26 September 2010

Patriot Hall All A Buzz for Open Weekend

I am shamelessly plugging the open weekend for the Wasps Artists open studios weekend next weekend. 200 artists are throwing their studios open on the 2nd and 3rd of October. 

When Patriot Hall one of the Wasp's studios in Edinburgh needed assistance a few years back I  was invited down to see  the studios and was blown away. I had seen many of the artists works in various galleries over the years and  hadn't realized that they were based in the Stockbridge studio and Gallery. The standard was fantastic and the mix of artists was extraordinary. 

I recall visiting a couple of jewelers studios and they were so different. The  first studio was almost clinically clean - very tidy and white and you could almost have eaten your lunch off the work benches. The second was gloriously cluttered and much more like a good old fashioned workshop than a Laboratory! Different strokes for different  folks

I also met the chap who had been commissioned by the Herald to paint Scotland dream football team. I had been to a launch party for this at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery not long before hand. The highlight for me was meeting Hibs legend Laurie Reilly.

My cousin Brendan Kelly (see websites on this page) also was billeted at one of their studios a while back. Bren has produced some fantastic work as you can see from the paintings featured on his site. 

Anyho' I can thoroughly recommend a visit should you have the time. 

More details below:


Dog Bites Man - Union Placeman Elected Labour Leader .... Again

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us.  The leaves are turning here especially in the graveyard my little flat overlooks. I look down on a canopy of mature deciduous trees and the colours get quite spectacular in the autumn.  There is also that coolness in the air. To that end I have updated my recipe page with a Scottish Favourite - Scotch Broth - just the thing for this time of year. 

The political scene has now shifted to the Labour Party conference. Ed Miliband has just been elected Labour Leader under their fearfully complex electoral college system He narrowly beat his brother thanks to Union block votes. David Miliband won the MP's vote and the party membership vote. This seriously dents Ed Milibands credibility as he clearly is not the choice of the majority of people in his party just the most powerful Union Barons. Nick Robinson stated on Radio 4 that it was the TUC conference that swung it. When asked if they would support Union resistance to cuts Ed said yes and David hesitated. At this point according to Robinson  David's chances disappeared.

Say what you like about the Lib Dems we have a one member one vote  system for electing our leader. It is simple and straight forward and democratic.The result is our party leader has the support of the members and is not in hock to Unions or other special interests.

24 September 2010

Shot in the Arm for Building Trade

Never let it be said that I am too partisan. I was delighted to see my good friend and vice convener Cllr Norman Work - SNP  - launching the National Housing Trust with Housing Minister Alex Neil. Two nationalists given space here  - I deserve a Nobel Peace prize.

From Left: Jonathan Fair, Homes for Scotland; Barry White, Scottish Futures Trust; Cllr Norman Work, Edinburgh Council; Alex Neil, Minister for Housing and Communities
Under the National Housing Trust (NHT), spearheaded by the Scottish Government and Scottish Futures Trust, developers have been invited to participate in a scheme that will see the purchase of newly-built houses by local authorities with loans underwritten by the Scottish Government.

The NHT is designed to kick-start activity on mothballed building sites and create or safeguard around 1,000 jobs in the construction sector.  Twelve authorities have signed up, including Edinburgh where 600 NHT homes are being sought.

This excellent initiative is a welcome shot in the arm for our  ailing building industry.

23 September 2010

New Community Policing For Edinburgh

This morning saw the launch of the new Safer Neighbourhood Teams. These  replace the old Neighbourhood Action Units which consisted of council funded police officers. The SNT's roll together NAU officers, local community police and Scottish Government funded Police. 

The NAU's were introduced three years ago and have been a great success resulting in a big drop in crime of various categories. The public perception of crime also improved remarkably.

Faced with tough times ahead the SNT were trialled in the South East of the city with  impressive results including a drop by 23% in category 4 crimes such as fire raising vandalism etc.

The NAU's also had a changed shift pattern for the Police meaning that officers were on the streets more often at the times of highest demand. The SNT's I am sure will provide an even better service for residents of this city and will continue to work to drive crime out of our communities.

21 September 2010

Senate Drops the Ball on Gay Military Service

I am deeply disappointed that the US Senate has managed to drop the ball on whether openly gay people can serve in the armed forces. Gay personnel can serve but face being kicked out if they reveal their sexuality. 10,500 have been expelled between 1997 and 2008 under the so called "don't ask don't tell" policy. 

