A FORMER SNP rebel has taken over the leadership of the Capital’s Nationalist group from long-serving councillor Steve Cardownie.
Sandy Howat, who once challenged SNP icon Winnie Ewing for the party presidency in a protest against “romantic” nationalism, was elected leader of the 18-strong group – which is in coalition with Labour at City Chambers – after Cllr Cardownie stood down last night.
Cllr Howat made an unsuccessful bid for the leadership two years ago, when he complained the SNP had not done well enough in the coalition deal and was seen as propping up Labour rather than being in an equal partnership.
It had been expected Cllr Cardownie, who was also the deputy council leader, would be succeeded by Gavin Barrie in a “job swap” which would see Cllr Cardownie become convener of the council’s regulatory committee. But Cllr Howat also threw his hat in the ring, and after the two men had each made presentations, the job was handed to Cllr Howat.
He told the Evening News he was delighted to assume leadership of the group, which he said needed “a bit of fresh air”.
He said: “Our priority will be to engage with the populace, harvest their energy and start driving forward those things that the city needs. The main message is that the coalition continues and that it is very much a partnership. Another priority will be getting our finances in order.”
It had been my intention for some time to relinquish the position as leader, but I wanted to ensure the coalition got to the other side of the referendum intact.”Steve Cardownie
He paid tribute to his predecessor’s work as leader.
“Steve will still have a large role to play in the group,” he said. “He has been a very successful politician on many and all levels, and he goes with a great deal of thanks. Honestly, I would have liked him to stay for another year – I thought he still had a lot to offer.”
Cllr Cardownie – who backed Cllr Barrie – declined nomination as regulatory convener and as festival and events champion. He said he would continue as a councillor, but would also be seeking part-time employment elsewhere, and stressed there had been no pressure on him to quit.
He said: “It had been my intention for some time to relinquish the position as leader, but I wanted to ensure the coalition got to the other side of the referendum intact. I have successfully negotiated two coalition deals – first with the Liberal Democrats and then with Labour – which has kept the SNP in the administration for eight years now.
“Having got through the referendum, the coalition is still strong and I felt it was time to give someone else the opportunity to develop their style.
“I have a ten-year-old son and I want to spend a bit more time with him.”
It is understood some councillors at the meeting said they would prefer Cllr Cardownie to carry on. Cllr Barrie will now continue as regulatory convener and group whip, while Cllr Richard Lewis will become festival and events champion.
Cllr Denis Dixon takes over from Cllr Howat as the vice-convener of planning.
Cllr Cardownie played down speculation that he might seek to become Lord Provost if the SNP becomes the biggest party at the next council elections.
He said: “That’s a matter for a different group after another election. I have not gone that far ahead.”
Banking expert worked across the globe
COUNCILLOR Sandy Howat – who stood unsuccessfully in the 2010 general election as a Westminster candidate for Edinburgh South – is well known for his expertise in insurance and banking.
A graduate of Aberdeen and Glasgow universities, he is also qualified with the Chartered Insurance Institute and the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland.
Married and with a young son, Cllr Howat, the SNP’s member for Meadows and Morningside, worked in a variety of business sectors and countries before returning to Scotland nearly 20 years ago. As well as bringing a wealth of financial knowledge to
bear on the day-to-day running of the council, he has been vice-convener of its development management sub-committee.
The role has brought him involvement in many of the Capital’s most controversial planning projects, including Craighouse and the latest Local Development Plan.
Cllr Howat has been an SNP member for almost 30 years and is also in the Edinburgh Secular Society.