TODAY is the day that politicians – and political journalists – long for. The day when X finds a politician’s E spot.
Yes, it’s election day, the five-yearly climax of relations between electorate and elected.
Those involved in campaigning will be buzzing. They will have been at polling stations from the early hours, hoping that a lapel rosette will be a handy last-minute reminder for votes. They will have been driving round picking up elderly folk in the generally misguided belief that a transportation favour will translate into a polling preference.
They will be wildly totting up canvas returns and cross-referencing them with voting cards in ever-more complicated computer programmes, all in an attempt to claim a result before a single ballot box has been opened.
And come tomorrow at Meadowbank, the endorphins will flow as numbers are calculated, tension will rise as votes are counted and recounted, until the announcement of just who will be sent to the City Chambers will see them frenzied and probably in need of a cigarette.
But what then? While the campaign and the promises, the glossy leaflets and manifestos and polling day itself are thrilling to the grassroots of political parties, for the rest of us it’s what happens after the election that counts.
Will a victory be a notch on the electoral bedpost for whichever party wins the day or will they be interested in a long-term relationship with voters?
This campaign has seen most of the manifestos promise increased public involvement in council decisions – including setting budgets – so there is hope of change. But there can be no ducking of responsibility or wriggling out of commitments because of coalition or the realisation that being in power is harder than thought.
A few years ago at the Euro elections, Edinburgh community activist and long-term critic of the council, Jan Duffy King, drew up a constituent contract for all party candidates to sign. Among a host of ideas, it included agreeing to put constituents before party, to only promise what could be delivered, to tell their real views even if people disagreed and not to claim one penny in expenses which could not be justified. It’s a kind of utopian ideal but he still believes it’s the least people should expect from their elected representatives.
Unsurprisingly, none of the main parties would sign up. But he had a point – while it’s easy to promise the world to get elected, the harsh realities of political office and coalitions can make strange bedfellows and see pledges discarded quicker than a Lib Dem anti-tuition fees petition.
But this campaign does lead me to believe there is real change afoot and woe betide a politician who attempts to go back on his or her pledges.
There is real non-political activism going on in Edinburgh at the moment. Whether it’s about developments on green space or making roads safer for cyclists, the people, the voters are making their voices heard.
Take the Friends of Craighouse campaign. Rather cleverly, the people behind that have managed to get all candidates in their ward to take an anti-development stance.
Labour’s Andrew Burns and Paul Godzik have said they “are committed to preserving the protected green open space and woodland of Craighouse campus from development”. The Greens’ Melanie Main says: “It is paramount that the principles of protecting green space, put in place for good reason, are upheld”, while Conservative Mark McInnes states: “I am personally committed to protecting the green space and woodland and am not convinced by the need for the proposed new build development.”
Lib Dem Jenny Dawe does not believe “the current proposals for new buildings and roads respect the setting or justify breaching the integrity of an area of great landscape value” and the SNP’s David Key says: “Access to, and retention of, our green spaces are two of my priorities.”
Similarly, all parties are riding the cycling zeitgeist and promising spending on encouraging cycling, increasing safety on roads, offering more training to children... the Pedal on Parliament last weekend attracted 3000 cyclists, that’s a healthy number of voters no politician would want to discount.
Another issue heading right for them is the potential for more development in the green belt. It was an issue which had Labour tied up in knots when RBS wanted to build its new HQ there – and it gave in because it was building on a site where there had been previous development (the hospital) and because it was a single user which would respect the site.
Now RBS has applied for planning permission so housing and new office developments can create an “international business gateway” on protected land around its Gogarburn headquarters. New councillors, and those returning, should expect much protest about this, and if they are true to their new “listening and co-operating” then they will have to pay attention.
For the past five years there has been a feeling, ironically for it being led by Liberals, that the administration has not listened to the people of Edinburgh. Whoever is in power after tomorrow can change that. If they do not, I fear democracy is heading for the divorce courts.