Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I know Christmas has really started when we do the Gorgie Dalry Christmas lights switch on. It is always a heart stopping moment when this years celebrity, Iain Waugh from Forth 1, throws the switch, hoping they will actually come on. They did. All credit to the Council's engineers. I MC'd the proceedings which, along with the traditional carol singing featured the wind section from Tynecastle High School and the Choir from St.Martins Church. The Reverend John Conway also from St Martins gave the Christmas message and Cllr Nick Elliot-Cannon presented the Best Dressed Christmas window (won by The City Florists on Gorgie Rd.) . Joining us on the stage were Cllr Eric Milligan - my fellow Labour Councillor for Sighthill Gorgie and MSP Sarah Boyack. The grand finale of course is Santa who hands out presents to all the kids. Santa's sleigh organised by the Edinburgh Lions Club. Afterwards all those involved retired into Robertsons Bar who for several years now have been kindly donating a free drink and a buffet. The whole event is organised by the Gorgie Dalry Partnership who do a fantastic job but it is typical of Gorgie Dalry to see so many local companies and groups getting involved. Multi Party, multi organization all coming together in the Christmas spirit. Great!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I never seem to get time to do this, post an entry that is . Time time time. As Christmas gets closer I get busier - happens every year. Same for everyone I know. I love Christmas though and really look forward to it. Some of the things that make me busy are a a joy as well of course like the Gorgie Dalry Christmas Lights Switch On tonight. I love the carol singing and the Christmas spirit. Its at Gorgie City Farm on Gorgie Road at 6pm if anyone wants to come along. There is a children's party beforehand in the Tynecastle Community Association centre in Mcleod Street then everyone comes along in a group for the switch on ceremony. The actual switching on of the lights this year is being done by Ian Waugh of Forth 1.

There is a cloud of course in the form of the terrible murder which occurred in the Ward last week. Terrible not just because of the nature of the crime itself but the effect it will no doubt have on residents and perceptions of the area. All I can say from personal experience is that since becoming a Councillor for the Ward in May I have met hundreds of residents in the vicinity and found them all - without exception to be genuine, good, friendly people. Not saying everyone is like that of course but I've met enough now to know there must be a good number. A terrible thing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This has to be a record - I had a feeling I had been at meetings every night for a while but I've just checked back three and a half weeks and it's true - a meeting every night (also two out of three Sundays). Before anyone gets the violins out I should add that I am thoroughly enjoying it. The geographic area of the new ward is vast but it is good to get out and meet different groups and people. There is a sense of foreboding out there though after last months drastic cuts were pushed through being directed as they were at the voluntary sector, the elderly, people on low incomes and the vulnerable in general. The Gorgie Dalry Partnership, for example has received a letter stating that its funding will be reduced by £2000 in this financial year. When the total budget is just over £20,000 this represents a serious blow to the viability of the organisation. Areas like Gorgie Dalry, Sighthill, Wester Hailes, Broomhouse etc are all bracing themselves for the impact of the cuts to be felt - and it will be! See the report that went to the Council by clicking here. Of course the SNP / Lib Dem 'Coalition' will claim that it is all our fault for running up an overspend but the fact is that whatever its size or its cause these cuts are the choice of the current administration and we have put forward alternative measures which would not have impacted on front line services the way that their measures do.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Well - I've just about calmed down - or at least stopped shaking with rage at the hypocrisy of it all. Yes, I'm talking about last Thursday's Full Council meeting. Supposed 'Liberal Democrats' and SNP denying the citizens of Scotland's Capital City their traditional right to address all the councillors on a subject as important as our children's education and the centres in our communities! ....And all the time talking about citizen participation and increasing involvement of people in decisions of the council!! In the first few minutes of the meeting I found myself bouncing to my feet to contradict Lib Dem assertions that deputations had been spoken to and had agreed not to speak preferring a 'more appropriate forum' - not true. The public gallery, the European room and the quadrangle were full of angry parents, an MP and an MSP who had come along with speeches prepared and were not allowed to. As the Evening News said they left angrier than they arrived. 'Point of information Lord Provost' (with hindsight I suppose it wasn't really a point of information but I was too angry to care at the time) I shouted 'that's not true - there are deputations here now in the gallery waiting and wanting to speak'. Other than the obvious I was angry because this had undone in a single blow everything I and the previous administration had tried to do, creating Local Development Committees and then the new Neighbourhood Partnerships, to increase citizen participation in the affairs of the Council. An 'affront to democracy ' as Andrew Burns rightly puts it.

