Today I went to a full meeting of City of Edinburgh Council. Sitting in the public gallery is a bit like having a seat in a box at the theatre, it feels quite grand but you see and hear only part of what is happening on stage.
I was there with Doris and Celina who are paired with two City Councillors in the shadowing scheme I am helping to organise to encourage ethnic minority representation in local and national politics. It was their first time in the Council Chambers and I don’t think I have been at a council meeting since I was a trainee reporter on the Spalding Guardian in the flat fens of Lincolnshire a long, long time ago.
Some things have changed. Councillors now have wireless microphones on their desks but by some fault of the loud speaker system we can hear the points made by Tories and Lib Dems while the Labour group are muffled and distorted. Some things are much the same. It didn’t take Celina, Doris and me long to spot that there are too many suits on the benches. Celina counts three women on the Labour benches, I spot two among the Tories and we crane over the balcony to count four Lib Dems. There is only one bald and be-suited SNP. (Interestingly, out of 16 in the public gallery, 8 are women).
But I have to say that it is the two Lib Dem women who account for most of the hot air during the morning debate. The meeting rattles through some fairly important stuff about poverty,(un)affordable housing and the need to appoint a new Director of children and families. Then the meeting spends 25 minutes debating whether to replace or restore the old Davenport desks and chairs. Finally one Labour councillor protests at this waste of time when there is still a motion on climate change to debate, not to mention the capital city’s alcohol problem.
Still they drone on, and it is another five minutes before they vote 27 (Lib Dem and Tory ‘Davenport coalition’ plus the SNP baldy) to 29 (Labour) to replace the old heavy mahogany with something that can be easily shifted and stacked when it is not in use.
Result: climate change debate is stifled by hot air.
It is only now that I am wondering whether that might just have been a cunning plan on the part of those apparently sentimental Lib Dem ladies arguing for the importance of symbolism and tradition. Meanwhile, a truly important policy which could affect future generations (and would have been presented by the Labour councillor in charge of environmental affairs, another woman by the way), slips quietly and unreported on to the statute books. Could this possibly be a smart manoeuvre by the party seeking to gain power in next year’s elections?