Marriage of convenience: Labour and SNP ready to work together

AS David Cameron and Nick Clegg were renewing their vows this week, two councillors in Edinburgh were getting into bed for the first time.

Thursday, 10th May 2012, 1:02 pm

And on the face of it Steve Cardownie and Andrew Burns make just as uncomfortable bedfellows.

The former is a communist-turned-socialist-turned-Nationalist who met his fourth wife on a business trip to Ukraine, while the latter is a one-time lecturer in political science with a keen interest in constitutional reform.

But the nature of the electoral system is such that the pair have found themselves forced into an unlikely alliance.

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And then there’s the issue of Councillor Cardownie’s defection from Labour to the SNP in 2005.

An elephant in the room at the best of times, the move has left him less than popular with the Labour old guard in particular.

“There will be some people perhaps in Andrew’s group that maybe resent the fact they’re now having to work with me,” admits Cardownie, sitting in a leather wingback chair in the wood-panelled leader’s office at the City Chambers.

“There might be, I don’t know, but I’m sure they’re adult enough and mature enough to put that behind them and understand this is the best for the city,” adds the 58-year-old former union official and arch-political survivor, dressed in the chalk pinstipe suit of a QC.

Cardownie is no stranger to the hard knocks of political life, and perhaps ominously, as they pose for pictures, he regales his new partner with an anecdote from the expletive-ridden political satire The Thick Of It and offers to lend him the box set.

The comedy follows spin doctors attempting to deal with the fallout from the actions of inept politicians.

Burns adds: “Our colleagues take a lead to a great extent from their leaders and myself and Steve have a good personal relationship – we always have.

“I’m entirely confident this partnership is going to last right through to the first Thursday in May 2017 – we have got an exciting programme we are going to deliver for the capital city of Scotland.”

After five years in opposition the 48-year-old father-of-one is desperate to get started with his project of reform, opening up the way decisions are made to the public.

Burns is a keen advocate of consensus politics – even if the old guard in his party are not – and initially wanted a grand coalition to involve all parties in a “big tent” model of governance.

But the four rival parties rejected the bid, forcing him to work to the reality that his party would have to ally with a single rival to run the city for the next five years.

“It was quite evident from the start of the campaign there was going to be a relatively tight split between the different parties”, says Burns, sitting a few metres away from Cardownie and dressed in the traditional New Labour blue shirt, red tie and navy suit.

“Maybe it’s surprising [allying with SNP] in the sense that it’s not that common to see the two parties come together, but if you take away the national question and look at our two manifestos there’s an awful lot of commonality and I’m delighted with the final arrangement we’ve come up with.”

Labour won 20 of the seats and the SNP 18 of a possible 58, giving the new administration the strongest majority in a decade.

“We’ve got between us an administration of 38, the first time in over a decade there’s been such a sizable majority and it allows ourselves and the local SNP to drive the agenda forward, with confidence, and that’s exactly what Edinburgh needs,” he added.

Strong decisive leadership has been absent from the council in recent years, critics claim, with the last administration tied with the opposition and relying on the casting vote of Lord Provost George Grubb.

Critics also claim council officials were directing policy as a result, a claim which the SNP and Lib Dems have rejected.

When Cardownie is asked about the weak administration, Burns interrupts: “I’m not sure that’s a necessarily fair criticism.” When told it came from those in his own party, he adds: “Well I know that, but I’m really, really keen not to look back.

“It’s my intention as council leader, supported by Steve as deputy, to be as inclusive as we can, looking to the future for the next five years and not harking back.”

For arch rivals – who have spent the last fives years heaping criticism on each other – their manifestos are remarkably similar. In fact, a 93 per cent match, Cardownie chips in.

But both parties still explored joining with the Tories, with the SNP contacting leader Jeremy Balfour hours after the election results came in on Friday and attempting to keep Labour out of power.

“If you’re involved in politics at all you have to do what you can to get your manifesto through” says Cardownie.

“We didn’t go chapping on doors asking people to vote for us because they wanted us to form the opposition.”

Now personalities have been put aside, Burns and Cardownie say they are firmly focused on the future, placing great emphasis on creating new private sector jobs and attracting foreign investors to Edinburgh.

Asked if they are expecting a bumpy road ahead, Burns says his strong, experienced team of councillors are realistic, but ready.

“We have got the talent and the understanding to cope with things when they go wrong, because things will go not exactly as we wanted to on occasion, but we’ll be able to cope with that.”

Cardownie and Burns will hope they won’t be sharing the rocky ride the Westminster Tory-Lib Dem coalition has had in recent years and that they won’t have to renew – or regret – their vows too soon.


MOVING towards a “co-operative council model” is top of the agenda for Labour andthe idea has already found support from the SNP. Dubbed the “John Lewis council”, the move would see voluntary organisations and local groups given responsibility for handling services.

Community-run childcare is among the examples used and in Lambeth, London – often cited as a template for other councils – plans include community-run libraries.

The coalition insists it is far from empty rhetoric and will transform the way the public interacts with local services.

Councillor Steve Cardownie said: “There’s this whole concept that local authorities are far removed from local people – we have to put in structures where we engage local people effectively.”

Introducing schemes to allow residential blocks to have solar panels fitted – allowing them to make money from the Government’s Feed-In Tariff scheme – are also expected to be high on the agenda.

37 years of council experience

VETERAN politician Steve Cardownie has been an elected councillor since 1988 and has held many of the city’s key posts over the years.

A former union official with the Scottish Office, the 58-year-old is married to Nataliya and lives in the Broughton area of the New Town with their seven-year-old son.

He was educated at Leith Academy and Telford College and has served as an employment tribunal panel member for 30 years.

Originally a member of the Labour group, he defected to the SNP in October 2005, citing the trams and school closures along with the political direction of the party nationally as his reasons.

For the past decade he has served as the city’s festivals and events champion, playing a key role in the Tattoo and attracting new operators to the city.

Labour leader Andrew Burns has been a councillor since 1999 and previously served as a part-time lecturer in politics at Edinburgh University.

The 48-year-old is married with a 14-year-old child and lives in the Harrison Park area of Edinburgh.

He gained his first degree from the University of Ulster in 1984 and later became a graduate and full member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

He went on to work as a personnel development manager in both the manufacturing and service sectors, including for Michelin tyres.

In June 2001 he took over the transport portfolio, which he held for five years before moving to education.

He is a strong proponent of consensus politics and has called for greater co-operation between parties.

Cllr Burns is also a keen outdoor pursuits enthusiast.