Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vote for a Change

Campaign web-site for that long-overdue referendum on the voting system now up and running - do have a quick look.

It's a pretty straightforward demand, given all the current political circumstances ...

... so do please sign up just as soon as you can :-)

Border's sunshine ...

St. Mary's Loch, in the Scottish Borders, as walked around (and photographed) yesterday!

Managed a few hours escape - to celebrate that 20th anniversary - over the weekend ...

... and what a fantastic few days of totally glorious weather - ideal for some easy walking :-)

Friday, May 29, 2009

No text needed :-)

Just click on the picture for a closer look at all that veg!

Positive local response ...

Local blog readers will have noted the serious vandalism problems at the Phoenix Centre, on Harrison Place/Gardens, in recent days ... not good at all.

It's been particularly distressing for the Harrison Playgroup, who use the Centre --- so, good to see such a positive response locally, and to hear that North Merchiston Club have been able to assist with temporary accommodation whilst immediate repairs are undertaken.

I do know how popular the Playgroup is - it's not just in Ward 9, but literally around the corner from where I stay and many of my near-neighbours use the facility and speak very highly of it.

20-years today!

My better-half and I have been living together for 20-years this very day!

We moved into our first rented-house, in Stoke-on-Trent, on 29th May 1989 --- and bought our first property (in the same street in Stoke!) later that year in August 1989.

Can't quite believe it's all passed so quickly, and so happily :-)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Emergency over!

Just got back from the Council Meeting to catch the last-ever episode of ER ...

... can't believe that there will never be any more (new) episodes?
I'd be willing to take any money on a re-launch in the not-too-distant future?!

"Instep" no more ...

Well, it was a pretty lengthy meeting - didn't finish until close on 8pm ... and yes, the vast majority of the time was taken up by Deputations and debate on the items at Section 7 (of the Agenda here), all of which had already been debated at various Committees having been sent there from Full Council :-(

Probably the most significant decision was the one at item 7.4 to close the Instep Service at Castlebrae High School - made no sense before I'd heard the debate, and made even less sense afterwards ...

... didn't stop the Administration pushing the closure through though.

Another classic example of Administration Members not knowing the detail of the budget they passed in February --- what was pretty incredible was that several of them had the audacity (maybe I should say honesty?) to basically admit this!

As I said, incredible ...

... but, sadly, incredibly depressing for all those at Castlebrae as it didn't stop the closure of a much-valued service.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Full Council Meeting tomorrow - main agenda can be found here ...

... most of the contentious items are in Section 7 (Reports from Committees) as they've been referred back to the Full Council, having been sent to Committee from the Full Council (because the Administration don't like difficult issues at Full Council), due to 25% of the Members of the relevant-Committee referring them back so :-(

Confused - you should be, because the whole system has become a nonsense; and really items should just be dealt with when they first appear on any Order Paper!

Monday, May 25, 2009

UK Cabinet support ...

UK Cabinet support today for a referendum on the voting system at the earliest opportunity ... lets hope this is translated into some definite legislative action over the coming months.

Alan Johnson has now made his position clear - when any referendum happens, he will obviously vote for change to the electoral system as opposed to supporting the status quo ...

... so would I, and - more than ever - I'm convinced the majority of the UK population would also back such change given the chance.

That chance could be confirmed as part of the Queens Speech this Autumn.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Thoroughly enjoyable visit to the Bridgend Community Allotment open-day, yesterday afternoon - inspired us to spend most of the late morning/afternoon today, down at Saughton Mains ;-)

... I did take some really good pictures of the progress with the vegetable-growing, but inadvertently scrubbed them off the camera before uploading them to the computer :-(

Glorious weather all day long today - just great for gardening.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Question Time

All the Council Party Group Leaders (5 in total) took part in a BBC-style 'Question Time' earlier this morning, organised by the Edinburgh Association of Community Councils (EACC) ...

... enjoyable couple of hours, with good questions and a healthy debate between the panel and the audience.

