Independent policies

If I’m elected on 3rd May, I will be one vote among 58. I’m not a member of any political party and I have no plans to join a party – or to form one. I’ve been asked what my policies are, and I think they could better be described as personal commitments – to myself, to the voters of Southside and Newington, and to all those who have been affected by the statutory repairs scandal.

Whatever role I would play as a councillor would be a role driven by common sense and honesty and representing the people who hopefully will be kind enough to vote for me. I think being a councillor is a very personal relationship and I’ll be serving the people who elect me. I won’t be serving a political party.

My personal commitments, or nonparty policies if you like that better:

  • I am standing as an Independent candidate and if elected I will sit as an Independent councillor. I will not pledge to vote with any party group – not in open coalition nor in behind-the-scene deals. I will vote according to the merits or demerits of each motion, and with regard to the views of my constituents, not taking any party line.
  • I support transparent, open, honest government. Anyone taking an interest in local government should have their questions answered according to the standards set by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
  • I’m standing as a resident of Southside, not as a member of a political party. If elected, I’ll hold regular and accessible “surgeries” and will reply to any communication from a resident of Southside/Newington according to the standards set by the fine mySociety WriteToThem website.
  • I have a strong professional concern about the statutory repairs scandal. I hope that I will be able to work for that more effectively as an elected councillor. But I intend to continue following that up, whether I’m elected or not!
  • If you live in Newington/Southside and you have a concern that you want my help with as a councillor, you have a right and I’ll have an obligation to respond to your concern. If it’s a matter within my remit as a councillor – any aspects of local services and policy, such as planning, transport, roads, education, social services and libraries – and you want a face-to-face meeting to talk about it, I’ll meet with you.

Some more issues I have a strong view on:

  • The Edinburgh Trams construction project needs a clear management structure, realistic budget, realistic goals and deadlines, all of this publicly available, with clear penalties such as in any construction project for failing to meet the targets. Everyone in Edinburgh, resident or visitor, has a right to know what’s going on and how much it’s going to cost us.
  • Housing benefit should be clearly and fairly administered. Neither landlords nor tenants should have to fear eviction because of a muddle in administration. Homelessness is a disgrace: everyone in Edinburgh should be able to live in a decent, affordable home.
  • Our capital City should have a bespoke accommodation code for our students and landlord incentives to deliver good quality and affordable accommodation for students. Lower rentals, internet, less sharing of bathrooms, study space etc. Less profit from students and more investment in them. After 430 years as a university city the students deserve better from us than to have student accommodation “ranked as the top asset class in the UK’s property market” (The Times January 2012) University education should be about degrees, not debts!
  • I’ve been described as “watching revenue sheets like a hawk”. To save money, the council has closed nursery schools, Leith Waterworld, and Blindcraft. We can’t afford waste. But these cuts to services for Edinburgh’s children are a disgrace, and it’s shameful that after two hundred years this past council closed down the Blindcraft factory. My starting position is that we have enough revenue. The council spends about £1bn each year. That should be enough to deliver most services without waste. We should be looking for ways to save money, not sell off our treasures.
  • Which brings me to… I’m broadly against privatisation. For basic services within the community, we need a good, motivated, loyal workforce, an appreciated workforce, not a quagmire of term contracts, outplacement service contracts and monitoring. Buying in specialist services from outside contractors should be an exception, not the general rule.
  • We should be looking to invest in proper cycleways, not 20mph zones all over the place and cyclists having to cycle on the pavement because of justified concerns for their personal safety.
  • We should be providing better care for the elderly and the disabled, and better standards at work for care workers.

Edinburgh should be a clean, enjoyable, considerate, safe place to work and live.

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A demanding and responsible undertaking

I am a quantity surveyor. The fundamentals of my trade are delivering anything from a conservatory to a castle on time, on budget and to the correct quality. I have dealt with projects large and small – but had I been the quantity surveyor responsible for the Edinburgh Trams project, by this time I would have been sacked. It is unimaginable for a project to shrink in size yet double (at least) in cost.

I read in yesterday’s Evening News that four civil engineers (claiming a very respectable 150 years of experience) say that the council chiefs have made the trams situation worse in the past year:

“In our view, the tram project is even more out of control than it was under TIE. The risks that existed then continue to be critical and to impact the project.”

