As Scotland's Capital, Edinburgh should have a directly elected Lord Provost – Susan Dalgety

I am sure Adam McVey is a very nice chap. When he became Edinburgh’s council leader five years ago, aged only 30, he said his appointment as the city’s youngest ever council leader made a statement about what kind of city we are.

Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey does not have the same profile as directly elected mayors of Manchester and London (PIcture: Ian Georgeson)
Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey does not have the same profile as directly elected mayors of Manchester and London (PIcture: Ian Georgeson)

“We’re not old stuffy Edinburgh, we’re a young city… a lot of young people who are going out, having a great time and making our city the vibrant place that it is,” he said as he started his new job as city chief.

That vibrancy has been on a low peep for the last two years, largely because of the pandemic, but as we emerge from the Covid restrictions perhaps it’s time to consider how best cities like Edinburgh should be run.

McVey leads an SNP-Labour coalition, and while he has not presided over too many disasters – though Spaces for People does seem to be a particularly badly thought-through initiative – he hasn’t made much of an impact.

I doubt if many people would recognise him if they bumped into him on George Street, and I bet the First Minister does not rush to answer his calls.

Scotland’s capital city needs more than an inoffensive young man in charge. It needs, as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued last week, a directly elected mayor – or Lord Provost – to stand up for the city.

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“Direct elections for provosts would rekindle our streets and the communities where we live,” he argued, adding “it’s time to give our great Scottish cities and regions the power and control they need…”

And it seems the people agree. A survey carried out by Brown’s think tank, Our Scottish Future, shows that 45 per cent of Scots would like to choose their local leader, with only 21 per cent against the idea.

Elected mayors seem to be working in England. Andy Burnham, former Health Secretary, now the Mayor of Greater Manchester, left the ancient halls of Westminster for an office in Manchester city centre, where he has gained a reputation as a no-nonsense man of the people.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is never off the front pages, and has made affordable housing, safer streets and cheap public transport his key policies. And ex-soap star Tracy Brabin was elected Mayor of West Yorkshire, which boast two great cities – Leeds and Bradford – only last year.

Imagine an Edinburgh leader with the same power as their London or Manchester counterpart. One who could challenge the Scottish government over budget cuts, certain they had the backing of the people who had elected them. A leader who was directly accountable to the people, not at the mercy of party cabals.

It’s nearly 30 years since Scottish local government was reorganised into 32 councils, and more than 20 since the Scottish Parliament was established.

Councils, even one as potentially powerful as Edinburgh, have seen their influence wane as the Scottish government has adopted an increasingly centralising approach. Adam McVey does not negotiate with Nicola Sturgeon, he has no choice but to do what he is told.

Devolution worked for Scotland. Now it’s time for devolution for our cities – and the first step towards a more democratic nation would be a directly elected leader for our Capital city.

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