capital ‘needs its own boris’

THE trams fiasco may have been averted if Edinburgh had had a directly-elected mayor, it was claimed today.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 2nd September 2011, 3:33 pm

The idea of giving the Capital a political leader on the same kind of model as London’s Boris Johnson has been floated before.

But supporters of the move said the rows over the trams showed just why such a post was needed.

Lothians Conservative MSP David McLetchie said the voting system for councils, which makes it difficult for any one party to achieve a majority, meant there was “no effective leadership” and parties were left manoeuvring for their own short-term interest rather than the long-term interest of the city.

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“The best way would be to have a directly-elected mayor who was accountable to the council but still had executive powers of his own,” he said.

“If you had a mayor and it got to choosing between Haymarket and St Andrew Square, then the mayor would make that choice and that would be it, unless a majority on the council said no.”

Ross Martin, policy director of think tank the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, said: “There are examples from around the world where mayors have shown their mettle either in the face of adversity, as with New York’s Rudy Giuliani after 9/11, or in vision, as with Ken Livingston and the congestion charge in London – a proposal which would be unpopular in the short term, but which has been proved right because it has transformed traffic management.”

Mr Martin said a strong mayor would have handled the tram project better than the council has.

He said: “With a mayor, you set out a programme, you get elected and you deliver it. There is strong democratic accountability and a strong sense of purpose and direction.”

Supporters of elected mayors suggest candidates could include former council leader Donald Anderson, ex-Lord Provost Eric Milligan or, in their younger days, figures like Margo MacDonald or businessman Tom Farmer.

But Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, sounded a cautious note. He said: “In the circumstances in Edinburgh, with a hung council and a coalition, an elected mayor probably would not have made that much difference.

“What we need is more political unity across the parties in the interests of the city.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said it had no plans to introduce directly-elected mayors.

Ian Swanson

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