They claimed the design of the project was incomplete, although the original intention had been for it to be completed by the end of 2007; the project suffered from the absence of a single experienced individual; the diversion of underground utility pipes and cables was “still far from complete”; and the cost of taking the tramline from St Andrew Square into York Place was not included in the current £776 million budget.

(All those involved should hang their heads with shame. But the tram project can’t be scrapped now.)

What the Transport Minister said at the time was “A sustainable, integrated and effective transport network” and “a safe, environmental travel choice” and perhaps strangest of all to read five years later “The utilities agreement that has been put in place is the right approach. Allowing a single contractor to do all the work will minimise disruption in the Capital, save money and ensure the delivery of the project. That is welcome news for Edinburgh.”

If only. Councillors understanding the contract documentation for the trams fiasco could have saved Edinburgh becoming an international laughing stock. I wish I could have seen what the councillors saw five years ago. Not the glossy Edinburgh Transport Review but the contract and the estimates. Asking the right questions, challenging and analysing the answers, delivering the right solutions on budget… it’s what I do.

I was one of the two experts asked to look at the statutory repairs for a BBC Scotland Investigates programme, “Scotland’s Property Scandal“. (The other expert witness is John Addison, probably the most eminent structural engineer in the conservation field in Scotland.) A few weeks later the BBC broadcast “The Great Tram Disaster (great review here).

The reviewer, local blogger Tychy, also asked a few days ago:

Perhaps the tram was a dream? The disastrously unsupervised instalment of a single tramline, with projected costs now at a billion pounds, has virtually bankrupted Edinburgh’s council and made the city a national laugh stock. Yet with council elections in seven days, it seems that the plucky local press has together agreed to treat all of our motley politicians as if they were the Royal Family, by not asking too many unhelpful questions.

Being a Councillor is a demanding and responsible undertaking. I think all candidates set out with good intentions, wanting to do a bit of good along the way … but they also have political party advancement to think of.

Of recent years, no Independent candidate has won a seat on Edinburgh Council. The election campaign itself is a huge undertaking, with no party structure to help me – but if I win, then the real work starts.

Listening to the needs and concerns of local people comes naturally to many individuals. I’ve helped many people who were losing their way through the council statutory notices, faced with grossly inflated bills. Being able to fully understand a variety of issues and implement action is a skill too far for some.

It is all very well being selected by a party and to put your name under a party banner, but it is the skill and experience of the individual that matters.

The multi million pound statutory notices scandal – had a member of the public come to my “surgery” with a concern, I would have been on the case years ago and nipped it in the bud. Quantity surveyors have informed management skills, cost control and a breadth of understanding – these are inherent in my profession. We deal with building projects, yes – and perhaps more importantly, we deal with people – people who will live in, work in or use

  • Hospitals
  • Health Centres
  • Airports
  • Homes for the elderly
  • Schools
  • Town centre redevelopments (yes, including pothole repairs!)
  • Nurseries
  • Sports facilities
  • Church halls and community facilities
  • Recreation and leisure facilities
  • ….. and more.

As a correspondent observed “I have to say that your background makes you an ideal choice”.

I believe so. Otherwise I wouldn’t have got into this.

Robin McAlpine, author of a report on the state of democracy in Scotland, says

“At the local level in Scotland, the administration is basically fine, but the democracy is an absolute disaster. I don’t think anyone really believes they can use their vote to change their community any more. That just can’t be acceptable.”

I said it and I meant it: Make things go your way on 3rd May – I will not let you down.

Vote for Gordon Murdie

Orwellian truths through your letterbox

Good intentions are not good enough – if one needs a triple heart bypass operation then presumably the services of a skilled surgeon would be preferred to a well intentioned passer by who happened to be a member of a national political party.

What makes a true CHAMPION?

You have to take your hat off to them – or eat it.

Taking local democracy seriously, as I do, it is disappointing that Orwellian “truths” are being delivered through letterboxes at a relentless pace. Some parties are managing to deliver 4 sets of leaflets whilst the independent has had to settle for achieving one delivery of 15,600 pamphlets.

Party leaders are in the local papers daily and it seems it’s all about National Politics rather than local issues and democracy – a growing number of people are more than a little disillusioned at being treated as fools.

My pamphlet – “at last an election pamphlet worth reading” according to a leading academic – makes mention of the Trams Fiasco and the Statutory Notices Scandal and sets down an accurate representation of how poor basic local services really are. The parties make no mention of this, blame each other, promise a wonderful future and forget that our City is in a bit of a mess and needs new blood to reverse the decline.

