Martin Hannan: These clods are just ripe for a fall

A FORTNIGHT ago, I said it was time to scrutinise our politicians, but you may think I am stretching things by linking their failures to the cold weather. Bear with me, then, while I show you why the useless bunch of clods called councillors are responsible for the plight of dozens if not hundreds of injured people across Edinburgh.

You may say that it's not the council's fault the weather has been horrendous, that lack of gritting was a problem across the country, and I agree with you. But that does not excuse the utterly pathetic response of Edinburgh City Council to the big freeze.

I had my own painful encounter with an ice-encrusted pavement, fortunately landing on my well-padded posterior with no great damage done. I had to go into work in the city and risk walking down that Cresta Run called the Pleasance. This was at least six days after the heaviest snowfall, and still the pavements were ice rinks – you didn't need to pay to get into the Winter Wonderland when you could skate for free on most pavements.

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The story was similar all over the city. The further you got from the City Chambers – aye, they look after themselves first and foremost – the less chance you had of walking on an ice-free pavement.

As for the main roads, I was one of the thousands trapped on the A90 south of the Forth Bridge on Saturday night with not a snowplough in sight. Can anyone tell me how Edinburgh was allowed to be effectively cut off at the weekend?

The streets in most areas away from the centre were fit only for curling, not driving. Bumps, scrapes and broken bones mounted by the day, and this in a so-called "modern" 21st-century capital city.

Who was responsible for this dire state of affairs? Was it the overstretched roads department workers, or the shopkeepers and homeowners who did not perform their civic duty and clear their own patch of pavement? I fell beside the Flodden Wall – do I blame King James IV? And how were people to clear up solid ice when grit boxes lay empty across the city?

No, the real responsibility lay with our politicians, most especially that motley crew of nincompoops, Edinburgh City Council.

For it is councillors who set budgets, councillors who make policies, councillors who are ultimately responsible for managing the city.

Oh, they are happy to parade their egos when there's a photo-opportunity, and they always say "we're in charge" until it comes to actually taking charge – then it's "de'il tak the hindmost" as they irresponsibly run for cover.

Contingency plans? Budgets set aside for such emergencies? Sensible cold weather policies? Don't make me laugh.

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Their pathetic response in recent days has shown just how incompetent and feckless our councillors now are. They have all the imagination of worker ants, and lack entirely the industry of that species.

Where were the councillors screaming blue murder on behalf of their injured constituents? Which councillor asked serious probing questions about lack of grit and gritting? Where was the senior figure taking charge of what was undoubtedly a crisis, as A&E departments will confirm?

Where was the councillor with the inventiveness to suggest left-field solutions? Why were some roads cleared and not pavements, and this by a council trying to encourage people to walk instead of drive?

Instead we got a bunch of pathetic comments from people who were clearly not in touch with Ice Planet Edinburgh.

Councillor Robert Aldridge, local politician in charge of roads, said: "We urge members of the public to tread carefully." Lovely man, Bob, as I know personally, but perhaps patronising on this occasion.

Fortunately, there are no reports yet of anyone dying from a fall on an icy pavement – if such a tragedy had occurred, Aldridge would have had to resign, no question.

Tory roads spokesman Mark McInnes did the usual weaselly stuff about calling for "a review" but at least his group leader Iain Whyte got it right, albeit too late, in calling for emergency measures.

So what could have been done? Here's one suggestion – in America, local authorities often pay citizens to help out during snowy weather. My own relatives in the mid-west put their pick-up trucks and shovels at the disposal of their council. Could we not have paid local people to do a few hours' clearing up?

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Better still – could the council not have put in place a serious emergency plan to deal with such an occurrence? Global warming hasn't yet ended Scotland's winters – where were the councillors' policies for back-up ice clearance?

No, such policies would require several qualities almost completely absent in our present political generation – intellect, foresight, the courage to take responsibility.

As an SNP member, I can only squirm at seeing my party in a coalition led by Lib Dem nonentities which has given us bin strikes, school closures and the threat of wholesale job losses due to privatisation. Steve Cardownie and the rest should bale out before they are dragged down. And Labour and the Tories shouldn't gloat – remember the council house sell-off and congestion charging fiascos?

Yet it is the big freeze which has really shown up our councillors for what they are – talentless, gutless nonentities. And I say that from the heart of my black and blue bottom.