Out of interest, the main topics raised were:
  • Neighbourhood Partnerships
  • Fairer Scotland Fund (FSF)
  • Political Party Branches being allowed (or not) to put themselves forward as 'Nominated Interest Groups' for Community Councils
  • 'Tendering/Outsourcing' of Council services
  • possible pedestrianisation of Princes Street
  • and yes, Trams!

Off to Bridgend Community Allotment open-day now ...

Friday, May 22, 2009


'Edinburgh Labour' Group Expenses

Unless you've been on the dark-side of the moon for the last few weeks, its hard to believe that you haven't picked up on all the coverage concerning the expenses of certain Elected Members from the Westminster Parliament :-(

Well, the 'expenses' for all of Edinburgh's 58 Local Councillors - for the year ending 31st March 2009 - are published late this afternoon and you can see all the details for the 'Edinburgh Labour' Group of 15 Councillors by going here.

You can see the complete list for all Parties by going here (2008-09 may not be there for an hour or two). If you're not certain which Councillor belongs to which Party (no jokes please!), then you can find out here.

You'll see from the 'Edinburgh Labour' table, that almost all our Group of 15 are on the basic annual salary of £15,838 - the exceptions being Ewan Aitken and myself, who have variously spent parts of 2008/09 as Group Leader which is regarded as a Senior Councillor post and for which the full annual salary is just over £24,000.

Salaries aside, the total of additional expenses claimed by our complete Group of 15 Councillors for the whole of 2008/09 is £9,797.

I'll briefly explain some of the column headings in the 'Edinburgh Labour' table for these additional expenses:

  • mileage expenses - this relates to daily travel costs: principally 'mileage allowance' for car travel.
  • taxis - for taxis fares related to Council work.
  • subsistence expenses - 'accommodation costs' at any conferences attended.
  • telephone and ICT expenses - telephone calls made for work purposes: principally 'home-telephone' costs.
  • other allowances and expenses - this relates, in the main, to the £444 for an annual bus pass. As you'll see, most 'Edinburgh Labour' Councillors use this as their primary mode of travel. This column also includes any 'conference fees' and overseas travel.

As mentioned above, this totals £9,797 for our complete Group of 15 Councillors for the whole of 2008/09

In the spirit of openness, I'm putting all of this up on the blog so that people can make up their own mind about what each individual 'Edinburgh Labour' Councillor has claimed this year - and, as indicated above, you can also contrast it with what the other 43 Edinburgh Councillors have claimed (2008-09 may not be there for an hour or two).

And, I will positively welcome any questions about any of the detail for our Group of 15 Councillors - either through the comments section of this post and/or via e-mail to

I will respond to all queries.

Race for life ...

My better-half is doing a 5K run in a few weeks time ... first time she'll have ever completed (hopefully!) such a run, and in a moment of huge stupidity I agreed to train with her :-(

So, for the last few Friday mornings we've been doing +2K short-runs along the canal and back. I can't do the actual 5K run with her, as I'm already booked up that Sunday - honest!

But, I have to say, I've got the running-bug back again --- many (and I do mean many - like 25!) years ago I did actually do quite a bit of jogging, but have never really done any since. Cycling is just more civilised ;-)

But, you never know, maybe I'll keep training and have a go at at a longer event in the not too distant future?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

all-things European

Sticking with the European theme ...

... my local Constituency Labour Party had Hugh McMahon (who was a Labour MEP for Strathclyde West from 1984 - 1999) along tonight as their main speaker. He gave a thoroughly entertaining talk and dealt admirably with a wide-range of questions.

And, I'm pleased to say, there was a pretty healthy turnout of members to hear his passionate defence of all-things European.

European Elections on 4th June

I mentioned the ongoing European Election campaigning, briefly, a few days ago ...

... well, late this afternoon I attended a short official briefing about the formalities on the day and for the election-count thereafter.

What all readers may not be aware of is that although the European Election (throughout the UK) is on Thursday 4th June, the Edinburgh count doesn't actually take place until 5.30pm on Sunday 7th June, and the final result won't be announced until around midday on Monday 8th June.

And don't forget, that the number of Scottish MEP's has indeed been reduced (following further EU expansion) from 7 to 6 for this election!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A New Politics?

Good to see that the Guardian has today launched a campaign for a complete over-haul of the constitution ... full details can be found here.