A picture of a new bus shelter and a 20mph sign may fool some people into believing that the 5 parties and their 58 Councillors have done very well indeed – well the international shame of the Trams Fiasco says otherwise, perhaps that’s why they fail to mention it. In the real world, one blunder of that scale and you are down to the Job Centre!

I fully accept that, to a man or woman, Councillors set out with good intentions of political party advancement and doing a bit of good along the way.

In the spirit of appreciating that people do the best they can, it nonetheless astonishes me that the Transport Convener (trams) and former Board Member of TIE (trams) makes mention of recycling cardboard but forgets about the Trams Fiasco!!

“Re-elect LOCAL champion Gordon Mackenzie” the leaflet screams.

“LOCAL” despite the leaflet being printed by Kestrel Press, South Newmoor, Industrial Estate in IRVINE – how local is that and are there no printers in our City that print fiction?

“CHAMPION” The international shame of the Trams Fiasco, businesses and lives ruined in Leith Walk and beyond etc. Champion? Neither wonder it had to be printed in Irvine.

Posted in Elections 2012. Comments Off on Orwellian truths through your letterbox

Southside / Newington hustings on 1st May

The Hustings for the Southside / Newington ward will be held on Tuesday 1st May at 6pm at the Braidburn Inn on Mayfield Road.

The noted scholar and broadcaster Owen Dudley Edwards will chair the event.

This is your chance to ask the candidates questions and see what you think of them.

The Braidburn Inn has kindly donated the function suite and there will be sandwiches on arrival. Please indicate if you’re coming to give us an idea of numbers for refreshments.

Invited:

Steve Burgess – Scottish Green Party

Gordon Mackenzie – Scottish Liberal Democrats

Gordon Murdie – Independent

Jim Orr – Scottish National Party (SNP)

Ian Perry – Scottish Labour Party

Cameron Rose – Scottish Conservative and Unionist

No contact details found for these candidates! If anyone can help get in touch with them please contact edinburghmurdie@gmail.com

Margaret Lea – Liberal Party in Scotland

William Black – Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition

Posted in Elections 2012. Comments Off on Southside / Newington hustings on 1st May

STV, Provosts, and Mayors

On 4 May, we could have people being in key positions in our main cities as a result of behind-the-scenes bargaining and exchange between parties – that’s a worry:

Here in Scotland, if you asked your average punter who the leading lights were in any of the parties standing in Edinburgh or Glasgow, they’d be struggling. Voters are being asked to choose the parties they want to lead their local councils; we are not to be trusted with actually electing the people to lead our cities. That is a matter to be carved up behind closed doors, either as a choice from that group’s members, or possibly as a result of negotiations to form a coalition administration. On 4 May, we could have people being in key positions in our main cities as a result of horse-trading – people few will have heard of, have had the chance to scrutinise, or would have chosen if they had been given a direct vote.

In Edinburgh, the civic head is the Lord Provost (convenor of the council, also Lord-Lieutenant of Edinburgh and Admiral of the Firth of Forth). In the City Chambers you can see lists of names in gold paint of men (and two women) who have held that office since the 13th century. None were directly elected by the people of Edinburgh.

Click here for an online vote at Kate Higgins’s BurdzEyeView: Should Scotland have elected mayors?

Now about the Single Transferable Vote.

There is understandable confusion about the mathematical mechanics of this new voting system. It is intended to allow voters to give their preferences on as many candidates as they wish. A matter of consideration and choice for voters – also a judgement on past performance. If their first preference last time round has had a little calamity or two, then the system allows that candidate to become a 2nd or 3rd choice rather than no choice at all.

Apparently the parties are nervous enough of their track record to be demanding that their party members only vote for the party candidate and forsake giving any other candidate a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th choice. Oh, the playground nature of party politics! This election is about representing the people of Edinburgh, not party points scoring – I don’t forget that.

As the excellent Liberal Sellout blog advises:

We also already know there will be no majority administration. So why, therefore should you slavishly vote for a donkey with the ‘correct’ rosette? You the voter have been shorn of that duty to take the dullard in order to deliver a party majority for the ‘greater good’. So please don’t do it.

And with the Single Transferable Vote it is possible to be particularly sophisticated with that vote.

But one word of warning. Make sure that this candidate really does back your cause, this is a heart felt commitment, not a platitude on the back of a leaflet. Ask yourself this: will they commit to this policy beyond May 3rd, when it really matters?

