A quick report on the recent Spokes Hustings. The following councillors canvased for the “cycling vote”:
- Steve Burgess – Scottish Green Party
- Gordon Mackenzie – Scottish Liberal Democrats
- Alasdair Rankin – Scottish National Party (SNP)
- Lesley Hinds – Scottish Labour Party
- Cameron Rose – Scottish Conservative and Unionist
Three of the above (Steve Burgess, Gordon Mackenzie and Cameron Rose) are Southside councillors. Do cycling councillors try to stand in Southside, or does Southside turn them into cyclists?
As much for my own benefit as anyone else’s, I’ve drawn together my thoughts on the hustings as follows:
Personally, I was not impressed by the representations made by Labour, the SNP or the Tories. The Greens and Lib Dems came out looking good.
Pragmatically the SNP are going to be the largest party post-election, but they won’t have an overall majority. This will give significant power to the Lib Dems and Greens, and so my own vote will be targeted at ensuring these two parties do well and the SNP do not gain from my ballot.
I’ve also scrawled some thoughts on each councillor/party:
(The venue was attended as well as the bike parking outside would permit!)
Steve Burgess, Green
Steve Burgess, of the Green party, is the easiest to summarise. He went through the cycling manifesto and more or less confirmed (with a few caveats, perhaps) that he supported everything on it. His answers to my focus group were also pretty positive.
An easy win, if not personally, perhaps, the strongest performance. (Hold the mic up! )
Gordon Mackenzie, Liberal Democrat (and defending Transport Convenor)
Gordon Mackenzie, has personally overseen significant improvements for cyclists in the city in the last few years.
Of course, the tram insanity has forever tarnished his coin for many in these quarters – for instance, the stupid simultaneous severance of the only two north/south cycling links through the city centre at the same time (St Andrews Sq with little justification as there were no real works there for years).
In particular I was very disappointed that the Southside 20mph zone excluded all the roads in Southside that people actually use to get from A-B (excluding the first and last 100m which will now be 20 zoned). However when I challenged Councillor Mackenzie on this directly, he was happy to admit that it wasn’t ideal, suggesting it was the only way to get the scheme off the ground at all, from which point it will be eas(ier) to extend.
It’s unrealistic to expect much frankness from a politician and it’s easy to be critical of the many simple things the council is getting wrong, but in the interests of fairness I wonder what proportion of other botch jobs, like the Quality Bike Corridor, are at least being delivered *at all*, in conspicuous contrast to other parts of the country?
Edinburgh is also about to become the only place in the UK to give drivers 3 points for violating the bike safety boxes at junctions, although I’ll also believe this when I see it.
Ultimately a strong performance from someone with an improving track record.
Alasdair Rankin, Scottish Nationalist Party
As Cllr Rankin was content to defer to Gordon Mackenzie on the council’s cycling record and talk about the Scottish Government instead, it is surely fitting to attack him on the same basis
If there was ever a big disappointment for cyclists who follow politics it was the realisation that the SNP aren’t interested in leading on the issue of active travel.
They are uniquely positioned to take the country in a different direction from Westminster on this (a direction that might win them universal applause from ordinary people once the ideas bedded in) but they just seem to be sleepwalking past with scarcely anything that could be called a policy, and certainly no policies that haven’t been reneged on (or reneged and u-turned on, in the case of the last budget).
I got absolutely no sense that this might change from anything that Cllr Rankin said. However, as the SNP are in coalition with the Lib-Dems, it’s true that they must be given part credit for supporting the things that have been happening here.
As the SNP are likely to do very well, but still be short of a majority, a vote for whoever will be kingmaker to the SNP (out of the Greens and Lib-dems) would be a wise choice for your vote.
Lesley Hinds, Labour
Cllr Hinds was an interesting case, representing as she does very much the drivers of our fair city (in my opinion).
I was hopeful that Labour would position themselves to build on the work of the SNP/Lib dem coalition but it seemed to me that Cllr Hinds was slightly baffled to be speaking with a group of people who actually use bikes to get about.
She admitted that she doesn’t cycle because she feels it’s too dangerous, but monumentally failed to connect this in the obvious way: no credible transport convenor in Edinburgh can personally reject the transport choice of a sizeable and growing minority because it is unsafe without offering radical commitment to make it safe.
Situated as the hustings was close by to survey sites which now see 20% of rush hour journeys into the city being made by bike, it’s laughable that anyone could miss such low hanging fruit.
(Some people would argue that cycling in Edinburgh is actually quite safe, and Gordon Mackenzie pointed out that the KSI rate is flat, even with all the recent deaths increasing the absolute numbers. However that is to miss the point – most people think it is dangerous, and someone who agrees could certainly be a powerful driver of change… just not in this case).
Deeply unconvincing, unfortunately.
Cameron Rose, Conservative
Cameron Rose, of the Conservative party, came across as a nice enough guy, although I thought he rather dropped the ball by introducing anthropogenic climate change denial into the mix, since while that is for some a sufficient reason to improve cycle policy, it’s by no means necessary.
(In fairness I suppose that might have been part of the point he was trying to make, but still I thought it a regrettable digression.)
While Councillor Rose himself gave good answers to many questions and had sensible enough opinions, at the end of the day cycle policy needs two things that the Tories are genetically incapable of providing (in my opinion):
- strong leadership away from car use in favour of active travel
- vast investment in European-style redesign of the road network
So at the end of the day I was left putting Councillor Rose down as a wise choice of delegate from his party, but there’s no way I could concience a vote there.