The series summary reads:

"The row over MPs' expenses and the role of the Commons Speaker has led to widespread sentiment that an entire political class has been discredited. There is now a growing recognition that no return to 'business as usual' in Westminster is possible: the machinery of representative democracy, legislature and the executive is dysfunctional and ripe for reform.

Public dissatisfaction with politics and politicians has never been greater in modern times: a national debate is needed on what must change. Columnists and commentators from the Guardian and Observer make their suggestions, but in keeping with the new spirit of the age, this is about creating an open forum: join the conversation on political renewal."

Sounds like a bloody good idea to me!

Part1 AGM completed!

Relieved to report that I survived the 'Part1 Labour Group AGM' last night and remain as Edinburgh Labour Group Leader ;-)

--- actually, quite a contrast (as mentioned before) to a couple of the other local Political Groups?

Clearly, even STV-PR won't stop overt ambition :-))

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

COMMONS IN CRISIS - it's time for real change

Regular blog readers will know of my (very) long-term commitment to electoral reform, and to STV-PR in particular --- indeed, you could say this has all culminated in my being Chair of the UK-wide Electoral Reform Society since last December ...

... and, regular readers will also know that I was down in London for the most recent ERS Council Meeting just last weekend. There were some pretty significant decisions taken on Saturday, and I'm (personally) very pleased to see an important campaign starting to take shape today - some more background can be found here.

I'll explain a bit more in a second, but one of my colleagues summarised it very well on Saturday - a simple, clear explanation (I thought) and it goes like this:
  • politics is broken (who would now disagree with that?)
  • First-past-the-post (FPTP) is part of the problem
  • the winner-takes-all mentality clearly pervades our whole 'body-politic'
  • politicians cannot be trusted to fix this themselves
  • after all, they are about to admit they can't be trusted to fix their own expenses by agreeing 'independent' oversight!
  • to fix this problem, we need to ask those who matter most - the people of the UK
  • we need a referendum on the voting system
  • a promise of such a vote is, after all, a long-standing Government commitment
  • we need that referendum vote as quickly as possible
  • that should be on the day of the next General Election

And, as ERS Chair, I've just written to all our supporters laying out the need for the campaign that's been launched to achieve the above. I'll repeat that letter here:


“A formidable array of reformers is gathering to demand a referendum on the principle of PR be added to the ballot paper at the next election. Let the people decide if they want to blow fresh air into parliament.” Polly Toynbee, The Guardian

Dear Supporter

Westminster is in crisis. The events of the last week have dented the reputation of the entire political class, and shown to the country the growing gulf between politicians and public.

We need to call last orders on unrepresentative and ineffective parliaments, and on majority governments backed up by little more than a third of the votes. The present crisis has awakened people to the need for radical change and that gives us an opportunity to demand a new electoral system at Westminster.

That is why the Electoral Reform Society is joining with other organizations in demanding a referendum on the voting system on the day of the next general election. This may be Labour’s last chance to deliver on its promised referendum in 1997. We want to give people a chance to vote not just for their MP, but also for a fresh playing field for politics.

As a councillor in Scotland , elected by STV, I’ve seen first-hand how electoral reform has delivered real accountability in our town halls. If we are to see decent, accountable government at Westminster we will need your help.

It's time to take action ...

Today Polly Toynbee, Steve Richards, Helena Kennedy & George Monbiot have all taken aim at our decrepit system. But in every national, regional and local paper there is a living debate about the future of British democracy.

We need you to be a part of that debate. Get the message out in your area - on accountability, on choice, and on the need for real change at Westminster.

More information is available on our website. If you want to get more involved as our campaign for a referendum builds contact: or phone 020 7928 1622.

Good luck!

Councillor Andrew Burns
Chair, Electoral Reform Society

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I hope some of you out there may join in :-)

Allotment-newt and other stories ...

Apologies for the distinct lack of posting over the last few days ... a very quick update on a busy 72-hours:
  • ERS Council Meeting (in London) on Saturday went well
  • back up to Edinburgh very late on Saturday (by train, of course!)
  • most of Sunday afternoon spent at the allotment
  • pond now has a resident newt, as well as a frog :-))
  • Monday a local holiday, but still had to attend two meetings at the City Chambers :-(

Normal blogging service will resume, now that the excitement of the "allotment-newt discovery" has subsided somewhat ;-)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Brave viewpoint?