All this is before we even begin on the proposal to close 22 school and community centres. Along with my colleagues I spoke at length on how these cuts did not make any sense. Click here to see what I said. Taking the Gorgie War Memorial Hall as an example, I said, you can't sell it or close it because it is a War Memorial. It gets a tiny grant from the council for all the varied work that it does with the local community and it doesn't even have a single full time community education worker! So why is it on the list for closure. The whole report is poorly thought out. No one has talked to the staff or visited the places on this list. I ended by calling it a 'disgrace'.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

It's amazing how the summer holidays from the school fills up with other things to the extent you wonder how you ever managed to fit it in! In my case of course the school holidays are just an opportunity to concentrate on the council and constituency stuff. Also the opportunity affordes itself to do major renovations on the house. I feel a growing sense of urgency to get it all fitted in before the 20th of August when the school starts back all be it I am only part time.
Renovations took an ugly turn when on my way to bed I heard a rustling and saw a dark mouse sized object shooting along the exposed under floor pipes. Sigh - why do these things always happen just as you are off to bed?
I have just done a couple of updates to the Labour Groups new vision statement 'Labour's Priorities for Edinburgh'. It was poorly received at the Council (as you might expect) from the other parties but we had hoped they would see past the old adversarial politics and take it for what it was - a completely positive look at what we would like to see for the city. This is us being serious about the new politics. I have always believed that citizens are not interested in politicians just contradicting each other for the sake of it but want us to work together to find solutions to the problems we all face. I know this is naive given that we work within a party political system but I also believe that there is an opportunity here with the new system to be less adversarial and more positive.
Speaking of communications the Labour group will be producing a Labour Group leaders report roughly every month (to coinside with full Council). Jenny Dawe is reviewing the official 'Leaders Report' which we brought in and has made it plain she is not really in favour of it. I think anything that lets the people know what we are doing is a good idea. If you would like to be emailed a copy of the Labour Group report let me know on .

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The duties of a Bailie are varied indeed! One of the most interesting recently was the commemoration of the Scots who died in the American Civil War. The news wrongly reported prior to the event that there were up to 500,000 casualties. I discovered however that this was the number of Scots who took part on both sides (since the total number killed was less than 800,000 it seems unlikely that the vast majority of them were Scots). A truer figure was apparently likely to have been between 100,000 and 200,000 which of course is still a staggering number.

The event itself was excellent drawing attention as it does not only to the involvement of Scots but also to the only War memorial to the fallen in the American Civil War out side the States. And a magnificent memorial it is with its statue of Abraham Lincoln and a crouching slave reaching up.
The event was the first of its kind but it is hoped to make it an annual event.
Here is what I said (if interested) :-

"I am honoured to be here this morning, representing the Lord Provost and City of Edinburgh Council, at this memorial service to commemorate the first Battle of Bull Run on 21 July 1861. This was the first major land battle of the American Civil War during which many Scottish soldiers fought and died.

In particular I would like to welcome Mr Peter Ferrier who is here as a Guest of Honour and is the grandson of an American Civil War Veteran.
Sir, we are delighted that you are able to be with us this morning.

There can be no more fitting location for this service than here at the Lincoln Memorial, thought to be the only American Civil War Memorial outside the USA.

This wonderful statue was erected in 1893 after the widow of a Sgt Major McEwan, who served in the 65th Illinois Voluntary Infantry, approached the American Consul General for financial assistance. Having discovered that Sgt Major McEwan had been buried in a pauper’s grave, the Consul – Mr Wallace Bruce – approached the Edinburgh Corporation for a burial site for Scots who had served in the Civil War.

I am very pleased indeed that the city fathers of the day donated this piece of land so that the American Consul could raise funds to erect this memorial and statue of Abraham Lincoln.