The move supported by 56 senators to scrap this was lost - they needed 60 votes out of the 100 senators.

The US Senate is not a proportional body with a massive state like California (pop 37 Million) only getting the same number of senators as tiny Delaware (pop approx 900k). Now added to that you have the tricks of the trade such as needing 60% of votes to get some measures through, filibustering etc and you have institutionalised inertia. This is most strikingly reflected in the US social policy which has waited until the second decade of the 21st century before catching up on health reforms in place since the 1940's in Europe!

Bill Clinton tried to have this ban lifted 18 years ago. The current set up was seen at the time as progress of a fashion and the US Defense began a review in February.

Mr Obama's nominee to take over command of the Marine Corps said on Tuesday that he opposed repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In testimony to a Senate committee, General James Amos said letting gay people serve openly in the force could disrupt unit morale.
He said in written testimony,

I'm concerned that a change now will serve as a distraction to marines who are tightly focused at this point on combat operations in Afghanistan. In my personal view, the current law and associated policy have supported the unique requirements of the Marine Corps, and thus I do not recommend its repeal.

I get that this has Washington political maneuvering running through it like the writing  in Blackpool rock but look at the principle being voted on here. We are not living in the dark ages any more. Many gay men, lesbians and bisexuals have fought and died for their countries over the years. Their sexuality was never a barrier for them when it came to them doing their duty. But it seems to be for some top brass.  

Housing Press

A couple of press links for issues I have been involved with. A good piece in Holyrood Magazine this morning. This is Scotland's answer to the House Magazine. They really take  local government seriously I am delighted to say.

Also there was the announcement of  some further regeneration at Wauchope and Dumbiedykes. Here is the story from the Edinburgh Evening News.


20 September 2010

Beyond the Fringe

For me the very best thing about conference is the fringe. I spent this evening attending a couple of fringe meetings on care for the elderly and on the role of think tanks in promoting democracy and Human Rights. 

The former featured a brief drop in by Minister Paul Burstow who seems to have got 5 years younger looking since he took power. There wasn’t really a lot of light shed on how we should pay for care for our aging population save for it is very complicated. Paul Burstow wasn’t about to prejudge the working group set up and the various reps expressed the view that consensus was not possible between the competing interests.

 The Liberal International meeting was inspiring. I am a passionate internationalist and the LI events are always a highlight of any conference I attend. We had Lord Alderdice who reminded us about the intolerance he had grew up with in the UK and gave us a wonderful synopsis on the differences between the European – anti-clerical school of liberalism versus the British Non conformist tradition. We also had Gordon Leishman who spoke so passionately about international liberal values, democracy and the role of ideas in shaping change.

I threw in a question about the competing traditions and how we might view the banning of the head scarves in French society. Boy that got a debate going! The meeting was admirably chaired by the very capable Julie Smith and was a really interesting way to round of my first visit to Liverpool.

Cause for Optimism in the Morning Papers

Scanning through the papers this morning one of my pals drew to my attention the article in the Independent relating to the justification of the existence of the coalition by Mary Ann Sieghar. The last paragraph is particularly interesting.

Clegg played a relatively weak hand well and – if his party is patient – has a good chance of turning this Coalition to his advantage. It's too easy to make lazy predictions like "the Coalition can't last" or "the Lib Dems will be subsumed." Politics have been transformed since May and we have to reassess our old prejudices. There is one glaring fact that the old Westminster lags have missed: the Coalition is likely to last the course because the only party that would gain from it being wrecked is Labour.

For the whole article read it at:

The first party conference following the election was always going to be about justifying the very existence of the coalition. To an extent Clegg has done that in his Q&A's yesterday. Now we need to move on and get on with the business of delivery in Government. To that end we are all awaiting Nick Cleggs leaders speech this afternoon with a heightened degree of anticipation.

Far Right Surge In Sweden!

The news that the far right has  taken 20 seats in, of all places, Sweden sends shivers down my spine. It deprives the centre right alliance of an overall majority. I am welcome the fact that the Prime Minister,  Fredrick Reinfeldt, has instantly dismissed working with the far right and has made hints at overtures to the opposition Social Democrats.

