What do all these statements have in common?
“They are pretty schocked and they did not see it coming, which is part of their problems, We all thought that they could be defeated on this, but they did not see it coming.”
“As a group, we will be discussing everything on Monday and we will not have any knee-jerk reactions before then...”
“It is quite obvious to anybody, especially after today, that they do not have the confidence of this council.”
“I’m not going to be tainted by this ill-fated project which we have tried consistently to oppose but been repeatedly rebuffed by the other parties.”
It’s called putting the party interest before that of the people. After the decision was made to stop Edinburgh’s trams at Haymarket – plan D – thanks to an unholy Labour-Conservative alliance, at a council meeting on Thursday, all the council groups charged out press releases and comments that claimed it wisnae us. All that was missing was the big boy who did it and ran away, though given the Tories’ conspicuous silence on Friday despite their councillors having switched tack and voted with Labour to deliver this astoundingly petty compromise, fingers can be pointed fairly in their direction.
The blame game played out on Friday confirms that the shenanigans on Thursday in Edinburgh’s City Chambers represent a collective dereliction of duty and proves that we are indeed being governed by “political pygmies”, as the Edinburgh Evening News claimed. Everyone went into that council meeting with one eye on the local government elections in May 2012 and played politics with the public purse and the reputation of Scotland’s capital city. Shame on them, but bigger shame for us.
Initially, I was quite excited by the prospect of trams, but that enthusiasm waned when the proposals were set out. Unlike other cities which have created tramways to serve the local population, stretching out into their suburbs and providing residents with a cost-effective and efficient mode of accessing work and leisure opportunities in the centre, our trams would be primarily for business and tourist visitors. Yet another example of Edinburgh council thinking it is Edinburgh plc.
Then, the works started. Like many residents, getting to work and home again became a gamble. At one point, I was leaving work two hours’ early to make sure, I made it home in time to collect the chicklet from out-of-school club – and often I only made it after a final sprint on foot. No amount of disruption to locals’ lives – us what pays our taxes for this little venture – would be allowed to get in the way of the grand plan.
Completion dates were pushed back, costs soared, and all we currently have to show for our forbearance are unsightly building sites blighting some of the city’s iconic streets and intersections, buckling tramlines on Princes Street, an unholy mess and traffic congestion at Gogar roundabout, missing historic monuments and a shed, somewhere, filled with trams. If it wasn’t our mess and our money, it would be funny.
Thank goodness for taxi drivers whom I have had to use a lot in the last two years – apparently one hour is still not long enough to travel five miles by bus. My knowledge of the project’s failings has increased thanks to their encyclopaedic obsession with the cause of so much of their travails in recent years. Only this week, I found out that unlike other cities, who add to their tram stock as they need it, we bought a full complement of 27 trams at the start. As the proposal has been depleted – the branch through Granton went first (plan A), then the stage to Leith plan B), and now finally half of the main line (plan C) – so the number becoming obsolete has increased. We own 27 trams and now need only a handful of them.
Worse, efforts to offload the surplus stock have proved futile, for we opted for the biggest, heaviest tram options and no other city has tramtracks strong enough to take them. Indeed, it is debatable whether or not our own roads will be able to carry the weight without causing damage. Given the amount of nonsense that has been spouted from official sources during the lifetime of this project, why should I doubt what seems utterly plausible from a taxi-driver?
I didn’t have the chance to test their reaction to the latest development but I can imagine it isn’t far different from everyone else’s. Consternation and confoundment are us. Our city leaders have bequeathed us with a tram plan a third of the size of the original proposal, that no one will use, and which will make a loss. This is the result of the opposition groups’ political posturing, the ineptitude of the ruling Lib Dems, and their partners, the SNP, mistaking themselves for Pontius Pilate’s heirs. And in case any of them have failed to notice, their constituents – the voters – are furious.
No one wanted to be where we are now. The trams have been a fiasco from the start: has anyone muttered the ultimate platitude yet that lessons will be learned? There were only two feasible options. First, for everyone to take a deep breath and plunge on with the route to St Andrews Square and ensure that potentially the busiest and most profitable section of the route along Princes Street is completed or second, to mothball the whole shebang until economic fortunes change, allowing a full review and long term solution to be found. Why was this latter option – which polls have shown Edinburgh residents would prefer – not on the table on Thursday, from any of the party groups on the council? Because Thursday was never about what was in the interests of the public or its purse.
We now have a tram to nowhere. Crisis came knocking and no leaders came to the fore. They squabbled, we lose. They have made Edinburgh and indeed, Scotland a laughing stock. Perhaps the biggest crime of all, given their customary disdain for this city’s residents, they have done it fully under the gaze of the greatest show on earth, with all those visitors, and indeed the world’s media, taking homewards their tale of tram woe and incompetence.
But next May, the residents get a chance to fight back, in the local government elections. If I was a sitting councillor right now, I’d be very afraid.