John McLellan: Edinburgh’s taxing times as SNP at odds

Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey has been unable to convince ministers on a tourist tax  or workplace parking charges. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey has been unable to convince ministers on a tourist tax or workplace parking charges. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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We live in the strangest of times. While all parties tie themselves in knots over Brexit and another referendum, the leader of an opposition party demanded that the First Minister should back a policy her man on the ground in Edinburgh supports but her cabinet secretary does not.

At least Scottish Labour’s Richard Leonard is backing his man in the capital, Councillor Cammy Day, in contrast to his coalition buddy, SNP council leader Adam McVey, who seemingly can’t make any headway with the cabinet Secretary for tourism Fiona Hyslop on the thorny question of a Tourist Tax. This was a week in which Edinburgh Council’s case was supposed to take a stride forward with the publication of its proposals and the launch of a three-month consultation, but on Wednesday, Ms Hyslop told the Scottish Parliament quite clearly she did not support a tourism tax because she believed Scotland was already perceived as a “high cost” destination.

And this was after meeting both the Scottish Tourism Alliance on 5 September and then Cllr McVey at the end of last week, stating twice during Portfolio Questions that she would only support the so-called Transient Visitor Levy if the tourism industry was involved “from the outset”, which as far as the STA is concerned it certainly has not. While saying she was keen to encourage debate, Ms Hyslop firmly closed the door on any chance of legislation to empower local authorities to raise the tax by emphasising “This is not an appropriate time for this to be considered.”

Cllr McVey having failed to get anywhere with Ms Hyslop, it was Richard Leonard’s turn on Thursday in First Minister’s Questions and the result from Ms Sturgeon was pretty much the same; happy to have the discussion, but not supportive of a tourism tax at this time. In fact when she said there could be a discussion as part of this year’s budget consultation, she quickly added a qualification of “beyond” the process.

No wonder then, that Edinburgh Council’s administration has been forced to add a paragraph in the section in this year’s budget consultation pamphlet which mentions tourism taxes and workplace parking charges that neither will be raising any money in the coming year. So why mention them in the first place?

It’s all very well having the discussion, but Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour administration is raising expectations that these revenue taps will soon be turned on when the Scottish Government is making it crystal clear they remain tightly shut.

Meadowbank future a blank masterclass

Raised expectations were very much the theme of a public meeting organised by campaigners opposing the redevelopment of Meadowbank Stadium. Attended by over 100 people at Meadowbank Church, the tone was set with a presentation picturing all those Edinburgh councillors who had promised a new consultation about plans for the site after planning permission in principle was granted would be starting with “a blank sheet of paper”.

No-one at Wednesday’s meeting believed the sheet of paper was ever blank, knowing the plan to build a new sports centre was based on raising revenue from the disposal of the rest of the land, through council housing and a straight sale to a developer.

The idea of re-opening the consultation was recognition that previous engagement had not been effective and that local people needed reassurance that their views counted. As far as the campaign is concerned, the effect has been the polar opposite.

Nothing ruled in, nothing ruled out? It was nonsense at the planning hearing at the end of June and it’s nonsense now. The precise scale of the housing development has yet to be determined and the local community does have a genuine chance to shape it, but that doesn’t mean no houses at all and it doesn’t apply to the sports centre itself, for which fully detailed permission was agreed. Words spoken in haste all too often make matters worse and Meadowbank is becoming a masterclass.

Kezia’s case could be worth a tenner

And on the subject of damaging words, ex-Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale MSP says she is “crushed” by her party’s decision to end financial support for her defence in the ongoing defamation case brought against her by the pro-independence Wings over Scotland blogger Stuart Campbell.

In a Daily Record column last year Ms Dugdale described a tweet posted by Mr Campbell about Scotland secretary David Mundell as homophobic and Mr Campbell is claiming £25,000 damages for what he this week called “appalling and mendacious lies”, and the case set to be heard early next year. But he went further, saying the withdrawal of funding was “an attempt to protect Kezia Dugdale from herself, and the monumental humiliation of being cross-examined in court.”

Talk about pre-judging the outcome? If I was Mr Campbell I’d be keep my trap well and truly shut in case his pronouncements illustrate a man who, far from struggling to recover from having his reputation dreadfully traduced is actually revelling in the discomfort he is causing.

Ms Dugdale lays the blame for the party’s decision on new party general secretary Jennie Formby, previously political director of the Unite union which had a spectacular falling-out with Scottish Labour in 2013 over vote-rigging allegations in the selection of a new parliamentary candidate in Falkirk. That ended up with a complaint to police and Unite’s favoured candidate, Karie Murphy, being forced to withdraw. Ms Murphy is now Jeremy Corbyn’s chief of staff.

Very few defamation cases come to trial in Scotland because settlements are usually reached, but if Ms Dugdale wants to crowd-fund her defence I’m good for a tenner. Purely in the interests of developing an important area of civil law, you understand.