Edinburgh’s council leader has form for dismissing people who complain about basic services, writes Iain Whyte
To be a successful politician, you must never insult the voters. Last week, as a result of his own column in this newspaper, council leader Adam McVey managed just that.
He described some members of the public who criticised him over failures in basic services as “anonymous Twitter trolls”, equating them directly to abusive individuals online.
When it comes to contempt for the public Adam has previous. In line with the SNP mantra of “no bad news unless it is blamed on Westminster”, he once told the council he didn’t want to “publish information that might make us look bad”. This was at the height of the bin crisis when he insisted missed bin complaints were only “service requests”.
As far as I can see, the people Cllr McVey compared to “trolls” are concerned citizens who want to make their local environment better. They want the council to do its job properly and they report things that aren’t right. If it’s on Twitter, there is usually photographic evidence. Indeed, I often do this myself as I find it is quicker and easier to let the council’s excellent team who run @edinhelp know straight away about things I see that need sorted.
Does reporting an overflowing bin make you a troll? Is concern about a lack of parking enforcement or a failure to mark roads properly a sign that you are anti-social? Does publishing a picture of our proliferating street weeds or poor pavement surfaces equate to abusing people online?
The answer is no. These reports should be useful information to the council and what we need is an even more responsive system so that it isn’t just logged efficiently, it gets results. By insulting those who tweet such views you insult everyone with a similar concern.
What the council leader seemed to be really annoyed about was that the criticism came in response to him proclaiming “good news” – money to change and pedestrianise George Street.
What he didn’t bargain on is that the majority want the basics sorted first and believe any extra funding should be spent to achieve this.
Even if you support the changes to George Street, I would suggest his news came at just the wrong time. Many of his critics see his pedestrianisation as a means to increase the use of this public space for private events. Not a good thing to announce in August at the height of a debate about “over-tourism”.
Meanwhile this week has seen businesses criticising the latest festival road closures in the Old Town and Princes Street once again being “curtained” so the Gardens can be used to generate income for the council.
I follow a number of the Twitter accounts that report issues to the council. These people support many political views and include SNP supporters. What unites them is frustration with shoddy council services and their concern about their neighbourhood and community. I want to harness that concern from everyone so that we can report things and make Edinburgh better. I’m happy to join in through @Cllr Whyte regardless of party politics. In contrast to that community spirit, what we have seen for a while now in the City Chambers has become very public.
The council leader and his administration don’t care about the views of the voters they are meant to serve. It is a shame and a disgrace that those in power should show their contempt in this way.
Iain Whyte is the Conservative group leader on Edinburgh City Council