How rainbow coalition exposed Edinburgh council’s ineptitude – Iain Whyte

Councillors from a variety of different political perspectives and interests inflicted crushing defeats on the SNP-led administration, says Iain Whyte.

Monday, 8th July 2019, 6:00 am
The council chamber was a scene of high drama as the SNP-led coalition was defeated five times. Picture: Alistair Liniford

Well, the last council meeting before the summer recess turned out to be a bit of a doozy.

In a long meeting, covering a broad range of issues, an increasingly uncomfortable looking SNP-led coalition were defeated on no less than five times.

This was unusual because the votes to defeat them came from Conservatives, Greens, Lib Dems and even Independent councillors – people of many different political perspectives and interests.

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Cllr Iain Whyte is leader of the Conservative group at Edinburgh City Council

The issues were just as diverse. Two defeats were on performance reports. One was on my motion calling for more transparency on budget cuts. One was on a vote to take Committee Conveners off the scrutiny committee. But the fifth was the strangest of all when it related to a factual point about EU law not applying after Brexit.

We Conservatives were happy to be involved in leading on much of this, but it is no cause for triumphalism. Indeed, the work done to bring together this strange set of political bedfellows might be a one-off. What it highlights beyond doubt is the ineptitude of our SNP leaders and the weakness of their Labour partners to argue for better.

The core of what brought the opposition together was the reports on performance. A Conservative colleague was able to helpfully dissect the first of these, the Annual Performance Report, as reading like a private company sales prospectus of the type that was so obviously exaggerated the fund managers would be running for the hills rather than investing in the stock.

And the “politically inspired” report on the Coalition Commitments was clearly a work of fiction when the ratings of “on track” for delivery were regularly shown to be untrue compared with any judgement you could make based on the evidence in the report itself and around us in the city.

Many of the 52 commitments are vague or meaningless political statements so it is a work of some genius to write a report that had faults in its description of progress of 22 of them. The best line of all remains that the tram project was on track to deliver by 2022 when the report itself admits it won’t be open until 2023.

The geeky issue of governance produced the biggest laugh of the day in the Chamber The council leader, not having a legitimate reason why an SNP convener should scrutinise herself, had to resort to suggesting everyone else “was scared of her”.

Finally, on the budget it can only be right that if we ask our schools to make a 1.5 per cent cut that councillors, and more importantly parents, should be told where the axe falls. And we certainly shouldn’t wait until half the money has been spent six months into the financial year because that means a three per cent cut for the remaining months.

All of this made for good, knockabout fun for us in the City Chambers but there are several serious points here. The performance of our council services must get better and be reported with some candour. Political pledges should be meaningful and measurable so that the public know whether they have been delivered. Those ruling the council can’t scrutinise themselves. And budgeting must be transparent and capable of implementation.

All points we Conservatives will keep working on. Whether the opposition combines again is yet to be decided but at least we now know that the SNP can’t hide thinking it is impossible.

Cllr Iain Whyte is leader of the Conservative group at Edinburgh City Council