In a couple of weeks’ time I will be marking 20 years of service as a councillor. I was elected in the last diet of elections to the old Lothian Regional Council. That Regional Chamber was totally dominated by Labour, due in part to the shape of Scottish politics at the time but also in large part due to the electoral system of the times.
There would have been a reasonable expectation that this domination would have been a permanent state of affairs but how things have changed since then. The two tier local government system was quickly replaced by a unitary authority. Five years later the Scottish Parliament was established with the old Regional Chamber used as committee rooms by the fledgling parliament. The dominance of Labour has been challenged and indeed Labour has been supplanted by the SNP as Scotland’s biggest party. Who would ever have predicted that 20 years ago?
In 1994, the talk of the steamie was whether we needed an Opera House and a light rail type of transport system. The former was delivered somewhat faster in the shape of the Festival Theatre. The latter has taken a lot longer than any of us imagined.
I have also been very lucky to serve with so many great men and women from all parties over those years and to work with many gifted officers. My group leader, and fellow Corstorphine councillor, at that time was the late, great Donald Gorrie, pictured, who after a hugely distinguished career in local government went on to shine at Holyrood.
For me the highlights have been the setting up of the Friends of Corstorphine Hill, one of the largest and most constructive conservation groups in the city, and my five years as chair of housing and social care. In this role I have been able to contribute to a department where we were able to radically reform services, getting measurably better outcomes for frail and vulnerable people.
It has been a rare privilege to serve the community I grew up in for so long and to try to make a difference. Very few people ever get that opportunity and I am forever grateful to the residents of Corstorphine and Murrayfield for that chance. And I am still waiting for a ride on a tram!
A win and a prayer
We are heading to the end of a rotten football season for Edinburgh fans. Hearts’ fate was sealed before a ball was kicked and Hibs seem to be doing our best to join them in the second tier.
Edinburgh needs both teams in the top flight and relegation for both means it will take longer to have both back up.
Maybe we should take a leaf out of Pope Francis’ book. Since his elevation to the papacy his favoured team, Buenos Aries’ San Lorenzo, instantly started winning and romped home with the Argentinean championship.
Clearly in sporting terms the new pontiff has God on his side. When it comes to transfers Mr Petrie – maybe it’s time you invested in a plane ticket to Rome!
More councillors not only solution
The week before I was first elected in 1994 the first free elections took place in South Africa. At that time people were queuing for several days to have, for the first time, a say in the running of their country, in their future. It was a truly inspiring sight.
Twenty years on and we have unfolding another miracle of democracy – the largest general election in history is currently under way in India.
The scale of this election is extraordinary. At the time of writing, 100 million people are expected to cast their ballots. The election is clearly an extraordinary feat of organisation. The sizes of constituencies for the Lok Sabha, the Federal parliament, are enormous, coming in usually at over one million.
This throws up an interesting parallel with Edinburgh where we are looking at expanding the numbers of councillors because our wards are considered too big at 17-21,000 constituents.
While open to persuasion I am still unconvinced that representing one or two thousand people fewer will drastically cut any councillor’s workload. If we are indeed so over stretched then there are many other ways to address this problem rather than just increasing our numbers.
BBC cast out of Welsh Who’s Who
I was delighted to see that BBC Wales is to mark the 60th anniversary of the first performance of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood with a new production of this marvellous radio play.
The cast list reads like a Who’s Who of the Welsh theatre: as well as seasoned thesps such as Michael Sheen, Ioan Gruffed, and, seemingly, every variety of Rhys in Equity from Matthew to Gryff Rhys Jones, the producers have also roped in Sir Tom Jones, Katherine Jenkins and Charlotte Church.
Dunno what their acting will be like but the after-show sing-song must have been a blast!
I hope EU climbs down on tax issue
Hats off to Lib Dem MEP George Lyons for his campaign to persuade the EU to axe the VAT on Mountain Rescue teams.
These teams are funded by donations and staffed by volunteers and in 2011 alone responded to 573 incidents. Many Edinburgh residents enjoy bagging Munros and welcome the reassurance that Mountain Rescue is there if they find themselves in difficulty.
Day in, day out, these top-class climbers put their own lives at risk to save others. Axing the VAT on them would make a huge difference to their teams. I do hope the EU listens to George and to Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland who are also battling for this change.