I welcome your questions. My professional focus has been on the statutory repairs scandal for some time now – but I’m no one-trick pony.

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Right first time? Pothole.

Gina Davidson, Edinburgh Evening News, 17th February:

The trick which Jenny Dawe and Steve Cardownie have performed in the last week is certainly worthy of membership of the Edinburgh Magic Circle. Unfortunately for them, it looks likely that the public will see what their miraculous £26 million spending spree just weeks before the council elections really is – a fiscal illusion.

A straw poll of friends and relatives gave one reaction to the news that, as if from nowhere, the council had discovered millions to spend on services – it’s an election bribe.

Gina Davidson presents a strong case with the observation that this is all being funded by an unexpected £22m windfall from the Scottish Government.

In the paper itself, on the facing page, we were reminded by the transport leader, Gordon “Full Tram Route” Mackenzie, that the present Council’s “initiative” of getting road repairs “Right First Time” (yes, really) has won an award.  Seems it’s the sort of award you actually have to take time out to apply for and invariably pay a submission fee – it’s not exactly being singled out for a well deserved yet unexpected prize!

Before we all start dancing around road cones and temporary traffic lights in unbridled celebration it might be useful to dig below the surface.

At an awards dinner over in Derry/Londonderry way back in September 2010, the City of Edinburgh Council does appear to have won an award for filling potholes. The Association for Public Service Excellence did actually hold such an event. It was hosted by an Irish TV personality and sponsored by the Local Authorities Caterers Association.

No less than 300 submissions were received for a mere 22 awards and the hopefully fun packed evening was no doubt thoroughly enjoyed by the 400 people attending from Councils all over the UK – what a worthwhile night out.

You may be interested to know that Cornwall Council won the award for “Best service team – Highways, winter maintenance and street lighting” – so well done them.

Our Council got a prize for fixing potholes and presumably 278 Councils spent time filling in application forms and not getting an award at all!

I am really only half interested to know if anyone from our Council actually flew over to the Emerald Isle to collect the award and if their hotel was nice. Maybe there are some photos of the event which we could all share?

Ryanair’s booking desk awaits reservations to fly off to collect the “Most disappointing, expensive and unnecessary tram project in the world” and “most outstanding mismanagement of Statutory Repairs ever” awards.

Anyway, 8,000 extra pothole repairs it is from the Scottish Government’s £22m – all filled in under the “initiative” of Right First Time too. Surely, Edinburgh deserves more.

I wonder if any airline pilots or surgeons have taken time out to send money and fill in a form for an “award” for doing exactly what we hope and expect they should do?? Right First Time indeed.

Vote for Gordon Murdie

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It’s not just the trams

Alan Cochrane (Telegraph, 16th April) calls it “the policy that dare not speak its name”, “the shambolic farce” – the trams. He asks

And so, with local elections looming who is to blame for this fiasco and who should be punished in the polling booth?

and his answer is:

If I know my local politicians they’ll all say, in relation to The Trams fiasco: “It wasnae me.” But it was them – all of them, who’ve served on that council in recent years. So let’s get rid of the lot.

Least culpable, I suppose, are the SNP representatives. That party has always been against the project and, to be fair to them, Alex Salmond and John Swinney, his finance minister, tried to axe it when they first came to power in 2007. However, in those days they were outvoted by Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats.

Those three parties, in both Holyrood and the City Chambers, are most to blame and while they all now try to heap all the ordure on each other, the voters are entitled to apportion responsibility for the foul-up fairly evenly.

That said, 2007 also saw SNP councillors going into partnership to run Edinburgh – voluntarily, it must be said – with the Lib Dems and they must surely accept a share of the blame, therefore, for the appalling descent into even greater chaos.

Astonishingly, Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and SNP have all published Edinburgh council election “manifestoes” and none have even mentioned The Trams. Incredible. To me that is proof positive of their collective and individual guilt.

National politics played out in Edinburgh have brought national shame upon our City.  As far as the trams are concerned, a laughing stock rather than a rolling stock.  We are also lagging behind in delivery of basic, fundamental services  – take home care for the elderly as one example.  Edinburgh is in 7th place out of 10 Councils. Too much time spent by the present incumbents on vanity projects, embroidering party rosettes and climbing the greasy party political pole and not enough time representing the people of Edinburgh – time for a new broom to sweep health care for the elderly into perfect shape and sweep incompetent, scandalous waste into history.
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