Edinburgh Labour leader on ‘most challenging six days’

Labour Leader Cammy Day at the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Labour Leader Cammy Day at the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Georgeson

LABOUR’S Cammy Day says the period following May’s council elections, when he battled to forge a new coalition at the City Chambers, were the “most challenging” six weeks of his life.

The 42-year-old councillor for Forth ward was elected leader of the newly-shrunken Labour group just hours after the results were known and was immediately plunged into the politics of possible deals with other parties.

The SNP was now the biggest party and if there was going to be a new partnership, the most obvious one would be with them - the parties had been in a joint administration for the previous five years after all, albeit with Labour in the senior role.

But some Labour councillors were not keen and local Labour activists were also wary. It did not help that the General Election was on and Labour’s Ian Murray was fighting against the SNP to hold onto his Edinburgh South seat.

Labour’s Scottish executive refused to endorse the coalition deal hammered out at the City Chambers until after the Westminster vote was over.

“Those six weeks were probably the most challenging six weeks of my life,” says Cllr Day, now established as deputy leader of the City’s new SNP-Labour administration.

“We had internal debate, external pressures and it was hard work. It was my job to get on with it and accept that challenge, but some of the external pressures were more than I expected to have to deal with.

“I’m glad we’ve got an agreement and the Labour group can move on.”

Cllr Day was born in Edinburgh’s Eastern General and has lived most of his life in North Edinburgh, apart from five years when his family moved to East Lothian.

“I went to Drylaw Primary School, but that got burned down, so I went across the road to Ferryhill, then I was at Prestonpans Primary for my final year before I went to Preston Lodge High School.”

He enjoyed modern studies and economics, did not like maths and hated cross-country running.

“In third or fourth year, I and three of my friends picked home economics because we thought it was all about making cakes and selling them to your friends at break time. Then the teacher said for the first six weeks of the session we had to do sewing. We were hopeless - we just wanted to make caramel shortbread.”

After school, and back in Edinburgh, he got a job working in HR and pensions.

“I soon got a bit bored and decided I wanted to do something different from 9-5 office work. So I volunteered as a youth worker in the Tuesday Tubes, a youth club in Royston, which is still going to this day.

“After a year or so I got some part-time paid work, then I got more into it and I thought this is probably what I want to be involved in. I felt I was helping people rather than just being an office worker.”

He became a full-time worker with the Muirhouse Youth Development Group, on a project with young people who were not coping in mainstream education.

For more than a decade he was involved in youth and community work.

“The last job before I came into politics was in the Pilton Partnership, which then became the North Edinburgh Trust, I was youth participation coordinator for North Edinburgh - that was probably my favourite job.”

He had been active in Unison since he was 18 and it was through the union he got involved in the Labour Party, getting to know former Lord Provost Lesley Hinds and helping at her surgeries.

He first stood for the council in Craigleith ward in 2003, then Drum Brae in 2007 and had expected to try again there in 2012.

But when long-serving Labour councillor Elizabeth Maginnis died suddenly in 2008, he was selected to fight the by-election and won.

He became Labour’s housing spokesman and when the party returned to power in coalition with the SNP in 2012 he led on housing and community safety for four years - and also youth participation - and then took on the education portfolio for nine months before the election.

Cllr Day has also stood for Westminster twice in the past. He says the 11.4 per cent swing to Labour he achieved in Edinburgh West in 2010 was the biggest in the UK at that election. That encouraged Tony Blair to donate £1000 to his campaign when he fought the same seat in 2015, but in vain.

He does not rule out another bid to become an MP - and said: “If there’s a chance for me to stand for a seat that’s going to get a Labour gain for us then I’m not saying I’m not going to stand for it.

“I’m not closing that door but I want to concentrate on the job I’ve got here.”