Martin Hannan: Pledges are good start to joint rule

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Timing is everything in life. There I was last Tuesday morning having already penned my column for last week, and still fretting over the low turnout more than anything.

Having been out of town the previous night, I had not heard any rumblings from the City Chambers, and the prevailing view on the Monday was that Labour would get together with the Tories to keep the SNP from controlling Edinburgh City Council.

The Greasy Spoonista serving my coffee revealed the momentous tidings.

“Have you not seen the papers?” he said. The news had come through overnight that Labour had announced that it would indeed form a coalition to run Edinburgh, but it would be with the SNP.

Labour in bed with the SNP? How could this be happening? I soon concluded, however, that not only did it make sense, but it was the best possible outcome for Edinburgh’s people and might even be the start of something that could spread from the Capital and transform Scottish politics.

A fortnight ago in this column, I predicted a hung council and wrote: “This will call for grown-up politics of which quite a few of our existing councillors are quite capable. It may be that the SNP and the Greens, or even the SNP and Labour, will have to carve things up, once the people decide. Let them do so in calm and fair fashion, laying out a binding coalition agreement in public. The people of Edinburgh deserve no less.”

I very much doubt if Labour group leader Andrew Burns bothers himself much about anything I write, and I’m pretty sure SNP group leader Steve Cardownie doesn’t either, but I have to say it was pleasing to see both men conduct themselves most admirably in bringing together the coalition while making public what they were agreeing to, as I had hoped.

It was just a common sense suggestion, and if Burns and Cardownie have one thing in common, it’s political sense – they may disagree on a some things, but agree on many more, and ultimately that is why the coalition was formed.

The partnership agreement with the quoted “50 pledges” made by Labour and the SNP was based on the fact that when you looked at their manifestos, there wasn’t actually a lot of difference in the detail.

The actual document is frankly astounding. For the first time that I can recall in Scotland, two different political parties have come together and produced a joint contract with the citizens that elected them.

Sure, individual parties in the past have made promises and even published a record of whether or not they kept them, but I cannot remember two parties getting such crucial words down on paper in such a cooperative way. Furthermore, the agreement shows that there will be regular reviews of their performance and also includes a detailed method for resolving disputes in good faith – something sadly lacking in the last coalition.

Some of the commitments are woolly and aspirational rather than focused and concrete, but many others are most definitely written down as genuine, solid pledges.

They include a living wage for all council employees; keeping Lothian Buses in public hands; completing the trams in line with current plans; setting up a task force to get empty houses into use – vacant property is a serious scandal in this crowded city – and spending five per cent of the transport budget on provision for cyclists.

Opposing industrial biomass plants; establishing a Care Champion to represent carers; working with police on the antisocial behaviour unit to target offenders; maintaining and ENHANCING support for our world-famous festivals and events – these are just a few more of the 50 pledges which will surely please the people of this city.

Above all, the promises made on education are robust and unarguably ideal – holding the maximum primary one class size at 25; rebuilding Portobello High School; drawing up a long-term strategic plan to tackle overcrowding; ensuring the smooth introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence; and establishing city-wide cooperatives for affordable childcare.

These promises are nothing short of brilliant, and I am delighted the two progressive parties on the centre-left of local politics are getting together to deliver them. Sure, the proof will be in the pudding, and I’ll be watching like a hawk to see if these pledges are fulfilled, but it’s a serious start to their joint rule, and one that could have ramifications well beyond Edinburgh and also for the referendum in 2014.

It is an undeniable fact that not every person who voted for the SNP absolutely wants independence, but not every Labour voter opposes it. If Labour and the SNP can work together to improve Edinburgh, perhaps in time they can do so across Scotland.

It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see that the Westminster coalition is going to carry on destroying the very social fabric of Britain, while alienating more Scots by the day.

So whether Scottish voters go for independence – my preference, obviously – or not, it is surely time for Labour and the SNP to resist the common enemy, namely the Tories and their Liberal Democrat toadies in Westminster. Where Edinburgh leads, others should follow.