CITY council leader Andrew Burns today announced he is to quit politics completely at next year’s local elections.
He said the decision to stand down after nearly 18 years as a councillor was “entirely personal” and nothing to do with the state of the Labour Party.
“I simply want to focus on other interests in the next few years of my life. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Councillor Burns became Labour group leader in 2008 and has headed the city’s Labour-SNP coalition since 2012.
He will stay in office up until the elections next May, but said he had decided to go while he still had ten or 12 years of working life.
He said: “I’ll be 53 in a few months’ time, and would be – if successfully re-elected – over 58 at the end of the next council term in 2022.
“I want to move on and do something else with my life, which has nothing to do with politics whatsoever.”
Several other Labour councillors, including former Lord Provost Eric Milligan, have already announced they will stand down next May.
The Labour group will not elect a new leader to replace Cllr Burns until after the elections.
The party’s recent poor electoral performance nationally and the SNP’s continued popularity has led to speculation that the Nationalists are likely to replace Labour as the biggest party at the City Chambers next May.
But Cllr Burns pointed out: “In the 2011 Holyrood elections, the SNP did better than they did at this year’s Scottish Parliament elections, yet a year later in 2012 Labour won the council elections in Edinburgh.”
He said he had not yet decided what he wanted to do after the council.
But he said: “I’m not someone who has ever envisaged my whole working life being in politics.”
He said he had a “big hinterland” beyond politics, adding that he had worked in the private sector south of the Border for over a decade before moving to Edinburgh in 1993.
“It wasn’t until relatively late, at 35 years of age, that I entered frontline politics.”
Cllr Burns was first elected to the council representing Moat ward in 1999 and then Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart – still including the same area – when the council moved to multi-member wards in 2007. He served as vice-convener of social work. Then, in 2001, he took over from Mark Lazarowicz as transport convener and had responsibility not only for the controversial trams project but also for the ill-fated congestion charge referendum.
After five years in that role, he became education convener in 2006 before Labour lost power the following year.
He was elected Labour group leader after Ewan Aitken stepped down in 2008, serving four years in opposition before Labour emerged as the largest party in the 2012 elections. He then led the group into a coalition with the SNP which has held together despite inevitable tensions.
“We’re still the only Labour-SNP administration in Scotland out of 32 local authorities,” he said. “I’m not saying everything is perfect, but it’s a stable coalition and we’re running the city to the best of our abilities. It’s for others to judge whether we have done that, but that has been my focus as council leader.”
And he said he was proud of what had been achieved in the last four years, including improved exam performances, an increase in cycling, better economic performance, the growth of the festivals, delivery of the Living Wage and settlement of equal pay issues, as well as the web-casting of council meetings.
But he said the best part of the job had been as a ward councillor.
“It has been the political and professional privilege of my life to represent those local Edinburgh residents for nearly two decades now.
“Nothing I’ve done in my life beforehand, and I’m sure nothing that I’ll do with my life in the future, will match the hugely enriching local experiences I’ve had over those two decades. Having discussed it with senior colleagues in the group, my intention is to continue as group and council leader right through to May 2017 and Edinburgh can be assured of my complete, 100 per cent ongoing effort as we approach the local elections next year.”
And Cllr Burns – who was brought up in the west of Scotland – said he would not be leaving the Capital. “I absolutely adore this city,” he said.
“It has its challenges like any city but it is one of the pre-eminent cities in the whole of Europe.
“I love it and I’m sure I will be here for the rest of my life.”