Edinburgh Council: Labour, Tories and Lib Dems say they're not in a 'red, white, and blue' coalition but I'm not so sure – Eleanor Bird

In my time in council, and as a member of the snappily titled Governance, Risk and Best Value Committee, I had a front row seat for the Tories’ dogged pursuit of more information.

Edinburgh Council is currently run by a Labour minority administration that relies on support from other parties (Picture: Press Association)
Edinburgh Council is currently run by a Labour minority administration that relies on support from other parties (Picture: Press Association)

At any time and on any topic – briefings, meetings, longer appendices – the weightier the better and all in the name of scrutiny and good governance.

Now, I’m all for scrutiny. You could say it’s the meat of the politician’s day, but it seems of late the Tories’ scrutinous tendencies have fallen by the wayside somewhat. Far be it from me to suggest it would have anything to do with the ‘coalition that's not a coalition’ with Labour.

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During a recent debate about funding for community groups, councillors took a decision to hand full responsibility for £10 million over to a panel that included zero representation from minority groups.

Edinburgh’s only ethnic minority councillor, Simita Kumar, described this move as "inadvertently widening inequalities” and, with the backing of her SNP and Green colleagues, proposed a governance review to improve this far from perfect process next time around.

In addition to the panel’s distinct lack of diversity, opposition members also raised concern that five of the 15 panellists represented organisations that had submitted applications for the funding in question, and rightly spoke about the real conflict of interest and risk to good governance this posed.

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The previous council leader, Adam McVey, even labelled this fund – the UK Government’s rushed and ill-conceived replacement for the EU Prosperity Fund – one of the poorest examples of decision-making he had seen in his ten-year stint in council.

Sadly, the unreasoning Labour-led administration rejected what was a well-considered solution and resolutely failed to act in any decisive way to remedy this clear injustice – inaction ably aided by their once unimaginable Tory bedfellows.

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Last month, an SNP motion seeking clarity on advice the council leader received before voting against a five per cent pay increase for staff, in favour of his 3.5 per cent offer that later led to strike action, passed despite the Tory and their Lib Dem ‘coalition’ colleagues voting against it. Clearly, they didn’t feel further information was required on this occasion.

Similarly, the SNP’s Finlay McFarlane requested an urgent briefing on plans for the post-waste strike clean-up, complete with a timeline and progress update, as well as detail on what the predicted resource implications would be for both the current operations and any potential strike action in the future.

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This suggested scrutiny was dismissed out of hand as an unnecessary distraction, however, by those that in the previous term could have taught the Magic Circle a thing or two about misdirection.

This administration’s red, yellow, and blue make-up – or perhaps that should be red, white, and blue – seems to be held together with little else than the Sellotape of self-preservation, and is it any wonder?

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In a backroom deal based on nothing other than a shared view that Scotland’s future will ultimately be decided elsewhere, the opportunity for honest self-reflection must be as threadbare as the constitutional curtains struggling to keep out the light.