ONE of Edinburgh’s most controversial and colourful councillors has become the latest to announce he is to quit the City Chambers before next year’s elections.
Deputy Lord Provost Steve Cardownie, who started off on the Labour benches and defected to the SNP before leading the Nationalists into two successive coalitions, will stand down after nearly three decades on the council.
He said: “I’m not making a big thing of it. But I’ll have done 29 years – it’s time for someone else to get a kick of the ball.”
Former Lord Provosts Eric Milligan and Lesley Hinds have already announced they will not seek re-election next May, as has Labour council leader Andrew Burns.
Councillor Cardownie, 63, was born and bred in Leith.
He was first elected as Labour councillor for Forth in 1988. He held a number of positions within the party, including group secretary and whip, and went on to serve as recreation convener, festival and events champion and Deputy Lord Provost.
In October 2005, he resigned from Labour and joined the SNP, complaining Labour had “lurched to the right” under Tony Blair and arguing the city should invest in improvements to bus services rather than reviving trams.
He became the SNP’s only councillor at the time, but his defection deprived Labour of its majority. With 29 Labour and 29 opposition councillors, the ruling party was left dependent on the casting vote of Lord Provost Lesley Hinds to get its way.
He held on to his position as Deputy Lord Provost but had to give up his festival and events champion role – though he picked it up again later.
Cllr Cardownie is proud that he was the only councillor to vote against the tram project when the business case was approved in 2006.
He said: “I put a motion saying we should abandon the project and there was a roll-call vote, so I’m recorded as the only one against it.
“However, we have the trams now and I wish them every success. I hope they go from strength to strength.”
At the next local elections in 2007, the first with multi-member wards and proportional representation, Cllr Cardownie topped the poll under his new colours in Forth ward. The Liberal Democrats emerged as the biggest party and the SNP had just enough seats to form a coalition with them and take power from Labour.
Cllr Cardownie became deputy leader and despite some ups and downs and opposite positions on the trams, the coalition held together for the full five-year term.
The 2012 elections saw the Lib Dems lose most of their seats and Labour returned as the biggest party, with the SNP only two seats behind.
To some surprise, Cllr Cardownie negotiated a new deal between the SNP and Labour, so the party continued in coalition with a different partner.
“I worked hard for that,” he said. “Because no-one stands for election to be in opposition. Some of my colleagues were reluctant to go into coalition the first time because so many of them were new and I had to persuade them.
“The vote was eight-four to go into coalition, but some of those who were against came to me a couple of years later and said it had been the right decision to be in power.”
Cllr Cardownie, however, stood down as SNP group leader in March last year and also relinquished his post as festival and events champion, but became Deputy Lord Provost for the second time soon after.
He has seen a major advance for the SNP in the Capital to parallel its rise nationally.
“We went from having just one councillor to having one elected in every one of the 17 wards,” he said. “I hope I played a part in that.”
But he has never had parliamentary ambitions. “I’ve never sought election to the Scottish Parliament or Westminster because I wanted to concentrate on serving the city.” He said he had not yet decided what he would do after leaving the council, but he added: “I’m still a young man, I still have a lot to do and I think I have a lot to offer.”