Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bit of a ramble ...

... bit of a ramble I've just submitted for possible publication ... thought it may be of more general interest to my regular readers?? ...

A New Politics for Edinburgh?

You must have noticed that the political map of Edinburgh has changed significantly in the last few weeks.

Personally, I very much welcome the move to a form of proportional representation for the City Council – I’ve been a long-standing champion of the Single Transferable Vote (STV - the system we all used on May 3rd) and am pleased that it seemed to be used with such ease by most voters a few weeks ago. It is a system that puts ‘voters’ very much in charge, which is why so many politicians and political Parties dislike it!

And ‘voters’ do seem to have found it easy to understand. The number of spoiled ballot papers for the Local Council elections was exceptionally low – unlike the serious problems with the Scottish Parliament ballot paper – and indeed, all of Scotland had a lower % of spoiled STV ballot papers than Northern Ireland did in their Assembly elections in March 2007 … and they’ve been using STV for decades.

But what does it all mean for Edinburgh? Well, the city now has 17 ‘multi-member’ Wards instead of the old 58 ‘single-member’ Wards. There are now 10 Wards with 3 elected Members, and 7 Wards with 4 elected Members … so the total number of Councillors for the city is still 58.

For the city as a whole, the number of Councillors elected for each political Party more fairly represents the percentage of the vote they achieved across the city. And that’s principally why we’ve seen such a significant change in the make up of the Council – we now have 5 main Party Groups, … Liberal-Democrat, Labour, SNP, Conservative and Green. There used to be only three Party Groups on the Council and their numbers of seats didn’t reflect their percentage of the vote.

So since the May 3rd election, no single Party has an overall majority – far from it, with the largest Party only having 29% of the seats on the Council. Thus, the city has a ‘coalition’ in charge with political Parties having to share power. Despite having some critics, coalition local-government has been standard practice in most continental European countries for many, many decades … last time I checked, life was still continuing there! Indeed, essential services in Edinburgh have continued to be delivered since May 3rd and the sky hasn’t yet fallen in.

And what about at a local level – well, to take my own Ward (Ward number 9) of “Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart” as an example … this part of the city now has 3 local Councillors: Gordon Buchan representing the Conservative Party, myself Andrew Burns representing the Labour Party and Jim Lowrie representing the Liberal-Democrats. Despite our political differences, we will have to work and cooperate together to help ensure the best services are delivered for the wider local area we have all now been elected to serve. Instead of having only 1 elected Councillor to address any concerns to, every constituent in “Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart” now has the choice of 3 Councillors – each of us has different strengths and areas of specific interest and over the next four years I’m certain that these will combine to the wider benefit of the larger Ward. And, put simply, if any one of us doesn’t pull our weight it will be very easy for any constituent to speak to another of their local Councillors!

So, changed-times indeed. And I believe the change will be to the long-term benefit of politics in Edinburgh – there will simply “have” to be more cooperation ‘between’ political Parties. Old style, confrontational politics isn’t going to end overnight, but I do think its days are now numbered. Edinburgh will be the ultimate beneficiary.


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