30 March 2012

Nominations Close

Liberal Democrat candidates gather
Nominations have closed for the council elections. We have some wards with a string of candidates. My own Corstorphine/Murrayfield has 6 - the smallest field of candidates in the city from what I can see.
As well as the usual suspects we have a UKIP candidate. I don't see what the council elections have to do with Britain pulling out of Europe but then I never saw the relevance of local elections in determining whether Scotland was independent more so now that we are to have a referendum on the topic.

We have a rash of fringe candidates including a Pirates Party and a penguin.

I think the Pirates Party should have stood in Leith where they could have pillaged the seafaring vote. The  MP in the 1950's was called Hoy and his slogan was "A Hoy for the Port of Leith". His son Iain was the last person to stop me winning in a council election back in 1992. I am sure that no timber will be left unshivered!

As for the penguin....clearly has missed a trick. He could have stood in Corstorphine /Murrayfield where I have been telling people since I was first elected in 1994 that I represent  more penguins than anyone else in the Northern hemisphere.

As you would expect I am advocating that you cast your first preference vote for the Liberal Democrat candidate in your area should you reside in the City.  We have a good team of candidates each of whom would make good and assiduous ward councillors.

We do not have a monopoly on that but I do believe that our philosophy, our record in power and our  record of action locally are worthy of your support and when taken as a whole are better than the competition.

29 March 2012

Partnership Working Pays

Last night I chaired the last Western Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership before the elections.  It may be our last NP meeting as an incoming admionistration may decide to sweep them away.

That would be a pity. The decentralised approach involving community reps and statutaory agencies has made a huge impact on the city most spectacularly in policing where we have seen a 22% drop in reported crime across the city and a 32% drop in anti social behaviour since 2007.  This has been achieved by a reform of  community policing including changes to shirt patters, strong information sharing protocols and very close partnership working with council staff. This helps to nip problems in the bud.

Last night we heard about the campaign to turn Corstorphine into a Fair Trade Community  - I have blogged about this in the past -  and about the plans to build a park next to our 5th new care home at Drumbrae.  We were also treated to a view of the plans for the care home  on which work is well under way.

In all over the last few years the western NP has been very successful and I have to pay tribute to community reps, Police  and councillors as well as our excellent West Local Team for all their work to help get the partnership up and running and making it such a success.

23 March 2012

Remembering George

I spent this afternoon attending the funeral of an old friend George Mowat. 

George was a Young Liberal with me and had passed away last week at the age of only 49.  He was from a strong Liberal and legal family - his father the late Sheriff Mowat had stood as a candidate in Caithness in the election before George Mackie won the seat and his brother-in-law Peter Barrett is my equivalent on Perth Council.

George had studied law at Aberdeen and it was after graduation that we first met.  After working in the legal sector, which I never though he really liked,  George moved into other things. He had worked  to get Graham Watson elected to the European Parliament and then worked in the former Yugoslavia overseeing the  elections on behalf of the UN.

That conflict  was absolutely awful with people doing all sorts of horrible things to each other that  defy description and logic. According to the minister who led today's service Georges company car was a tank, indeed one friend tells of how he had to call in tanks on a least one occasion in order to ensure that people were able to cast their vote - something we here in the UK take too much for granted.

George was also a big fan of Dunfermline Athletic. More recently he had spent the last few years caring for his mother. He will be greatly missed by family and friends.

22 March 2012

What's in a Name

I have now  lodged my nomination papers for May's Council elections. I have contested every council election since 1990 having first been elected to the old Lothian Region in 1994.

A steady trickle of other candidates drifted in to the Mandela Room where the officers scrutinised the forms. Among them was my Vice Convener Norman Work.

Norman is the SNP councillor for Almond, the Ward he has represented since 2007. The Nationalist riding high in the polls had considered putting up two candidates in the three member seat.