Just spotted that Martin Kettle has what can only be described as a very 'brave viewpoint' on the whole expenses scandal in today's edition of the Guardian!

... he actually makes some very good points, but I'm not entirely convinced that such a line of argument will elicit much sympathy from many members of the public at the current time :-(

London bound this evening ...

Off down to London this evening for the quarterly Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Council Meeting, which takes place tomorrow ...

... I have enjoyed my spell as Chair since last December - but the ERS' biannual elections are now on the horizon (June 2009), so tomorrow could actually be my last on the Council, never mind in the Chair!

I certainly hope otherwise ;-)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Parent's evening ...

Juniors' school Parent's evening tonight ... all seems fine and one can only conclude that the boy takes after his mother ;-)

- more seriously, it is a big year for him as - come August - he'll be off up to Tynecastle High School: I can hardly believe it's come around so quickly!

Tempting fate?

Out doing some local campaigning today ...

... what can I say - not exactly the most auspicious time to be trying to convince people to vote: for any Party :-(

I'm inclined to say it all goes to show just what good value Local Councillors are - but it may just be tempting fate?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Avoiding the problem ...

Actually, think I'll need to find a picture with several more ferrets-in-a-sack, given what was in yesterday's local paper --- the detail of which will have been 'impeccably sourced' from within the Lib-Dem Group of course :-))

... more seriously - switching Transport Convener won't help the tram project one-jot.

The real problem - and senior Lib-Dems know it only too well - is the, now totally open, public undermining of the project by their local SNP coalition-partners.

What chance of efficient governance and prompt delivery of this project is there when you have the Deputy Leader, AND the Convener of Economic Development, publicly calling for the project to be completely scrapped?

Answer - close to zero.

... OK - they voted differently two seconds thereafter, but that hardly inspires further confidence, does it??

Monday, May 11, 2009


I'm not claiming that during the 10-years I've been on the Council our political Group has never experienced such in-fighting ...

... but, it has to be one of the (very) few pleasures of Opposition to see 'power and ambition' displaying their corrosive abilities within other political Groups on the Council ;-)

Survived the weekend ...

Well - managed to survive two-nights under canvass ... and the trip further south did the trick with some 30 people in attendance --- think there were 19 adults and 11 children - but we may have lost one or two along the way ;-)

Beautiful part of the country and the campsite was first-class --- with the nearest (child-friendly, of course!) pub a mere half-mile walk down the road :-))

Friday, May 08, 2009

Camping Weekend!

Yes - it's that time of year again and we're off on our (now) annual camping weekend!

Travelling to Yorkshire this time, in an effort to entice more of our southern-friends to attend, and will be staying near Settle - details of the site here.

Blogging may therefore be light for the next couple of days ...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

10-years a Councillor

I know everybody was getting excited about the 10th anniversary of devolution yesterday - but, for me, today is actually the big day ;-)

You see --- the Local Government Count in 1999 didn't start until 11.30am on the morning of Friday 7th May 1999: and I was duly elected around about 2pm that afternoon!

So - right about now - I've been a Councillor for 10-years.

Far too many experiences have followed in those ten eventful years to list them all here - suffice to say, the last few years are on the blog and I have kept a paper diary throughout the whole period, so I do have a basic record of all the main events.

Most important point for me today though is pretty straightforward and simple: I'm still thoroughly enjoying being an elected Local Councillor and do feel my efforts are (in the main) helping out local constituents - sometimes its just not possible, but most of the time what we do as local Ward Members can (and does) make a difference.

So: here's to the next 10-years :-))

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tram works

I'm quick enough to be critical of the tram project when things go wrong --- so think it only fair to make it clear that I personally believe the recommendation (reported in the local press today) to ensure the tram works continue throughout August is the right thing to do.

