put it, but it is unrealistic if the Greens expect to get everything they want when their party came fourth. And with affordable housing, green transport policies, environmental protection and the universal citizens income high on the administration agenda, the Green programme seems pretty well advanced. Why, they were even given their own champion, for the Union Canal.

The Greens, she says, have not signed up for “mediocrity instead of excellence” but then again, who did?

Of course my idea of excellence might not be the same as hers, or that of the councillors in the other parties, and the old cliché about politics being the art of the possible holds good. It is also the art of negotiation and compromise and accepting that victory is rarely the unconditional surrender of an opponent.

As a fellow newbie, do I share any of Susan’s disappointment? Well, the level of tribalism has been until now disappointing but not surprising, but guess what, the Greens have been as guilty as anyone.

However, she does have some valid points. Are there very big egos in the Council administration driving forward agendas which are not entirely clear? Do they have big offices? Are they male? Would re-introduced bears add to Scotland’s natural ecosystem by leaving their deposits in protected ancient woodland?