Norman having a surname beginning with W would be further down the ballot paper than any likely running mate. Why should that matter? Well with out multi member system when the public votes at the council election they usually rank their candidates by party and then which ever of those candidates are higher up the ballot paper usually gets the vital first preference. This can make the difference between being elected and losing. Indeed in 2007 only two Edinburgh Councillors bucked the trend and one of those was behind his running mate until the last round of counting. 

What was poor Norm to do? Well I helpfully suggested he change his name to Aardvark- Work.  Norm complained that he would have to change his slogan from "Make your councillor Work" and graciously declined.  Much to Norms relief the nationalists are now only putting up one candidate in that ward.

However life imitates art and a few days ago  Labour's Norma Hart announced she was hyphenating her surname to Austin-Hart thus leapfrogging  poor Bill Cook her running mate. Bill looked distinctly cheesed off when I ran into him outside the chambers.

Also in the lodging his papers was Alistair Shields who is our candidate to replace  retiring councillor and Lord provost George Grubb also an Almond ward councillor. Alistair has big shoes to fill but has shown that he has the right stuff to make an excellent councillor. Oh and as we are only running one candidate he doesn't feel the need to change his name!

12 March 2012

Launch of Paolozzi Prize

Paolozzi sculpture at the Top of Leith Walk

Today was for fortunate to attend the launch of the Paolozzi Prize for art. The prize has been set up following a motion of mine just after the great Scottish artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi passed away. The father of pop art Paolozzi was in my mothers year at school and was probably the most significant Scottish artist of the 20th century. 

The idea was to have a prize  which would be awarded to high school students who are  trying to pursue a career in art and which would look great on their CV. Similar in kudos to the Donald Dewar award won by my niece Pauline Edie a few years back.

I was delighted to finally get this off the ground and we were joined by students from Boroughmuir and Balerno High Schools and also by the sister of the great man, Mrs Yolanda Tartaglia. It transpired that Mrs Tartaglia was the mother of a guy I was at school with and aunt of a couple of others.  We spent a good bit of time discussing what had happened to whom.Small world!

I am looking forward to seeing the results of this which i am sure will be a  significant annual fixture in the school calendar. 

11 March 2012

Hibs Hanging in there but Scots Stumble..Again

Hibs have been having a dismal season. Floating just above the drop zone -thank god for Dunfermline - there have been periods when it really looked like we were going to be relegated. We are far from our of danger but our  new manager seems to have instilled a bit of get up and go into the boys and made a few key signings. 

Interestingly we are still in the cup and having dispatched Ayr Utd yesterday have been given a relativity favourable draw (avoiding Hearts, Celtic and St Mirren) by getting Aberdeen.

I do not dare to hope but you don't win cups if you are not at the semi and it would be good to stop receiving those picture of horse drawn buses with Hibs win the cup plastered all over them!

A different shaped ball, Scotland rugby team has played quite well while losing all of their matches so far. A young team they have  gone down to small but costly errors often by a very narrow margin. 

It has struck me in the past how little  separates total success in a  Grand Slam from a whitewash/wooden spoon.

I detect no criticism of Coach Andy Robinson, quite the opposite. He has turned them right round and you do sense that there is  so much more to come from this team under his leadership. I fear he may walk if we don't beat the Italians which would be a crying shame.

A busy week beckons.

6 March 2012

Last Committee

Today I chaired the last Health Social Care and Housing Committee before the elections in May.

Issues covered were as usual very diverse ranging  from Dementia and short term lease "party flats" to dogs in high rise flats and empty homes.

I have been very proud of the work  we have done over the last five years and I will blog more about that in the future but today I want to pay tribute to the remarkable team of officers I have been fortunate enough to work with. Many are the very best at what they do and the results in terms of policy development are there for all to see.

I have also been very fortunate in having Councillor  Norman Work as my Vice Convener. Norman, as well as being very popular with community groups, has worked very hard in his role and though we are very different people - Norm is a nationalist  and I am a Liberal for starters - he  has been great to work with. 

I am also immensely grateful to our Committee Clerks who have managed by and large to keep us out of trouble. Often the people who say the least at Committees they all have a great grasp of procedure and the political dynamic of a meeting. 

