29 April 2012

A Quiet Night in with Caetano Veloso

I treated myself to a rare night of this evening and another viewing of the Pedro Almodovar directed Oscar winning film Talk to Her. Great performances and direction all round including a great performance in fluent Spanish from Geraldine Chaplin.

This was the film that introduced me to Caetano Veloso, the great Brazilian singer and exponent of Tropicalismo. Here is the song he sings in the film. This is beautiful and only equalled by the Puerto Rican standard Lamento Borincano below.

28 April 2012

Bite is Worse than Bark

An occupational hazard for posties and canvassers alike is the dreaded pooch. My old fiend and counterpart as Housing Convenor  in Perth Peter Barratt has been bitten twice in this campaign.

Yesterday West Edinburgh Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart tweeted that canvassing in East Craigs there had been disrupted by a dog bite and that blood was drawn!

I thought it was something to do with people from Perth; Mike hails from Scotland's Fair City. Mikes wife however informs us that it was in fact our councillor Robert Aldridge who was the victim of the offending canines gnashers. 

Lib Dem councillors being more palatable than our MP's may well be the metaphor if these local elections.

Railway Man to be Filmed

Holywood Glam has hit Edinburgh (or more accurately North Berwick) with the arrival in town of Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. 

The Oscar winning pair are in the area to shoot the feature version of Eric Lomax's book The Railway Man.

My brother bought me this for Christmas a few years ago. It is an extraordinary, true, story of survival in the face of immense cruelty and of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Lomax, from Joppa in Edinburgh, was stationed in Singapore when it was overrun by the Japanese. He found himself in Changi prison facing violence and intimidation that I can't begin to imagine.

I don't want to spoil the plot but anything that gets this amazing account of his life read by a wider audience is a good thing. 

26 April 2012

End of Term at the City Chambers

Today was the last meeting of the City Council of this term. Attention was rightly focused on a number of councillors who are retiring.

These include our outgoing Lord Provost George Grubb who has been a councillor since 1999 and started out delivering leaflets for me 22 years ago! 

Others include Marilyne MacLaren our Education Convenor elected by just 8 votes at my first election count in 1986.  She has gone on to have a distinguished career in that field. They are joined by a  number of other Lib Dems elected 5 years ago who have found it difficult to  juggle work, young families and being in administration. These include Charles Dundas a former aide to Ming Campbell, Conor Snowden who is going to work in Tanzania, Jo Coleman who is running her baking business, Stephen Hawkins who is a very senior officer with a Housing association, Louise Young who brought her baby to work today and Phil Wheeler of whom I wrote about in a previous blog.
Guys I will miss you all and best of luck in the future.

The Tories were bidding farewell to Alistair Paisley and my former shadow Kate MacKenzie as well as current shadow Gordon Buchan. Kate and Alistair are at the end of their political careers and have served their communities with distinction. Gordon is genuinely going to spend more time with his young family and I expect he will pop up again in the future.

For the Greens Alison Johnstone has gone to Holyrood as has Colin Keir of the SNP.  Former Palace Press officer turned Lib Dem councillor turned SNP councillor Elaine Morris is also stepping down as is Stuart McIvor of the SNP who is an ex Royal body guard. Stuart has told me how to take a man down but refuses to say how many he has personally shot (none I'm sure but you can't blame me for asking!). Labour are losing one in the shape of former Council Leader and Rev Ewan Aitken.

There was a distinctly end of term feeling today. The only council meeting I can ever remember where we didn't have a Labour speech on any of the debates.

This time next week the polls will be closed and we will have the count the following morning. Much more civilised than last years marathon. The many of us had been up early to do morning leaflets, spend a part of the day standing at polling stations or knocking on doors to get the vote out. We then had to stand around all night at Ingliston for the Holyrood count and then we were counted from the morning onwards. I honestly think they would have shot horses for less.  

Delivering on Affordable Housing

As Housing Convenor I am disappointed by the lack of vision  by the other parties on housing.
None of the parties match the Lib Dems commitment to triple the building of Affordable Homes and our manifesto is also the only one to actually mention tackling Homelessness.

The SNP do commit to carrying on with the award winning 21st Century  Homes council house building project that our Joint Administration have started.

The Tories have treated housing as a planning issue which is fine in its place but are saying nothing about the need to boost supply.

Labour is long on process but fails to commit to laying a single brick nor is there a reference at all to tackling homelessness. Indeed this appears to be the case with all three of them.

The performance by the Lib Dem led council on housing has been extrodinarily strong.
We have:
  • cut homelessness presentations by 15.8%
  • built the first council housing in a generation
  • increased the numbers of council homes complying with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard by 58% and 
  • reformed the rent system

All major achievements but there is still so much to do.
Lib Dems are committed to :
  • eradicating unintentional homelessness by the end of this year
  • tripling the numbers of affordable homes to be built
  • 100% compliance with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard by 2015. 

We Lib Dems are up to the challenges ahead. We are proudly standing on our strong record and investing for the future having taken the hard decisions that needed to be taken and which are delivering for the future wellbeing of our residents. 

Are the others up to these challenges? From their manifestos it doesn't seem so.

