Edinburgh needs a by-election like a hole in the head, but that’s what we’ve got following the resignation of Leith Walk Labour councillor Marion Donaldson. What a sorry loss she is to the Labour group and to city affairs.
Spotted and recruited to the party by Malcolm Chisholm, Marion brought more real-world experience to the City Chambers. In her early months as a councillor, she demonstrated real energy and drive. Retailers on Easter Road would regularly tell me how impressed they were when she just turned up to ask how things were and if there was anything she could do to help. Goodwill goes a long way and she built up plenty of it.
Her resignation is a personal and a political one, but it’s also a reminder of how lonely and isolating politics can be. Those with responsibility carry a heavy burden and every decision you take has winners and losers. Baggage builds up quickly and receiving a thank you is a rarity. I learnt early on that the only judge of whether you were doing a good or a bad job that really mattered was yourself.
Marion’s departure delivers a by-election in a ward that has been expecting one since the SNP kicked out the wayward Lewis Ritchie. He has insisted on staying on to serve out his term as an independent, a responsibility he insists on doing dutifully but appears to be far more focused on making his new Easter Road eatery a success. A quick scan of his social media accounts shows him tweeting the council to complain about his bins. Whilst he might share that concern with thousands of city residents, it does also demonstrate how far he has fallen from his ability to influence the SNP administration.
Now that one Leith Walk councillor has resigned, the pressure in him to go too is building and must surely be unbearable.
Should he refuse to go and there’s just one seat vacant, then the contest is going to be fascinating and it’s all for the SNP to lose, given the results last time around. If the main political issue of the day was austerity and budget cuts, and by God, it should be, they’d be in trouble. Last week the SNP Government in Edinburgh were set to pass on £41 million worth of cuts to the chambers.
After striking a deal with the Greens, we’ll see a 25 per cent discount on the misery ahead. But miserable it will be. Community groups are no longer shaving the edges off spending; they are closing the front doors and serving the jannie a redundancy notice.
As I warned last week, this is desperately foolhardy. Organisations that keep people safe and well in their own communities like the Pilton Community Health Project could go, leaving the people they work with in the council’s homeless queue and the beds of emergency services. What they’ll save this year is a fraction of what they’ll spend next year and the year after piecing lives back together again.
A by-election in the midst of Brexit, could see a focus on the constitution over cuts. Statistics from the National Records of Scotland suggest that Leith Walk could have the highest proportion of EU nationals in the country – at local elections, they have a vote and could send a strong message in casting it.
The Green campaign will be interesting to watch. They are well organised in Leith and Susan Rae has impressed with her grassroots work. A lot of that will be undone now that her Green MSP colleagues have signed off on the axe that will slice through so much of the good work.
The Leith Walk by-election is one no political party wanted, but they will all be desperately keen to define it on their own terms. Meanwhile, Lewis Ritchie sits with his head down sipping a flat white hoping no one notices that it should have been him being replaced.
ScotRail try the patience of travellers again
Scotland got their Six Nations Championship off to a great start in Murrayfield on Saturday, romping home to victory against Italy in a convincing 33-20 win.
The popularity of the Six Nations continues to grow, and it’s always great to see Murrayfield at capacity, filled with thousands of Scotland fans who were fortunate enough to get tickets and brave enough to wrap up and spend a few hours cheering on Greig Laidlaw and the excellent hat-trick from Blair Kinghorn.
Recent figures indicate that 40 per cent of people are now Six Nations fans, which is providing a real economic boost for Edinburgh, with many of those who couldn’t get tickets for the stadium, filtering into many of the great venues across the city to watch the match on big screens.
Big sporting events like the World Cup always drive up sales across Edinburgh’s watering holes and the Six Nations is providing another welcome rise following the post-festive slump, which can only be a good thing for the industry when Scotland is losing, on average, one pub a week at present.
The downside of this though, as a brief scroll through Twitter will testify, is using ScotRail to get in or out of the city before or after the match.
It can’t come as a surprise to ScotRail that Six Nations weekends are going to be busy and they need to get better at managing this. On Saturday, there were reports of just two carriages to Edinburgh on some services from Fife and to Glasgow, resulting in overcrowding on the trains and long waits on the platform for many.
Whilst Scotland hosts world-class sport, ScotRail only provides cattle class transport. It’s simply not good enough.
Year of the Pig looks set to bring home the bacon for city tourism sector
Today is Chinese New Year, which marks the beginning of the Year of the Pig in the Chinese zodiac. Each of the positions on the Chinese calendar offer a different prediction for the coming year, or for those born during it, and the pig represents fortune and luck!
Many business and attractions across Edinburgh will certainly be looking for a cut of the fortune and a fair share of the luck as they gear up to support Edinburgh’s first Chinese New Year Festival, that runs from today until 17 February.
The festival will see many of the city’s favourite attractions lit up in red, putting on special events and unveiling new Mandarin language guides and menus.
Edinburgh is already the most popular UK destination for Chinese visitors after London and organisations like the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, are working closely with the tourism sector to ensure that Edinburgh is positioned as one of the UK’s top China-friendly destinations.
Their figures show that Edinburgh Castle alone welcomed more than 150,000 Chinese nationals through its gates in 2015, and every year around 3,500 students come to Edinburgh’s universities from China. Edinburgh attracts Chinese tourists year round who see the city as welcoming, our food and drink as high quality, and our history fascinating.
The Edinburgh to Beijing air link that was launched last year brings our two countries even closer together and building on this emerging market by increasing the number of visitors to Edinburgh is something well worth celebrating.