Edinburgh Council’s leadership is not a political plaything – John McLellan

It will be tempting for the SNP to characterise the confusion about the city council’s leadership arrangements over the six weeks of Cllr Adam McVey’s adoption leave as some sort of snide commentary on either the ability of Cllr Ellie Bird to deputise or even adoption leave rights themselves. Tempting, but entirely wrong.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 6:00 am
Cammy Day is Adam McVeys deputy, but he is not being left in sole charge for the next six weeks. Picture: Greg Macvean

When the plan for Cllr Bird’s temporary promotion to joint-leader is debated at today’s full council, at issue is not the circumstances or any individual’s background, but what looks like a hidden agenda in which civic leadership is being treated as a political plaything and the public taken for fools.

There is, after all, a deputy leader of the administration and a deputy leader of the SNP group and were this a private sector organisation, the deputy would just step up at no cost to the organisation and there would be no tinkering with anyone else’s responsibilities. The only justification for a temporary joint-leadership is, according to a council report, “to ensure a joined-up approach to the leadership of the council”, but why the administration’s deputy leader, Labour chief Cammy Day and SNP group deputy boss Lesley Macinnes can’t keep “joined-up” for six weeks has not been explained. And lest anyone forget, there is an SNP Lord Provost.

Admittedly, Transport & Environment convener Cllr Macinnes is under huge pressure to deliver most of the coalition’s pet projects: keeping the tram budget under £250m, City Centre Transformation, low-emission zones, controlled parking area extensions and car-free Sundays. She is also now at the centre of Lothian Buses’ industrial relations problems, exacerbated by the £20m tram dividend demand. And that’s on top of the bread-and-butter of making sure the bins are emptied on time, the roads are repaired and the drains are clear.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But Cllr Day? As far as formal meetings are concerned in the next six weeks, there is only one full council meeting and one session of the newly-renamed Policy & Sustainability Committee which Cllr McVey convenes, both of which Cllr Day is more than capable of handling. At the former, the main job is to answer questions about the leader’s report which will just be a holding operation, while the latter’s agenda is nowhere near as heavy as Transport & Environment.

So what’s this all about? Does the SNP group have so little faith in its Labour partner that it can’t countenance leaving Cllr Day as sole stand-in leader for only six weeks? Does the SNP group think an experienced committee convener and councillor for over 11 years needs chaperoned by a Nationalist minder? Can’t they stomach a Unionist in charge, even so briefly the pubic won’t notice? Is it in case an election is called?

Cllr Day is already doing the SNP’s bidding, which has the benefit of being in line with Labour’s London leadership now its opposition to a second Scottish independence referendum and been ripped up. As a precursor to a deal with the SNP to form an anti-Conservative alliance, at least Cllr Day can claim he got there first.

Not that Cllr Day will complain publicly about what looks very like a slight, given what he tolerates to keep the coalition jalopy on the road: serenely ignoring goads from his own side, particularly from Cllrs Scott Arthur and Gordon Munro but also entire constituency associations, to break up the coalition. For the sake of good relations he extricated Cllr Lezley Cameron from the housing and economy committee where her relationship with the SNP convener Kate Campbell was like the Gallagher brothers doing local politics.

It won’t make any difference to the Conservative group, but by all accounts it’s causing mayhem within the administration. To what end? Maybe Cllr McVey will explain today why Cllr Day can’t be left to mind the shop. After all, it was good enough for David Cameron and Nick Clegg.