Coalition politics continental style is far less tribal than here. Can you imaging Labour and Tories in coalition together? It occasionally happens at a local government level but they are both so tribal that the idea of sharing power and pushing through  what they have in common  - and there is a surprising amount they do - is anathema. 

We had a visit to the City Chambers last week by a group of German politicians from Saxony. They represented various groupings and indeed had one who was an MP back in the old East German system. Talking with another MP he impressed upon me just how diverse coalitions were in Germany. The regional loyalties are  very strong and often more important  than left-right loyalties. This leads to very diverse coaltions. For example in Saarland you have the Christian Democrats in power with the Liberals and the Greens.

That approach has taken years to build up and to get to that kind of politics will take a radical change in attitude and mindset for the British Body Politic. The events of May took us on the first foot steps of the long march needed to get us there.

19 September 2010

Clegg Grilled

I am just taking a short break from the conference to post. Nick Clegg has done a Q&A session with party members. Far from wanting to hang him by his ankles as some papers have claimed it was very civilised and mainly centred around how we keep our identity and deliver on our priorities as junior partners in the coalition.

Nick coped very well as expected. While we have received more than adequate justifications for everything done so far there was understandable uneasiness about forthcoming welfare cuts. I share that anxiety but until I have seen the detail of exactly what is being proposed, not some leak or someone’s second hand opinion of what is going to happen I shall hold reserve my position on this.

Scott and Alexander Step Up to the Plate

Day two of the Lib Dem conference has been interesting. We had speeches this morning from two former Scottish Lib Dem Press Officers and Researchers for Jim Wallace made good.

First up was Scottish Lib Dem Leader Tavish Scott who was lamenting the slippage in his celebrity status as a former minister now that we have ministers galore at Westminster. Tavish was teeing things up for next years election and provided a welcome reminder to the faithful that our experience of coalition at Holyrood was rewarded with bigger votes or shares not annihilation as some feared.

Then there was Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander who put the moral case for getting the economy back on an even keel.

I then attended a Lib Dem Voice Fringe meeting with Susan Kramer and Evan Harris MP. What a shame these two fine people lost their seats at the last election. Both would have been real assets to the Government. Evan Harris is always superb value and his evocation of an evidence based approach to fairness and cuts was a real treat.

18 September 2010

A Wet Weekend in Liverpool

We have a great word in Scots which describes the weather here in Liverpool- driech! I am down here for the Lib Dem's Federal Conference. Our first as a Party of UK Government since the 1930’s. I have never been here before but I am very impressed by the architecture and the friendliness and warmth of the locals.

I took the opportunity to visit Goodison Park to take in the Everton v Newcastle match this afternoon. The home team traditionally runs out to the Z cars theme tune. Unfortunately the team really didn’t play at all well and Newcastle ran out deserved winners 1-0.

The conference itself is a very big affair. We had an opening rally in favour of a yes vote in Mays Alternative Vote referendum this evening with Nick Clegg, Jo Swinson, Tim Farron MP, Martin Bell and Art Malik. The troops seemed in good fettle and I am particularly looking forward to hearing from our Ministers over the next few days but even more so of enjoying the conference fringe which is vast, very educational and great fun!

But first an early night beckons!

17 September 2010

Mervyn King Owns Up

This week  at the TUC Conference Mervyn King clearly stated that the economic disaster that has befallen the UK is the fault of the financial firms and policy makers. It was a candid admission on his part. Mr King is not a politician though and getting Labour supporters to admit failure on anything is virtually impossible.

I was at a function the other evening and had a dicussion with a senior Labour Councillor, not from Edinburgh, who claimed that the banking crisis was global and inexplicably Labour had taken all the right decsions to sort it out. Mervyn King ' s admission today nails that denial.

Thirteen Years of Labour Government led to increases in the gap between rich and poor. When the City of London is one of the most powerful banking centres in the world , the failure of the UK government to reign in the excesses of the bankers is entirely the fault of UK government ministers. New labour were so keen to be close to the city , they forgot what they were there for. This crisis cannot be blamed on the Lib Dems or the Tories at Westminster nor can Labour Politicians get away with blaming the SNP at Holyrood. This is a failure of the last Labour government and Mervyn King has admitted this.

