Edinburgh's next Lord Provost, continuing centuries of tradition, should be Robert Aldridge – Susan Dalgety
The list of Edinburgh’s civic heads, inscribed in gold leaf and on display in the City Chambers, is a roll call of the Capital’s leading citizens through the centuries.
Sir Andrew Ramsay, Lord Abbotshall, became the first Lord Provost in 1667 after the position was elevated from a mere Provost.
George Drummond, Scotland’s account-general of excise, or top tax man, wore the ceremonial chains of office six times, from 1725 to 1764. As the driving force behind the New Town, he changed the city beyond recognition.
Jack Kane was the first Labour Lord Provost, appointed in 1972. It was not until 1988, nearly 700 years after William de Dederyk was appointed to run the city, that the first woman, Labour’s Eleanor McLaughlin, took up the post.
And in a few days’ time, on Thursday, we will find out who will be our first citizen for the next five years. The smart money is on Robert Aldridge, the leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, who has been a councillor for nigh on 40 years.
I can’t think of a better candidate. Councillor Aldridge offers an irresistible mix of experience and knowledge. There is nothing he doesn’t know about how local government works. He is also, and this can be quite rare in politics, a really nice human being.
And his professional career in social housing and homelessness suggests, if elected, he will be a Lord Provost for the whole city. The people’s provost, if you will.
The position has more than its fair share of ceremonial duties. The post holder automatically becomes Lord Lieutenant and they will be called upon to host regular civic receptions, honouring a wide range of individuals and groups.
Before Covid struck, the previous incumbent, Frank Ross, celebrated Hibs Ladies team winning the Scottish League and Scottish Women’s Cup and the centenary of Boroughmuir Rugby Club, among many others.
And the Lord Provost represents the council’s interests on the board of the Military Tattoo and the International Festival, two of the world’s most successful cultural events.
But the job is also a very powerful political role because the Lord Provost is convenor of the council. They chair the monthly council meetings where all the major decisions about the city’s future are taken, including the council’s annual budget. Crucially, they have the casting vote if a decision is tied.
It looks increasingly likely that the SNP and the Greens will form a minority administration, but in reality, the opposition parties – Labour, Lib Dems and Tories – hold all the cards. In politics, number are what count, and when they unite, they have a majority of five over the SNP and Greens (34 to 29).
This suggests the next five years will be very interesting, to say the least, as each party will have a strong influence over the council budget and other key decisions.
It should make for better city government, but it will also require steady and calm civic leadership, because it is inevitable that the parties will clash over priorities. Will the SNP’s threat to introduce a workplace parking levy survive, for example?
There is no better person to steer our city through this testing period than Councillor Robert Aldridge. He has got my vote.