Margo MacDonald: The future lies in shared effort

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IT MIGHT not be fashionable to say so, but I’m heart sorry for the councillors, elected to run Edinburgh following the introduction of proportional representation. There were high hopes of ending ritual disagreement over issues devoid of political consideration.

But there’s a common Caledonian need for a good argument before a decision is reached, and stories abounded about plenty of such from the start.

Sod’s Law kicked in from day one, when the extent of the city’s impoverishment became clear. The latest gossip about gridlock having been reached between the Lib Dems and SNP coalition may be the beginning of the end, but it would be preferable if it isn’t.

If the cost of meeting the shortfall in funding the Commonwealth Pool refurbishment proves to be £252,000 once the interest has been paid on the loan needed to finish the job, does anyone expect there won’t be accusations of incompetence hurled across the City Chambers by whoever was not holding the parcel when the music stopped?

Opposition is a lot easier than administrative responsibility. So, when the coalition is at its weakest, we should be appreciative of Cllr Ricky Henderson’s straightforward comment on the cost overrun on the Commie Pool. Given an open goal, Ricky didn’t take the chance to humiliate the coalition parties. Labour’s finance spokesman said of his opponent’s statement: “This adds just a bit more to that pile of debt the council has accrued and that has to be a concern to us all”.

Contrast that with the Pavlovian behaviour of Labour in the Holyrood debating chamber and TV studios following the Scottish Government’s admission of the need to readjust its growth expectations in line with Chancellor Osbourne’s reduced targets.

But an even wider non-ideological gap opens up between the parties when we examine what, and how, the Labour Party has contributed to the ongoing debate about and campaign against excessive drinking.

The government appears willing to compromise on its minimum price policy, everyone agrees that this should be an area of priority action, so wouldn’t the decent thing be for Labour to voice its reservations as to the effectiveness, and then support the minimum price as a first – perhaps temporary – step.

Labour might also get in step with voters by adopting a more pragmatic position towards the anti-sectarianism Bill being pursued by the luckless Kenny MacAskill. As of now, I can’t see me supporting the Bill, but I’ll give credit where it’s due and applaud the government’s courage in trying to improve fairness and toleration in our society. I think the government is misguided in pursuing the small minds who chant dated insults at similarly cerebral followers in the opposite stand – I would fine clubs with brainless, excessively insulting followers by reducing their league points total.

Life is not a bowl of cherries in the council Chambers. The coalition between the Lib Dems and the SNP was forged out of a common interest in keeping Labour out of power. As that was about the only tie that bound them, Jenny Dawes and Steve Cardownie have always appeared just one disagreement away from separation sine die.

Yet even with the ghosts of the trams that haven’t run haunting the occupants of the council buildings day and night, these two old enemies have worked together on other projects to promote the city.

This is a fascinating time in Scottish politics. Quite legitimately, people are beginning to pick their side in the constitutional referendum to come. A divisive element in political behaviour cannot be avoided.

Even if there’s a cop-out second question on the ballot paper, Alex Salmond’s team must provide the information needed to enable Scots to make an informed choice on Scotland’s future status – a sovereign, independent country, legally equal to any other in the world, or a devolved administration of a once-great country with a status acquired a century ago greater than Britain’s contemporary strength merits or can sustain.

In arguing the case for independence, facts will be learned, and denied, about the opportunities Scotland missed to grow the economy, depriving Scots of a much higher standard of living and quality of life. But I hope the pro-independence campaign will concentrate not on past grievances, but on future possibilities.

By rights, the people opposed to independence should defend the record of how Britain works for Scotland. They should feel duty-bound to spell out why Britain’s permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council is better for Scots than the level of social service provision that could be provided after independence.

But for the 18 months or so of this process, people will be dependent on elected representatives in councils and parliament, the trade unions and business, pulling together to protect Scottish interests against the economic problems that beset them now.

It can be done . . . Edinburgh has shown how.