14 September 2010

French Cinema Legend Chabrol Dies

I was sad to read of the death of French filmmaker Claude Chabrol. Often regarded as France's Hitchcock he made the marvellous film Le boucher.  Le boucher  is a murder thriller par excellence which features a wedding scene I am sure was ripped off for The Deer Hunter. 
For an excellent appreciation see Gilbey on Film in the New Statesman


12 September 2010

The Return of the Lesser Spotted Hockey Mom

Last week saw the US enjoy Labor Day - their spelling  not mine. As Churchill once said two nations separated by a common language.  Labor Day is usually the day that the US elections campaigns start in earnest. Thought politicians are always campaigning in the US this is the date that they rack it up and  the public starts to take things seriously. 

There are no presidential polls this year but there are mid term elections and the common feeling is that the Democrats are going to get tanned. 

Not that the Republicans are without their problems either. They have one of their internecine wars going on with the establishment facing challenges from the very right wing Tea Party group. In Alaska, home of former Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, the incumbent GOP Senator has failed to get reselected for the party and in Delaware the Tea Party candidate is running  a relatively liberal GOP candidate close for the senate seat. 

Palin is closely aligned to the Tea Party and has been visiting Iowa this week - a sure sign that she is going for the top job. The question is can she take Obama? I think that this should make Obama safer but you never know - politics is an unfair business and stranger things have been known to happen. The idea of a Tea Party place man or woman in the White House is terrifying.  

Here in lies the dilemma for the GOP candidate. To get selected you have to appeal to the Republican Party membership - people who have registered to vote in republican primaries and who are generally very right wing. To get elected - which is the whole point of the exercise - you have to swing towards the centre. This dilemma is brilliantly explained by the Theodore White in his book "The Making of the President  - 1968" where he describes how Nixon managed this feet of contortion. I don't think Palin is a Nixon. I think she is far more right wing and not as politically dexterous. She may yet prove me wrong and I do wonder if the US is like the UK in that it is Governments who lose elections here rather than oppositions who win them. An interesting couple of months is promised!

8 September 2010

Key Developments Clear Planning Hurdles

Demolition at Pennywell
A double celebration today! The source the City of Edinburgh Council Planning Committee. Two key applications were up impacting on my portfolio were granted. 
The first was the latest application in our 21st Century Housing proposals. Gracemount was approved a few months ago and we are almost ready to start the actual building. Today was the turn of  Muirhouse/Pennywell. Here the proposed development  secured some further funding from the Scottish Government back in July (see July 1st posting).  

Planning consent, as any developer will tell you, is never in the bag until it's in the bag! It was a great source of relief to learn that this passed.

Also approved this morning was the proposal for the Drum Brae Library and Day Centre. This is a really exciting proposal which see a new community hub built next to the Rannoch Community Centre. Drum Brae is one of only two areas of the city more than a mile from a local library. 

Proposed Drum Brae Library and Day Centre
As well as the library  the  day centre will be  in the building allowing the users of the centre easy access to the library and, as it is a day centre, the community can access it at night. We will have a new local council office which will prove much more accessible to local residents than the current West office.

The library proposal has been in every manifesto I have stood on and in every budget we proposed in opposition. I am so pleased that we are going to be able to deliver not just this  amazing library but the much needed new day centre and local office for the area.   

6 September 2010

Cash Boost For Risk Factory

As Community Safety Chair I was delighted to hear that the Gas Safety Trust has become one of the sponsors of The Risk Factory.

The Risk Factory is Scotland’s first purpose-built, interactive, experiential community safety centre. It has been designed and purposely built for Primary 7 children in Edinburgh and the Lothian’s to visit. Inside the building there are realistic settings used as the background to highlight specific safety messages. The sets include a house, road, bus, railway line and a building site to name but a few. The children are shown around the centre in small groups by volunteers.

The £2000 sponsorship will go towards the house scenario, which is used to educate young people about the dangers in and around their own homes. The house scenario includes a fitted kitchen with a gas cooker, faulty combi - boiler, gas meter and audible CO alarm.

The centre is a great environment for children to learn about dangerous behaviour dealing with emergencies in the future. It would not be possible to run the centre without sponsorship or the volunteers who help make the centre such a success.

