Outgoing Lib Dem predicts party voting snub at polls

Stephen Hawkins is standing down from Portobello and Craigmillar
Stephen Hawkins is standing down from Portobello and Craigmillar
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AN outgoing city politician today fired a parting shot at his own Liberal Democrat party, warning support will evaporate on polling day.

Stephen Hawkins, a member of the city council administration, said his party’s association with the Westminster coalition government is likely to result in a voting snub on May 3.

The 59-year-old, who has represented Portobello and Craigmillar since 2007, is standing down from his seat and quitting the party.

He also said the ongoing legal row over Portobello High has been poorly handled by both senior council officials and his own administration.

Councillor Hawkins, a chartered surveyor for a housing association, is standing down because of work commitments but said he has become disillusioned with the party.

He said he primarily stood as a council candidate to represent his community, and questioned the system of primarily being a party candidate first.

The candidate running to succeed him, Martin Veart, an engineer in the oil industry, lives in another constituency, as does city leader Jenny Dawe, who for many years has served Drum Brae/Gyle but is now standing in Marchmont, where she lives.

“I never really understood how people can stand in a constituency they don’t live in,” he said.

Cllr Hawkins is not the only councillor standing down but is the only one quitting the local Liberal Democrat party.

Cllr Hawkins said: “The national changes within the Lib Dems are going to have a major impact on our support next month.

“Many people see these changes as Conservative cuts that could only have been brought through with the support of the Lib Dems.

“This claim ‘we’re all in it together’ doesn’t seem to be bearing out.

“Last time, many people who voted Conservative or Labour then chose the Lib Dems as a second preference because they believe they’re a decent party, allowing the party to come in third or fourth [in the wards].

“People may be so fed up nationally that they won’t even make us their third or fourth preference.”

Cllr Hawkins does not consider the tram project – initiated under Labour and overseen by the Lib Dem/SNP coalition – to be a deciding factor on May 3, but said failures in the decision-making process would be.

He said: “With the school closures, for example, a decision was taken early then other things came out and some councillors reversed their opinion.

“It would be better to get those details worked out at the beginning of the process, instead of pushing them through. Rows with local communities and other parties have arisen because these things are not properly thought through.”

Another example of the same problem, he said, is the new Portobello High.

Portobello Park Action Group (PPAG) lodged a petition with the Court of Session stating the park site cannot be appropriated because it is common good land.

Judge Lady Dorrian upheld the council’s position but PPAG said it intends to appeal.

Cllr Hawkins said: “The council knew there was a risk of legal challenge but ignored it. There was the commitment to replacing the open space and then the council reneged on that.

“The issue has been very badly managed by the council.

“There have been many times when listening to people might have avoided all of this.”

He added: “The last five years have been very worthwhile and I’ve tried to play a very full part in the council’s process.

“It is with regret I’m stepping down, but now I can view the election coming up as an outsider. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.”