Tory quits party whip role over trams plan
A LEADING Tory councillor has quit her post in disgust at the city's support for trams.
City councillors overwhelmingly backed the 592 million project at a meeting yesterday. Scottish ministers are now expected to give the final go-ahead in the New Year, allowing work on the route to start in April.
But Kate MacKenzie resigned as Tory whip at the City Chambers after refusing to follow the party line on backing the trams. The respected Conservative said she had quit "on principle", fearing the costs of the project will spiral and not trusting assurances from transport chiefs.
It is believed to be the first time in more than 25 years that a Tory councillor has defied party bosses on an issue being debated in public. Councillor MacKenzie, who represents Cramond, abstained from the trams vote and now faces disciplinary action for defying the Conservative leadership.
At a highly-charged meeting, council leaders were thrown off guard when Labour rebel Lorna Shiels initially backed an SNP amendment calling for the tram plan to be halted.
Eventually, only Deputy Lord Provost Steve Cardownie, the city's only Nationalist councillor, voted for the scheme to be ditched. The draft business case drawn up by the council's arms-length transport firm TIE was voted through with the support of every councillor, except councillors Cardownie and MacKenzie.
In an emotional interview following yesterday's meeting, Cllr MacKenzie said: "I am worried about the financial situation.
"We have people from the council and from TIE talking to us, but I'm concerned that they're concealing information and not giving us the true story. I don't have a lot of confidence in what they're saying. I'm sure costs are going to rise, and the projected passenger numbers don't seem right.
"Such a limited part of Edinburgh is going to gain from trams, but I think some people have been caught up in the glamour of the idea. I've had these concerns from the beginning and I can't go against my principles anymore."
Councillor Shiels said she only seconded Councillor Cardownie's amendment to dump trams so there could be an open debate. His protest would otherwise have failed to be officially recorded.
However, she is thought to be one of several councillors who privately harbour doubts about the scheme but followed the party whip. Council leader Ewan Aitken and Labour whip Elizabeth Maginnis rushed to confront her when she lent her support to Cllr Cardownie.
Senior Labour colleague Frank Russell was heard telling her in exasperation: "You never learn."
Labour politicians then forced a rare "roll call" ballot , which requires every councillor to publicly announce their vote, a tactic normally employed to dissuade rebels from defying the whip.
During yesterday's debate, Cllr Cardownie predicted tram costs "will spiral out of control".
"This will be the costliest White Elephant this city has ever witnessed," he said. "It will deliberately sabotage Lothian Buses. Our fantastic bus service will be destroyed on the altar of some people's egos."
Labour councillors hit back and accused the SNP of "political posturing". City transport leader Ricky Henderson said: "Edinburgh is on the brink of major investment in its infrastructure, the scale of which has not been seen since the days of Queen Victoria. It needs a transport system that can move huge amounts of people quickly."
Lib Dem transport spokesman, Councillor Phil Wheeler, said: "This is a historic moment for our city."
Tory Iain Whyte said he was convinced by TIE's business case and told the SNP to "grow up".
TIE chairman Willie Gallagher said: "Today's vote was not merely a vote for a tram scheme, it was a decision to support Edinburgh to grow and develop in the future."
Councillor Henderson urged Cllr MacKenzie to have further discussions with officials over the trams business case.
"I am confused as to why she is so cynical," he said. "There is nothing in the report to indicate her concerns have any substance. "Everyone who has analysed the figures says they are robust."
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