As someone who (many, many years ago!) used to work in a retail environment, I do know only too well just how dependant many retailers are on their Christmas trade. So, seems to me, the right thing to do to try and minimise any chance of a 'programme-overrun' into the Christmas trading period by working through the August Festival ...

... won't please everyone - but a clear decision needed to be taken one way or the other, and this is just the kind of Leadership, whose absence I've been somewhat critical of in the past, I do very much welcome.

More of the same please.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Parking Review update ...

I did promise to provide an update from this morning's Transport Committee Meeting on the CPZ-extension proposals ... so, here goes:

Firstly, can I thank everyone for the large amount of feedback I've had to the report - it really has been appreciated and I did try and feed as much of the comments I received into my own verbal submission to the Committee earlier this morning.

I have to say that the Committee Meeting was far from ideal and a lot of (initially, at least) competing amendments were being moved to the report's recommendations before an all-Party agreement was eventually reached on the way forward. There was then, ultimately, no political division on this.

I will try and outline how I read the main decisions below - I have to stress this is my interpretation (I think it's correct) but it will be the actual 'minute' of the meeting that is final and I will post separately on that just as soon as the Committee Clerks have it approved.

So, for Report No. 22 and the recommendations 12c and 12d (see page 2 here) which affect areas of the Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart Ward:

  • 12c - was amended to read: To recommend to proceed with formal proposals to introduce controlled parking in the Ashley area by including this area in the existing Parking Zone S4, with the exception of the Shaftesbury Park Colonies. Parking issues in the Shaftesbury Park Colonies to be further investigated by a 'local panel' of relevant Ward Elected members and community councillors

  • 12d - was slightly amended to read: To not recommend to proceed with formal proposals to introduce controlled parking in the Lockharton/Meggetland area; with outstanding parking issues in the the whole area to be further investigated by a 'local panel' of relevant Ward Elected members and community councillors

In essence, my understanding is that this now means:

  • CPZ controls are being abandoned for the Lockharton/Meggetland area, but that specific pressure points like Craiglockhart Terrace and Colinton Road (just for example) will be picked up by the 'local panel' for further discussion/action

  • CPZ controls for the Shaftesbury Park Colonies are being abandoned, but that specific outstanding issues such as pavement parking (just for example) will be picked up by the 'local panel' for further discussion/action

  • CPZ controls for the remainder of the Ashley area --- Harrison Gardens, Harrison Place, Ogilvie Terrace, the various Ashley's and Cowan Road --- will now move to the next stage of the process which is formal consultation and eventual advertisement of a traffic order

I cannot stress enough that decision 12c above only means that the proposals go on to the next stage - the last stage was informal consultation - there will now be a formal consultation and eventual advertisement of a traffic order. There will still be ample chance to object to (or support!) the proposals as that process unfolds.

I'm fully aware that the decisions above will not be welcomed by everyone, but I do believe they represent the current majority feedback to the recently completed informal consultation. That said, as I mention above, there will still be ample opportunity for residents to input further thoughts into the process as it now unfolds.

Please do get back to me if you need any further information/clarification at this stage - and, as promised above, I will post separately on the actual 'minute' of this morning's meeting just as soon as the Committee Clerks have it approved.

Many thanks again for all the feedback and input to date ...

Monday, May 04, 2009


Aberdeen visitor now north-bound ...

... and, despite it being a Bank Holiday Monday, I'm currently desk-bound for the rest of the afternoon trying to catch up on the overload of paperwork :-(

I thought e-mail was supposed to put an end to all that??

Sunday, May 03, 2009

National Gallery of Modern Art

Went over to the National Gallery of Modern Art this afternoon with our visitor - good exhibition currently on at the moment, which I'd highly recommend ...

... lots of interesting exhibits, but needless to say the (in)famous 'sheep in formaldehyde' was definitely attracting most attention!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bank Holiday weekend ...

Friend from Aberdeen down for the Bank Holiday weekend, so in tourist-mode for the next few days!

Stayed pretty local today, with visits to the canal, Harrison Park and (of course) the allotment ;-)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Group Away Day

Spent most of this morning at a 'Group Away Day' event ...

... used the 'Engine Shed' as the venue for the meeting - excellent facilities, and a really good lunch ;-)