This Month’s Oxter Award

It’s the traditional political Silly Season when major politicians and those that hound them are generally off on some sun-baked beach, August is a month we have to cast about to find a decent candidate deserving opprobrium. Yet, there in Hootsmon on Sunday was Cllr. Andrew Burns doing a head-and-shoulders-above act, crowned by leading Labour’s Orwellian volte-face and gang-up-with-Tories opportunism at ECC’s most recent bout of self-immolation on the Trams.

To be fair to Andrew, he does call his blog “Andrew Burns Really Bad Blog” and tried to package his pitch by starting with unaccustomed apology:

“They (the public] are absolutely due an apology. I am personally extremely sorry for the way that it has unraveled in the last four or five years. Quite clearly it has had a very, very sorry history, particularly since the middle of 2007 when there has been no clear leadership or vision. It has completely unraveled in that time and people are absolutely right to be angry and annoyed about it. I am pretty dismayed myself.”

But soon his two real purposes became apparent: 1) to distance Labour (and himself) from the present good-option-free tram shambles and; 2) to blame the ‘unraveling’ on the 2007-2012 Lib-Dem/SNP administration of ECC. While such tactics verge on the astute, any long-term observer of the tram saga is immediately faced with a barrage of questions that leaves Emperor Burns with nary a stitch of credible clothing.

For it was he, as disciple paddling into the shoes of now-Professor David Begg who, together with Leader Donald Anderson and Transport Minister Iain Gray, cooked up the whole tram scheme in 2002-3. Questions that should have graced Cllr. Burns In-Tray as Executive Member for Transport and Public Realm and received considered answer at that time were:

  1. Could justification for Line 1 be sustained in the event of a property collapse in the ‘Edinburgh Waterfront’ (as actually happened in 2008)?
  2. Was any full business plan for Line 2 to the airport prepared that compared alternatives, like reopening Turnhouse station, ever produced?
  3. Could a £375m budget for Line 1 suddenly, and without fully revisiting the business plan, be deemed adequate to finance Line 2 as well?
  4. Were preparatory works and TIE/consultants properly supervised, especially regarding revenue loss to local business, including Lothian Buses?
  5. Could Line 1’s mostly on-street route be justified when a plethora of disused rail lines across North Edinburgh offered faster, cheaper options?
  6. Why build another system independent of both train or bus when all modern cities operate start-to-end tickets that encourage transfers and speed loading?

(Hint: the answer to each of the six questions posed is a variant of ‘No’.) Had most of those questions been addressed on Burns’ watch, the whole Line 2 to the airport might never have started and a Line 1 ‘North Loop’ might have been built within the $375m budget, giving Edinburgh an overdue start on a city-wide transport scheme.

It’s not easy to become a senior councillor like Andrew Burns without deploying guile. But his position on last week’s Haymarket choice went well beyond to bare-faced shameless. It must have been hard for him to keep a straight face. As someone responsible for:

  • the wrong original choice of tram scheme and implementation
  • spineless acquiescence to flawed major modifications
  • seven years of head-in-the-sand refusal to admit his own original mistakes
  • four years of thwarting an administration trying to rid the city of his mess

Cllr. Burns makes clear he is no ordinary politician; he is a careerist who will say anything to please his party and further his career (often hard to perceive the difference). To call him ‘sleekit’ is an insult to tim’rous beasties everywhere.

If the Scottish—and especially the Edinburgh—public are scunnered with two-faced politicos who would not know a principle—let alone a good idea—if they found one in their soup, then it’s thanks to the likes of Mrs Burns’ laddie. Unlike the faceless voting fodder who typically fill the elected ranks of his party, he was given talent that could have been applied to wider public benefit.

Instead, he chose rent-a-mob posturing that secures party advancement. And, since yesterday’s article made plain he won’t (can’t?) deviate from that (where else could he get a job on a par with Opposition Leader now that Labour’s patronage is oot the windae?) we have no hesitation in fingering him for the Oxter Award this month.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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