That was the last HSC of this administration. It has been the job of a lifetime and heading for  the elections in May I am keen to be re-elected and back in power in the next term but I have never taken the electorate for granted and will not start doing so now!

4 March 2012

Spring in the Step of Lib Dem Troops

I'm back from a weekend in Inverness at the Scottish Lib Dem conference. 

The troops were in good fettle and we were treated to platform speeches from all of our UK cabinet Ministers, plus our Scottish Party Leader Willie Rennie.

Scottish Secretary Mike Moore told of how when he was very small he found himself living in Inverness and attending a Gaelic Nursery school. He was taught Little Miss Muffet in Gaelic  and promptly went home and passed it off to his dad, a Padre based at Fort George, as a Gaelic Grace. Rev Moore was not a speaker of the Gaelic and did not pick this up however  his parishioners were! Mike did not elaborate on what happened next!

For my part I spoke twice in debates on Energy conservation and on Scotland's Housing crisis. We're doing what we can in Edinburgh but we have never had the levels of investment  we really need to address the shortage in the city.

Willie Rennie's leaders speech was a breath of fresh air. Willie is such a positive person and he put the case for voting for us in May very well. He also restated the case for liberal values which are constantly under threat from  sides as diverse as the Daily Mail and Cardinal O'Brien who is having a pop at Gay Marriage in the press today.The resolve to protect the Human Rights Act was also very strong in the face of criticism from a number of right wing quarters.
The fringe featured too many meetings on Scotland's constitutional future. There are only so many of these you need at a conference and a bit more variety would have been useful.

I really enjoyed the Liberal International Fringe meeting about the Arab spring though I fear that  war between Iran and Israel is inevitable based on what I was hearing. I will perhaps blog more on this later  but  our informed speaker Baroness Falkner seemed to know her onions on this issue. I would say that we all have reason to be very afraid of what is going to go down in the next year or two in the middle East.

1 March 2012

Lifting Leith Residents Out of Fuel Poverty

Leith Lib Dem Councillor Marjorie Thomas
Here is a release relating to a terrific Community Energy scheme we've put in place in  Leith. I took the opportunity to visit the Cables Wynd block with local Lib Dem Councillor Marjorie Thomas  yesterday and I have to say it was a very impressive scheme lifting hundreds of people out of fuel poverty and really improving the quality of their lives. 

Residents in one of Edinburgh’s largest block of flats are set to benefit from cheaper fuel bills thanks to the City of Edinburgh Council.

A new £2.25m communal-heating system is being installed in Cables Wynd House as part of a major refurbishment programme for the building.

This is the first such system to be installed by the Council. Work on the gas-powered system for the 209 flats started in May last year and is expected to be completed by next month.

Other works in the refurbishment programme include new kitchens, bathrooms, windows and insulation.

This gives residents much more control over their heating than the old storage heaters did. It will also mean cheaper fuel bills.

Housing Leader Councillor Paul Edie said: “The benefit of the communal heating system is that it costs much less to run than the electric storage heaters originally installed in the flats.
“This could not have come at a better time for many families as in the current economic climate some people are finding it very hard to pay their bills. In some cases, people are torn between paying bills and putting food on the table.

“This is all part of our ongoing commitment to help our tenants keep their homes warm and comfortable whilst keeping energy bills as low as possible.”

Notes to editors:
Cables Wynd House – known locally as 'The Banana Flats' - is a large concrete deck access block of flats built in Leith in the early 1960s.   
Around £750,000 of funding for the project has been provided through the  Community Energy Saving Programme with the rest of the costs met through the Council's ongoing capital programme. 

Residents - 209 tenants, 3 owners - were given the option to join the communal scheme or to retain their electric storage heaters.  A total of 193 tenants and one owner have joined the scheme.

Residents will pay the Council for the heating they use through a service charge along with their rent.  The scheme is non-profit-making. 
Further communal heating projects are set to be up and running in Greendykes and Wauchope Houses later this year.