25 April 2012

Steve Webb Pitches In

My re-election campaign received a boost this afternoon when Pensions Minister Steve Webb dropped by to lend a hand.

Steve is a genuine big hitter who is respected on all sides of the house.  It was great to catch up with him and hear more about how he is reforming pensions. As well as  restoring the earnings link for pensions and implementing the largest ever increase in the state pension he is also ensuring that  many people, particularly women, who in the past did not qualify for pensions will in the future receive one thanks to the Lib Dems in government.

24 April 2012

Local Approach to Cutting Crime Pays

Saturday saw the publication of the latest crime statistics in Edinburgh. The stats showed a 5% fall in Crime levels. This is to be greatly welcomed and comes on the back of the 21% fall in crime since I took over as Convenor of the Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership.

Much of this fall is down to the changes in policing introduced over the last five years, to the very close partnership working between local council officers and police, good information sharing protocols nipping many problems in the bud before they spiral out of control.

Two things threaten this. The first is Police centralisation by the SNP government. I am concerned that local policing priorities will be set centrally and we will have a Glasgow style of policing introduced.

The second is the Labour council manifesto promise to introduce a centralised antisocial behaviour unit at the council. This had been tried in the past. It didn't work so it was scrapped and we moved to the decentralised approach which has worked so well since we came to power.

The choice is stark on May the 3rd. Labours back to the future plan with the resulting rise in crime and antisocial behaviour or the Lib Dems highly successful community based approach which has delivered lower crime and antisocial behaviour levels in the city. I know which I would choose!

Saturdays stats shows our approaching is still paying off. Why play fast and loose with your security?

23 April 2012

Last of the Hustings

Today I had two Hustings meetings to contend with. The first was at Cliftonhall School at the very edge of Edinburgh and involved the whole senior school. Questions varied  from Independence to Curriculum for Excellence.  No questions about trams which was a nice change. We had the whole of the senior school present.

Tonight it was the turn of Murrayfield Community Council. A reasonable turnout. Questions varied from Flood Protection to street cleaning. Again no trams. 

That should be the last of these for this diet of elections for me. They have by and large been conducted in a very civilised manner which was to be welcomed and all very well chaired.

21 April 2012

The Pledge

Thursday saw me at yet another Hustings meeting. This time it was the Catholic Cathedral Justice and Peace Group.

The theme was Social Justice so  I spoke on issues relating to Health Inequalities, Homelessness and Social Care. Indeed I  was the only person to raise those topics. The questions were largely on trams though.

The experience was a little more nerve racking than usual as my nephew walked in at the beginning. I have never had to do a political speech, debate or interview in front of family before!  A wee bit strange but still seemed to go off OK.

My nephew has a pony tail and pledged many many years ago that he would only cut it off when Hibs won the Scottish Cup. His step mother has been sharpening the scissors for some days now with a degree of relish which I have only seen when my older sister used to scrub our necks as children! 

I mentioned this to my younger brother who looked at me and asked, in earnest, who had won enough trophies to merit my clean shaven head? 

Time will tell if young Kevin will finally get the short back and sides he so richly deserves or not but I will be digging out my formerly redundant electric hair clippers to see the job through to the end. It sounds like I may have to wait in a long line. 

18 April 2012

Phil Retires

Today I had the pleasure of attending the retirement bash for my friend Phil Wheeler.

Phil has been the other Lib Dem councillor in my ward for the last five years and was my running mate last time we had an election. He had grown up in a political household his mother being Mayor of the village he grew up in. Indeed she was the third woman to be Mayor of that town.

Phil started out in the St Andrew's Liberal Club in the early 60's. It was through the party he met his wife Maggie and he then settled down to family life in Clerwood. 

In 1974 he stood as a candidate for Westminster in the Midlothian seat. he was beaten by Alex Eadie.  A history graduate Phil enjoyed being a successor to Gladstone as Liberal candidate in the seat where the Grand Old Man had fought 95 years earlier. 

Phil eventually got elected  in 2001 succeeding John Barratt in South East Corstorphine when John went to Westminster.

In 2007 when we won the council elections Phil took over as Transportation convenor and then moved to Finanace a couple of years later.

Phils time as Finance convenor has been very successful. Phil has been the most significant Finance Convenor in my time in local government. For the last three years we have had each department balancing the books and the councils books are in a really healthy state.

Much of this is down to Phil's firm hand on the budget. When I have dealt with partners such as voluntary sector groups one of the things they really appreciate is the stability with our finances which was absent in past administrations. That being said Phil was not a Kosigin life figure always vetoing expenditure. 

Great Finance convenor Phil is I will miss him more as a friend. Sure we will catch up on a regular  basis but not on a near daily basis we do so just now. I will miss his wisdom, his support and common sense. 

Best of luck Phil and thanks for everything.  

15 April 2012

To Funny to Be President

French Socialist candidate Francois Hollande apparently is noted for his sense of humour as explained in this BBC story.

To let loose a sense of humour can be a double edged sword in poltics. The agonising over whether to let loose Hollandes sense of mirth or not reminds me of the giant of Democratic politics Mo Udall. 

