Cardownie says: ‘I’m no puppet’

EDINBURGH’S SNP group leader, Steve Cardownie, today denied opposition claims that Scottish Government ministers had told him to do a U-turn and back the trams in tomorrow’s crunch vote.

The Evening News revealed yesterday, right, that after campaigning for the project to be scrapped and abstaining in last week’s vote to halt the route at Haymarket, SNP councillors will now vote with the Liberal Democrats to take the trams to St Andrew Square.

The move came after Finance Secretary John Swinney announced the government would withdraw £72 million of funding for the project if it was no longer going to go to the city centre.

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The SNP group’s change of position means tomorrow’s full council meeting is almost certain to approve continuing to St Andrew Square, reversing the Haymarket decision forced through last week by the combined strength of Labour and Tory councillors.

Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said: “This is an amazing situation. The SNP has gone from being anti the whole project to saying it should go all the way to St Andrew Square.

“The clear message is that Steve Cardownie is no longer in charge of the SNP group, John Swinney is.

“SNP ministers are deciding local policy as well as national policy. Steve Cardownie’s credibility as SNP group leader has to be questioned.”

Councillor Cardownie, however, denied ministers were pulling the strings and called the allegation a “cheap shot”.

He said: “No minister has contacted me or the group in an effort to persuade us on the trams issue.

“Perhaps that’s the way other parties operate, but it’s not the way the SNP does.

“We started discussing our change of stance on Monday lunchtime. That predates John Swinney’s statement.

“There was no outside influence brought to bear on us.”

He also claimed the public would understand why the SNP had performed a U-turn.

“We are of the view [that] we cannot sit back and run the risk of the Tories and Labour again combining to take the line to Haymarket. I think the tram line at Disneyland is longer than that.

“We have been trying for five years to get the thing rejected and been outvoted. That’s democracy.

“No-one would forgive us for not getting involved when it comes up tomorrow.

“Most pragmatic people would say, faced with the choice between Haymarket and St Andrew Square, the SNP made the right decision.”

A spokesman for Mr Swinney said: “Ministers, as you would expect, are in regular contact with local government colleagues in Edinburgh and elsewhere.

“The decision of the SNP group in respect of the trams project was theirs and theirs alone.”

The Tories are expected to propose cancellation of the project in a move calculated to maximise the SNP’s embarrassment.

It is still not clear how Labour councillors will vote now that the Haymarket option would mean losing government funding.

Group leader Andrew Burns said: “We acknowledge that the government announcement is a material change of circumstance and we have to consider that.”

Deidre Brock – Page 15 Interactive special – P16-17