The city council’s Capital Coalition has survived into 2019, despite forecasts from some political commentators that its days were numbered from the outset. The deal between the SNP and Labour Groups to form an administration has held firm although it has not always been plain sailing.
It is entirely understandable that the two groups would have their differences and that compromises would have to be made along the way – but given that this administration does not command a majority of councillors, it is still no mean achievement and it can look forward to taking on the challenges that this new year will bring.
Having suffered several setbacks initially, the Coalition should put this experience to good use and ensure that steps are taken to avoid a repetition of past miscalculations which have fostered criticism of some of its policies.
The reversal of the plan to close the music school at Broughton High in the face of a well orchestrated campaign (pun intended) was predictable and should never have been flagged up as a possible budget saving in the first place. The abandonment of the plan to “rationalise” the school sector in North West Edinburgh was also predictable as potential school closures is possibly the most contentious subject there is in the eyes of the public. Unless parents and guardians are completely sold on the idea, it is almost always doomed to fail.
Bin collection difficulties and the introduction of the “garden tax” have also added to its woes and will have to be resolved PDQ if the coalition is not to suffer lasting damage. However these and the other more strategic obstacles can be overcome and the coalition can look ahead with some confidence if, and it is a big if, there is the political will to carry on.
It is no secret that the Labour Group has not entirely embraced the concept of the coalition, with at least two of its members frequently featuring in the letters page of this newspaper, bemoaning the fact that they believe that their Group should not be seen as a vehicle for promoting cuts to services, a view which is shared by some local Labour activists. Although the coalition deal was endorsed at a national level, that will not deter those who want to see its demise.
The setting of this year’s budget may well provide them with another opportunity and the two group leaders will have to demonstrate their resolve to continue in partnership through what will undoubtedly prove to be a particularly difficult period.
Apart from the budget, the next big issue that will confront the administration is the question of the proposed tram extension to Newhaven. If the city leader’s comments are anything to go by, it looks like it is a done deal.
In Monday’s paper, Adam McVey wrote: “In just a few months the council will make a final decision on tram extension. Since 2015 the council has been cautiously and robustly developing the case for extending the tram to Newhaven. The result has been a business case that is strong” and, more tellingly, “this decision is a chance for us to decide what kind of Edinburgh we want to live in. One which looks to solve our problems and look to the future, or one which cowers before our challenges.” No need to read between the lines (pun) there then, his colours have been well and truly nailed to the mast!
It is a safe bet then that the city council will give the tram extension the green light and, although the Conservative Group will strive to use its opposition as a platform for its next election campaign, there is no indication that the proposal will not receive the majority of votes at the full council meeting.
Councillor McVey also highlighted the rolling out of the City Deal projects and the administration’s determination to tackle the city’s housing crisis. He stated: “Our programme to build 20,000 affordable homes will also ramp up this year and the number of homes being completed and occupied will soar to near-record levels.” So 2019 will not be without its challenges and there will undoubtedly be more unforeseen obstacles to overcome along the way but, although not entirely in rude health, the coalition looks ready to pick up the gauntlet and prepare for yet another year in power, political machinations notwithstanding!
Objectors subject of war stories
In a previous column I expressed my support for the plan to erect a memorial in West Princes Street Gardens to conscientious objectors.
This will take the form of a two metre high bronze handkerchief tree, alongside which will be a three metre curved granite gabion seat. In the column I wrote that the Military Service Act of 1916 introduced compulsory conscription in Great Britain for the first time in modern history and, although not specifically mentioned in The Act, the Government recognised those whose “objection genuinely rests on religious or moral grounds”.
Despite this only a small number were exempted from service, with most obliged to serve in non-combatant roles. It is good news therefore that a new exhibition is to be held at Edinburgh Castle honouring the Scots who became conscientious objectors in the Second World War. Opening on March 8, the exhibition will run for ten months and will tell of the personal experiences of those who objected and the procedures that they were subjected to.
There will be extracts of personal letters and photographs detailing how the objectors played their part in the war and given that this particular group have been unjustifiably maligned over the years, it should go some way to setting the record straight.
It’s time to let a moose loose about the bells
After discussing the Beeb’s woeful Hogmanay offering, and the lamentable attempt by Gregor Fisher to re-enact Rikki Fulton’s Reverend I M Jolly, the pub conversation turned to what kind of music should be on offer when bringing in the bells.
Offerings ranged from Tamla Motown, soul, folk, pop rock, traditional and other genres but there was a universal disapproval of rap music until I ventured a compromise. What about a fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and rap with a Scottish blend thrown in?
After the howls of derision, I suggested that Hoots Mon by Lord Rockingham’s XI would be ideal.
Not only does it combine rock ‘n’ roll with a tinge of Scottish culture it also covers rap with the vocal line of “Hoots mon. There’s a moose, loose, aboot this hoose.”
Give it a listen – it’s the first hit rap song! Eat your heart out Snoop Dogg – even you couldn’t have come up with such poetic lyrics.
New Year, new me?
My wife still hasn’t told me what my New Year resolutions are yet!