There is always a debate about cotton wooling children. What the Risk Factory achieves is educating them in where to look for risks and how to avoid or mitigate them thus equipping them for life.

The Risk Factory is always looking for volunteers. For more information see the website:


5 September 2010

Worthy Winner of OSCAR

I finally managed to take in the excellent Argentinian film The Secret in their Eyes  yesterday. I am a big fan of Ricardo Darin it's star. His performance in the Son of the Bride was superb and his con man act  in Nine Queens was great fun. This one did not disappoint. In the  introductory note the Filmhouse describes it as Almodovar meets Lives of Others. High praise indeed and I think that is a pretty fair assessment.

The Secret in their Eyes romped home this year with the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Unlike the Best Picture Oscar which is often, but not always,  won by a commercially successful film which is critically poor the Best Foreign Language field is always much stronger.  

It is not a blockbuster but is a highly intelligent and tense drama about a botched rape and murder investigation and a policeman's search for justice and closure 30 years later. 

4 September 2010

The Wisdom of Solomon - In Praise of Fudge

Good luck to Hilary Clinton in her attempt to progress peace between Palestinians and Israel. Nobody gives this any chance of success at this time but that is often the time that you achieve breakthrough. Too often the players in this saga have been accused of  "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

Both sides could do a lot worse than learn from the Northern Irish experience. In spite of  occasion incidents we have had peace for a number of years and the impressive thing about Ulster politics at the moment is just how boring it is! This  has meant a generation now growing up without experiencing the Troubles. Day by day we are getting further away from the memory of violence and counter violence. That can only be a good thing as the bitterness and hatred slowly dies out. 

How was this achieved? Through inspired diplomacy. Through leadership on the part of British and Irish Governments of different hues where some of the most effective,  charismatic and interesting figures of our political age used their talents and skills to best effect. Through both sides giving a bit and not believing that when they gave it was a sign of weakness or of defeat. Both sides of the divide emerged with their pride in tack.
Frankly a lot of it was fudged but fudge works and we could badly do with some in the Middle East!

3 September 2010

Edinburgh Council Appoints First Woman CEO

Congratulations to Sue Bruce of  Aberdeen Council who won the race to become Edinburgh City Council's Chief Executive yesterday. She will be the first woman to hold that role. Sue comes very highly regarded with a strong track record in Aberdeen and East Dunbartonshire. She came through a very strong field of candidates. I am sure she will provide excellent leadership in the future and I am looking forward to working with her immensely.

Cyril Smith

I was sad to read of the death of  Sir Cyril Smith. Cyril was MP for Rochdale for 20 years winning a famous by-election in 1972. A plain speaking man who was one of the party's most recognizable figures he was loved by the general public who often said that "he talked a lot of sense"! Looking back  from the vantage point of  holding power in Westminster and having had Minsiters in Edinburgh people like Cyril kep the Liberal Party going before there was a  sizable organisation or big support. We owe him and his likes a debt of gratitude. He will be greatly missed.

2 September 2010

Blair Gets His Retaliation in First

Allies of Gordon Brown have criticized Tony Blair's memoirs as unfair and one sided. Get real guys! They are his memoirs and his slant on things!

Their publication comes in the week that Chris Mullins  latest set of diaries are serialized on Radio 4. Mullin's diaries are really interesting and very well written. He wrote "A very British Coup" in the 1980's so can turn a phrase  and has an eye for a plot.

Prime Minister,Churchill excepted, rarely make good diarists. Churchills "My Early Years" is a rip roaring read I would recommend to anyone and has an account of his involvement in the last British cavalry charge  at Omdurman.

Great political diarists  like Chips Channon, Dick Crossman or Alan Clark have usually been bit part players in government but who have all had the ability to capture the essence of an age and explain that to the wider public. PM's rarely have that ability or the objectivity.

I am  sure Brown will  feel obliged to put his case before the public in due course. I recall Roy Jenkins, a statesman who really could write, saying that he felt sure that Gordon Brown would be Prime Minister but that he shouldn't want to be. Every time a PM from the same party takes over from some one who has been in a long time it is a disaster usually for their party and often for the country. Brown thus  joins the list of failed PM's of  Major, Callaghan, Douglas Home, Eden, Chamberlain, Balfour and Roseberry. Lloyd George was competent enough but fatally split the Liberal Party!