Monday, March 21, 2011

Edinburgh Central: Climate Cafe

Tonight I attended a Climate Cafe for the Edinburgh Central constituency in my ongoing attempt to decide how to use my constituency vote at the upcoming Holyrood elections. All five parties were in attendance and after much careful thought and consideration I decided I'd vote for Greens on the list. They are paying me after all.

The Climate Cafes are a really nice alternative to hustings where voters sit in groups and the candidates rotate round, speed dating style, for fifteen minutes face to face with each group. It's less confrontational and more intimate and everyone attending should get a good chance to ask their question of at least some of the candidates.

It also looks like the candidates prefer it to the all answer in a line approach, which always has the problem that someone answers first and someone last, skewing their ability to look fresh or comeback on other candidates.

I'll make a few comments about each candidate in turn, which were my personal impressions, I'm sure others in the room had a quite different cafe experience.

Labour's Sarah Boyack was first to our table. On some levels she gave the best performance of the five but having had a non-response to my email questions from her I've since discovered a whole number of locals who have found it impossible to get her to reply. If she doesn't listen to her constituents she doesn't get my vote, end of.

Her responses were pretty steady and competent, which always goes a long way and her comments about the reliability of tidal power, despite its early days in the research and development stages were interesting. I think she was the only candidate to mention (unprompted) local energy production, which is another fruitless plus.

Next up was Conservative Iain McGill who appeared a little nervous I thought. In his introduction before the cafe bit started he mentioned how his party was in coalition with 'Alex's Party' which was particularly cruel as I'm sure the Lib Dem Alex was hoping we'd forgotten that, he certainly winced at the time.

Iain took control of the table and directed it from the moment he sat down, which was in contrast to the other four candidates who all allowed the table to direct how the questions got asked. He also talked quite a lot which might have been nerves, or possibly a strategy to reduce the number of questions he got asked.

I asked him how we were meant to be meeting environmental targets if all the regulating bodies had been abolished in the bonfire of the quangos. He replied that the conservatives were not anti-regulation but were in fact for extra regulations, but they would be enforced in a different or new way. I happen to think this is completely untrue, but it was a nice try.

One thing he said that I liked, gasp, was to change the taxation on aviation so that each flight is taxed, not each passenger. I think that's quite a good idea, although admittedly small beer.

Alex Cole Hamilton for the Lib Dems came next who was appropriately enough asked about what he was going to do about all this junk mail. He replied he was on a 'sticky wicket' on this one as he'd be out of the race if he stopped the deluge of paper, which had the ring of honesty about it. He was the only candidate to have canvassed one of our table, which caused a frisson of excitement.

He did say that at a time when "we are cutting back on front line services" (note: this is not the line, the line is front line services will not be effected by the cuts, bad candidate!) councils producing lots of waste paper was one area we could happily cut without tears.

One thing he said that I liked was that it was not currently feasible for us to meet our renewables targets because there was no political will to do so. He said "the political class and the public at large are in second gear on climate change" and I always like to hear candidates slag off the public. I do! The public might not, obviously, but I think it demonstrates a bit of integrity. He then topped it off by saying the Lib Dems were willing to take unpopular decisions - that's one Lib Dem pledge I doubt they'll break!

Marco Biagi for the SNP was up next. He's currently the front runner for my constituency vote, but I'm still open to persuasion. The first question he was asked (not by me) was "Who are your preferences for a coalition partner?" to which he replied "Green, then Labour, then Lib Dem, then Margo MacDonald, then the presiding officer, then, um.... move to Ireland."

He was asked about new coal and he had a particularly dispiriting answer which was there is no need for it, but because of UK law it would happen anyway. While the Scottish government can use planning regulations they are bound over what arguments they can use and climate change is not one of them.

He also put the emphasis on renewable energy technologies, and all but said that we could not afford a massive home insulation scheme even though it is "vital". He is "100% behind it, but where's the cash?" That's not really good enough to be frank, but again it was shot through with honesty.

Green candidate Steve Burgess was last to our table. I'm entirely biased on him so won't bang on, but I thought he came across well with a quietly spoken and mild, thoughtful manner. He was the only candidate to attack oil, talk about moral obligations to other nations (this was a cafe about the climate after all) and the only candidate to talk about the role of the unions.

Things livened up a little when he criticised growth and was asked which industry's workers he was planning to lay off. For me this really underlined how even with a clear job creation plan at the front of our policies our critique of 'growth' needs a lot more refining, especially in the way we articulate it, otherwise it just sounds like we're arguing for a deeper recession - which we aren't.

Steve handled the question well I thought but we're not always there, face to face, to deal with these questions and, for me, all these phrases like steady state economy and zero growth need a lot more work before we fit them neatly into our Green New Deal approach. Anyway, I found it helpful, so thought I'd pass a report on.


Anonymous said...

LOL! Where's the cash indeed, dear SNP? You're about to spunk it all away on a massive new motorway over the Firth of Forth.

Priorities, priorities, that's all.

Marco Biagi said...

1. Honesty is always the best policy.
2. Tell your troll to go back to Labour HQ and remember that when presented with the technical case, everyone bar the Greens backed the Forth Replacement Crossing.
3. Didn't mean a counsel of despair on coal. We've put down the biggest and strongest marker we can that the future is all-renewables.
4. I'd like more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Quel surprise. But you don't have to support full macroeconomic autonomy to think it'd be a good idea to be able to control what's belching into your skies.
5. I'd like to fund home insulation by ensuring the energy companies deliver on their CERT/ECO obligations. I also think that in principle the idea of a term-limited direct payment from bill savings to recoup the initial outlay would be effective. It pains me to say it, but the UK government may be going the right way on that, subject to specifics. Aside from that I'm happy that we're taking as a party the universal approach and have already offered the measures to 500,000 households. That's not bad with the resources at hand, and I would hope the budgets might start to recover by the end of the next term so we can get to universal delivery by 2020. Energy efficiency is a double win - for our environmental responsibilities and for the fight against fuel poverty.