With fingers fiercely jabbing at mobile phones, some senior political and media types sought the vital information and there it was: Theresa May still to be Prime Minister when UK leaves the EU. “That’s only March next year,” said one. “There’s no chance of her being gone by then.”
Unless there is an extension, Britain will indeed leave the EU on March 29, but the excitement was not the statement but the source of the intelligence, bookmaker Paddy Power. Those bookies always somehow have an inside track, they’re better than the pollsters at predicting election results, you never see a poor bookie, and all that?
But on this occasion Mr Power was giving odds of 500-1. “Got to be worth a tenner… It’s obviously a mistake so you better get in quick. I’ve already put £20 on it…. But don’t all do it an once…” And in they piled.
So if you hear some MPs shouting “Go on Theresa my love, stick with it” at PMQs it won’t necessarily be Tory loyalists. And funnily enough, the bet is no longer available.
Brexit. Everyone is an armchair or bar-room diplomat but no-one has an answer except the usual stuff about how Prime Minister Theresa May doesn’t know what she’s doing. Between the Scylla and Charybdis of Stay and Leave, my hunch is that history will be kind to someone whose fate was to be condemned for bringing balance to two arguments which were always going to break the scales.
So Edinburgh’s Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Green councillors, who haven’t negotiated their way through a sauce-soaked chip poke, spent two hours on Thursday lining up to condemn the Draft Withdrawal agreement, the upshot of which is that the council leader gets to write a letter to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay to demand the so-called People’s Vote, as if he’s just waiting to hear what an SNP councillor has to say.
Yet little in this bitter divide is quite what it seems, certainly not the claims of clarity and unity from Labour and the SNP about the best way forward. Jeremy Corbyn might say he wants another general election, but what would the manifesto have to say about Brexit, a vote he promised to honour in the 2017 edition?
No-one is arguing Edinburgh should not remain a welcoming city for all immigrants no matter their origin, but the only elected Edinburgh representative I have ever heard expressing unhappiness about the arrival of Eastern European workers was not a Labour councillor, no longer here to defend herself, on the basis that “the people in my ward don’t like it because Poles are taking jobs they could do and keeping wages down”. And this was not long after the 2004 EU enlargement and well before the numbers hit a peak.
As for SNP backing the so-called People’s Vote, many SNP voters I spoke to on doorsteps wanted as little to do with Brussels as London and we now know there were around 400,000 of them, and SNP MSPs Alex Neil and Kenny Gibson are opposed for the very reason it opens the door to a third independence referendum following the inevitable chaos if the Nationalists were ever to stage and win a second.
And then there is the presumption that all pro-EU Europeans are angry Britain is leaving, yet speaking at an event in The Hague shortly before the 2016 referendum I was on the end of a barrage of criticism from Eurocrats who were indeed angry, but not at the prospect of Brexit but because we joined in the first place, that we were a drag on the whole integration process and the sooner we left the better. At least they’ll be happy.
Becoming just as bitter and indeed over a lofty matter is the intensifying row over the new Impact concert hall and home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra behind Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square; Impact Scotland claim to have reduced the height but the St James centre developers say it’s actually increased.
So, higher or lower? Compare the images produced for the public consultation in March with those submitted in the planning application six months later and the redesign is clear, turning what was a drum into a dome by dropping the circumference eaves and making it look more like the Usher Hall and echoing nearby Register House. Controversial World Heritage Trust director Adam Wilkinson has also praised the “significant reduction in height” by architect Sir David Chipperfield.
The problem remains, however, that it’s the new design to which the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS) vehemently objected, saying in response to the planning application that “the proposal is too large and too tall for such a restricted plot”. The St James Centre developer Henderson argued before the redesign that it would obliterate the view from its new five-star hotel and now thinks that if anything the problem has worsened.
The easy way to settle the argument would be for Impact to produce the measurements, but to satisfy the AHSS and Henderson that the reduction is significant could be more difficult. That will need a new design and so a new planning application and with the WHT now apparently on board the chances of that look slim. I wonder what the odds are at Paddy Power?