Interim arrangements for the council

Today Edinburgh City Council agreed short term arrangements to break the political impasse that has gripped the city since the council elections on 4 May. Steve Burgess explains.

The cause of the political impasse in Edinburgh is not hard to see. At a time when all councillors should be focused on what is best for Edinburgh, too many have their eye on the UK election on 8 June and how decisions made locally might impact on close-fought constituency battles in the capital. The Tories seem to have no qualms about seeking to “game” council meetings to fit their own wider party advantage, while Labour councillors, rather pathetically, have to get permission from their national HQ before making any decisions for the long term; permission which, so far, has been withheld.

That is frustrating but it is there and it is not going away until after 8 June. There are two ways to deal with that. One is to forge on regardless. In effect, this is what SNP councillors sought to do earlier this week by declaring an intention to take up the main posts within the city on their own, even while a coalition arrangement with Labour is almost certainly in the pipeline.

The Green group has already gone on record as believing that the SNP, as the largest party in the city chambers, has the right to lead the emerging council administration – if need be, as soon as the 8 June has come and gone. As a signal of that direction of travel, that is why all Green councillors supported the election of SNP councillor Frank Ross as Lord Provost last week.

Unfortunately, for the SNP, with only 19 out of 63 councillors, this week’s gambit came across as overplaying their hand. If successful, it would have given SNP councillors all the trappings of administration without the political foundations to make their positions meaningful.

So what is the alternative?

In the current climate there is no credible alternative coming from the Tories, the second largest party in the city, for whom the city chambers seem no more than an extension of their UK election campaign and little to do with the best interests of the city or public services. About a minute before the meeting of full council today the Tories put forward a detailed amendment for a single committee system to oversee the city. At no point during all-party talks the day before had they proposed this or even that they might have an alternative. Their last minute proposal smacked of yet another political game, one which was neither technically competent nor credible.

So that is why Green councillors had worked hard with other parties – including Labour and Lib Dems – to put forward a proposal for interim arrangements to get to the other side of the UK election. Our proposal, which we had shared with all other parties well in advance, made sure that those committees which needed to make decisions were set up; that outside bodies which needed councillors had those councillors; and that the civic duties of the council were fulfilled. Further we put in place arrangements for the leadership to be shared among all 5 party groups when the chief executive needs guidance over the next 3-4 weeks.

It is to the credit of most councillors that they got behind this proposal. I include in this SNP councillors, as I recognise they would have preferred another path. The Tories, meanwhile, will need a hard think about they engage with other parties in this newly diverse city chambers, if they are not to spend 5 years shouting from the side-lines.