As you can see, the memorial also depicts a freed slave – a most appropriate image in the year when we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery Act here in the UK.

Finally, I would like to thank the Rev Dr Bill Mackie and the One O’Clock Gun Association for putting so much effort into organising this event to commemorate all those, and particularly those from Scotland, who fought and died in the American Civil War.
Thank you."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's strange how life turns around. On the up side in Sighthill Gorgie we defied the trend and returned two Councillors for Labour. Andrew Burns was elected for Fountainbridge Craiglockhart and Sarah Boyack won Edinburgh Central for the Parliament.

On the down side Labour had been conspired against and lost power in spite of being the second largest party in the Council. Oh well, that's STV for you. Fairer in one way (more votes counting) and grossly unfair in another (parties with fewer Councillors having more decision making power).

To my surprise however I was honoured to be made a Bailie (no- it's not a spelling mistake - it's two 'l's for Glasgow and one 'l' for Edinburgh) in the new Council.

This is a civic post which supports the Lord Provost. It comes with a Chain of Office - see photo. I have always seen it as part of my duty to attend civic ceremonies and this has apparently been noted.
So far I have attended several major events including the Adult Learners' Week Awards and Scotland's Gardens. The Adult Learners' Week Awards was a particularly appropriate one for me to do as in addition to the civic welcome I was asked to present the 'John Smith Award' at the end of the evening. The excitement was added to by the fact that the winners who were sitting at my table were completely unaware that they had won! i showed masterful restraint and didn't so much as drop a clue until I went up onto the stage to announce it. The winners were 3TFM, a community radio station broadcasting to the three towns of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenson with an emphasis on health. Following an intensive learning program they successfully broadcast live for 28 days providing 672 hours of music and content having trained 150 volunteers and 30 live presenters and studio crew. Over the past year they have organised national conferences , delivered keynote addresses and helped new community radio stations. Worthy winners.
I also got the opportunity to say a few words about John Smith in whose memory the award was being presented. I knew John only slightly but counted myself privileged to have done so.
At any rate I am very pleased and would thank the Council for the appointment as Bailie.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Well the elections are over and I was re-elected. The whole thing was a very strange experience under the new system. I would like to thank all the people who voted for me first, second, third or fourth (there were four places)! I will however work hard for all the people of Sighthill Gorgie over the next four years. I will work together with the other three Councillors elected (Eric Milligan - Lab; Nick Elliot-Cannon - SNP;Joanna Toomey - SLD) for the good of the area. I have not forgotten all the issues and problems which were communicated to me over the phone or in person on the campaign trail and I will be pursuing these right away. Thanks again - I consider it an honour and will work hard.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Well what a morning! Excellent weather and excellent response on Gorgie Rd.. Makes you wonder who they ask for these opinion polls? Not everyone supporting us of course but a good spread of supporters, 'not interested's and very few against. Not a single person stated they were voting SNP which seems strange given that you would think that their confidence levels would be high and therefore they would be pleased to tell you. They were there of course, further up the road and I must admit to some satisfaction that as we were walking past them a young woman had engaged them loudly and aggressively on something to do with money. I couldn't quite make it out but she was clearly not a supporter.

It was all very polite though - which is as it should be among everyone engaged in the process of democracy. None of us are bad people we just don't agree on many things. Pretty fundamental things though, such as the breaking up of the UK which surely everyone must know is the central policy of the SNP however hard they try to distract us with other things. A referendum - this is just a ploy to let people flirt with the idea but then change their minds later! Voting SNP is voting for independence and it would be a lot more honest if they would admit to it instead of trying to separate themselves from it. Without independence the SNP is nothing and hopefully more and more people will realise this between now and the election.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Another weekend closer to the elections (3rd May). The stall was on Dalry Rd. on Saturday. The Sun was out and the temperature is begining to rise - in more ways than one! Outside Somerfield (left) was a good few degrees below Gorgie Rd. (right). The reception is always friendly. I never fail to be warmed at the busy vibrant feeling of genuine community that you get on Gorgie Dalry Rd. especially on a Saturday morning. I love it and have always been proud to be a part of it.