Morris (Mo ) Udall

Udall was 6ft5in hight (when I said Giant I meant it literally)  and was a liberal Democrat. He stood against Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Presidential elections and was deemed by one  critic to be "to funny to be president"! Apparently he used this as his autobiography title.

His quotes are the stuff of legend they include...

"If you can find something everyone agrees on, it's wrong."

"Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them."

"The ability to change one's views without losing one's seat is the mark of a great politician."

 Time will tell if Monsieur Hollande is also too funny to be president.

To the Victor Belong the Spoils

The results of the Scottish Cup semi Finals have left us with the first all Edinburgh Cup final since 1896.

Most Hibs and Hearts fans hate the idea as pessimists that we all are we always think we are going to lose and to do so to our biggest rivals would be an enormous humiliation - the stakes are simply too high.

Victory, on the other hand, would be so sweet! 

What will this mean for the players and the fans?  Hearts have won the cup twice in the last few years so a cup final victory would be great for them but nothing like as seismic as it would be for Hibs who last won it in 1902. 

I remember that Hearts Cup win in 1998, their first since 1956. My then next door neighbour was Hearts daft and was determined to name his new born baby after the scorer of Hearts winner Stephan Adam. The fact that the baby was a girl did not deter him. She was christened Stephanie Adam after him!

That is what the Hibs team have to play for. Not the few quid win bonus but the chance to be legends. A poor season where they will have avoided relegation will have been transformed by that one act into a great season.

The next few weeks are going to be extraordinary. There will be more than the fair share of "good natured" towel flicking going on between rival fans. 

The one  certainty is that the cup will be coming to Edinburgh this year.

Roll on May the 19th and best of luck Hibs!

8 April 2012

Sporting Dilemma

Congratulations to Edinburgh Rugby on their Heineken Cup Quarter Final win against the giants of Toulouse in front of a record crowd. A terrific performance and a very well deserved win.

The city now has 3 teams in the semi finals of 2 cup contests in 2 different sports and both have their finals on the 19th of May though the rugby starts at 5 pm! Choices choices!

Grass on Israeli WMD

The furore surrounding   poem about Israel's nuclear capability being a threat to worlds peace by Nobel Prize author Gunter Grass was disappointing if not predictable.

He is simply stating the obvious and if Iran or North Korea acquired WMD they would be a bigger threat to world peace than they are now. 

It is not anti -Semitic to criticise Israeli defence policy. Let's face it India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons and the world is much less safe place because of it!  Are people not allowed to comment on that?

Click here to see an interesting article from this morning's Observer about Grass' remarks.

Sadly from the article it seems like Grass was signing off from his long and distinguished career as a writer. He is 84 and the works he has produced have been extraordinary, particularly his Danzig Trilogy, kick started by his most famous work The Tin Drum.  I have read the first two of the trilogy but I am reminded that I have still to read the third, an omission I hope to rectify in the summer.

3 April 2012

In Praise of Snow

OK a slightly misleading  title for this post. It should be " Why I hate Sleet" as the best thing about snow is that it isn't sleet!

Sleet, which has made a nasty comeback today, has no redeeming features! You can't sculpt it of put blades on a skate on it like ice. You can't fall on your back and make angels out of it, nor can you shape it into grenade sized balls and throw it at passing schoolchildren or make a snowman out of it. 

Nope sleet is just cold, wet and painful. More so if you have just had record high temperatures for the time of year and have misplaced your beanie!! Yuk! 

2 April 2012

Seeing Pandas Every Where

Like all of Edinburgh's election candidates I am busily pounding the streets campaigning at the moment. I'm not going to give you any nonsense about how many pairs of shoes I've worn out as I bought a new pair of walking shoes pre-election as is my custom born out of years campaigning experience. One good pair will survive at least an election campaign. I am wearing out a pair of socks a day though!

Out in my ward this morning in the rain it was great to see banners up promoting Corstorphine as a shopping destination. The banners  are tapping in on the arrival of the pandas at the near by zoo. 

The leaflets in my bag were in danger of becoming  papier-mâché! Maybe it was the drizzle on my specs or seeing the panda banners hanging from the lampposts but as I walked past a respected local butchers who have in the past sold things like ostrich steaks  etc. I had a double take when I saw black and white pelts in the window. For a split second I thought  they were selling Panda steaks before I realised they was a black and white sheep skins hanging up on the wall by the window!

This evening I took in the Gallery Art Club exhibition at the Corstorphine Youth Centre or the village hall as it is still known to some. It was great to get along and see some very good paintings by local amateur artists. As Convenor I am delighted that the Western Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership has supported the exhibition and club with a grant this year and pandas were again evident in a number of paintings. Well they are local residents too!

1 April 2012

Tentative Steps towards Democracy in Burma

Today sees Burma take a massive step towards democracy by holding 45 by elections which appear to be being judged pretty reasonably fair by international observers. Indeed errors have been put down to inexperience rather than  a desire by the  regime there to steal the election. 
Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting one of the seats and is expected to win  by a large majority. 

I can only wish them the very best. It is only about 10th of the seats in the Burmese Parliament but as some one once said "Every long march starts with a footstep"!