Frank Sinatra told us that it’s the city that doesn’t sleep, and this week New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio proved that he’s not lying down on the job when it comes to the world’s greatest environmental challenge either.
It will be a happier new year than expected for some of the people working through the chilly night forecast on the 31st. Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay celebration is one of the events that gives Scotland’s capital a global prominence, with visitors and locals joining together to see in the new year. But after budget cuts from the local council, the commercial organisers of the event decided to recruit volunteers to take on what had previously been paid roles, as ‘Hogmanay Ambassadors’.
Derek Mackay has one of the most challenging jobs in politics. He has to construct a budget which not only balances the books, but defends against Tory austerity and meets rising demand for public services. He has to respond to the competing demands for investment in the future and also to the different views across a parliament of minorities.
A budget, from either government, is always a critical point on the parliamentary calendar. It’s true that budget documents are only fully understood in the days or weeks after publication, but I guess we all need to make a first stab it is, so here’s mine.
All governments play a bit of a game with their budgets, drawing attention to the good news and hiding the bad. It’s often called “smoke and mirrors”, but given the way governments try to lead their rivals to pick on the wrong aspects to criticise, I think the old cup-and-ball routine is a better metaphor.
Moving back to Glasgow from university, some twenty-odd years ago, I was in the same position as most people of my age in knowing that the private rented sector was my only option. With social housing unavailable and owner occupation unaffordable, a private tenancy was already the only housing choice available to a great many people. There was some pretty shoddy housing out there, and some pretty sharp practice too, as I found to my cost when I was harassed out of one flat by a landlord who refused even to give me a written lease.
For generations, people have gathered together in remembrance on the 11th of November, the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in 1918, or on the following Sunday. But the feelings people have about this have always differed, and over recent years a note of intolerance has crept in. It often seems that a minority of people want this moment to become one of enforced jingoistic patriotism, or even a celebration of militarism, rather than solemn remembrance.
Growing up in the 80s, I came out less than a decade after the partial decriminalisation of gay and bisexual men in Scotland. Leaving school at 18, I knew that the age of consent was still 21. Though arrest and prosecution seemed unlikely, we could never help but be aware that they were a possibility even for ordinary, consenting relationships between young adults.
In March 2016, in the run-up to the first Holyrood election where serious income tax powers were on the table, I joined colleagues in a community centre in Edinburgh to launch the Green tax plan. We chose the venue because it was one of many local facilities that build quality of life in communities, but which have seen funding cuts since the UK’s austerity programme began.
Kermit the frog once famously remarked that “It's not easy being green”. Sometimes that feels pretty close to the truth.
One of the most familiar experiences for Greens in politics is how long we have to work on our priorities before other parties to eventually catch up. It can often feel like our policies are launched ten years ahead of their time, giving us a decade to campaign for what feels like radical action after which someone else pinches our policy and it becomes accepted wisdom.
Party conference season is upon us. With Theresa May’s farcical performance in Manchester earlier this week, every other leader can be confident that’d be hard put to do any worse. This weekend it’s the turn of the SNP, whose members will no doubt be eager for some positive, upbeat announcements to cheer.
The first of these was announced on Tuesday; the temporary moratorium on fracking and other forms of extreme energy production will be extended. These technologies will not be deployed in Scotland, and this will certainly feature prominently in the First Ministers speech.