Still need to attend to other things though like on Tuesday we had the last Executive. It was six hours long with over seventy reports! Rumour has it that this was nothing compared to the Licensing Board on Friday which ran from 10am to 6.30. People trying to get things through before the uncertainty of May.

A major event for me next week however will be the Edinburgh Medal and address by Dr Richard Horton tomorrow evening (Monday). As the Chair of the Edinburgh International Science Festival I am saying a few words at the reception afterwards. I presented the Medal last year in the Hub to Professor James Lovelock who gave a very emotive and topical address on global warming. He concluded somewhat depressingly at the end that it was too late for renewable energy such as wind power and the only thing which would have a noticeable impact would be nuclear power. I think this is substituting one problem for another. I am a passionate believer in renewable energy and recycling (I drive a Toyota Prius hybrid electric car and was responsible for bringing forward a report to the Council enabling us to put micro generating turbines and waterwheels at a variety of Council owned locations). I am certainly looking forward to this years address!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The election starts here

Well, that's the campaign started in earnest - we are into our campaign shop (294 Gorgie Road) and the manifesto was launched yesterday.

Our ten key pledges are -
  • help save on everyone’s energy and household bills by offering a free “eco-check” and low-interest loan to every home
  • create a new £200m “homestake” fund to help low income residents buy their first home
  • keep the Council tax down to the rate of inflation for the next four years
  • make sure every young person leaving school is qualified to go straight into work, or into training, or into more education. We don’t want anyone left aside
  • improve the quality of the city centre through investment in and around Princes Street,
  • boost the employment rate in the poorest areas of the city to within 3% of the city average.
  • set up a 24-hour fast-response Community Safety Team, with police officers, in every neighbourhood
  • offer affordable childcare for children between 3 and 14 to all families in the city who need it
  • create green energy projects inside the city funded by donations to a new gold standard “Edinburgh Carbon Offset Trust”
  • give every Edinburgh voter a “shareholder’s discount” of a free fortnight’s travel on their bus pass
Read the full text at .

Of course that doesn't mean we haven't been out pounding the pavements for weeks now. The reception has been generally good but my concern remains that if too many people vote the same way where Labour is fielding two candidates (like in my ward) in terms of first and second choice then the second choice will not get in. Interestingly I spoke to a Lib Dem on Friday who was just as concerned as me about this. The other aspect that takes a bit of getting used to is the sheer size of the ward - 12000 households taking in everything between Dalry and the Calders. It is well worth a visit to the Boundary Commission's ward maps to check what area you are now in. I have to say though - I love every minute of election campaigns.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Good news for Gorgie Dalry!
Last week the Council Executive passed a report putting Gorgie Rd. and Dalry Rd. at the top of the list for CCTV. Local people have been voicing their desire for this in recent months including a petition from local businesses. I have been putting the case to the Council for these streets and am therefore delighted to have been so successful that we have ended up at the very top. Between this and the new 'Pub Watch', which was started up a couple of weeks ago by the Council, the Police and local pubs, I am sure this is a welcome and significant step forward for security and quality of life in the area. I have lived most of my adult life in this area and have always been struck by the strong sense of community. The local shops are part of this and this should be a welcome boost for them as it will help to prevent vandalism and malicious damage to shop fronts.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I am delighted to have been selected as one of Labour's candidates to stand in the new multi member ward of 'Sighthill/Gorgie' in the May 2007 local government elections. The ward for which I am presently the Councillor is Shandon but this will cease to exist at the elections in May this year. Shandon will be cut in half with Gorgie (which is part of Shandon at the moment) going into 'Sighthill/Gorgie' and the bit which is actually called Shandon on the map going into Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart (click here for boundary maps). I have been a Councillor for eight years and take great pride in a large number of achievements in my ward such as the renovation of Harrison Park and Council agreement to the brand new secondary school to replace Tynecastle. I bring a proven track record to the new ward but I am very interested in what citizens in this new area (click link above to see boundary map) think about local issues or just in general. For my own part I believe in open green spaces, affordable housing, good, well equipped local schools which offer real opportunities for children and young people and a good local economy (local shops etc.).