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21 November 2013
A new challenge

A new challenge

A textiles entrepreneur and former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, Buchanan assumed the role of Lothians MSP following the death of David McLetchie.

“With David’s blessing, I took his place. He knew I was going to and he bequeathed to me his expertise, office and staff. He was a friend and I knew him very well,” Buchanan tells Holyrood.

“Everyone rated him so highly, people of all political persuasions, out on the streets, everywhere. He had a great human touch and was a lovely man and it was very nice to have his blessing. He persuaded me I could [take on the MSP role], because I might not have done it.”

In spite of the sad circumstances of his appointment, Buchanan is pleased to become an MSP, particularly at this time in Scottish politics. He said: “I plan to contribute in a very positive way to the workings of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Conservative group. Being a longstanding businessman, I think I can bring the kind of experience which is important and extremely relevant to Holyrood.”

Buchanan speaks five languages and was most recently the managing director of woollen merchants Harrisons of Edinburgh. In 2010, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, an illness from which he has now recovered. “I still have a bad leg and walk with a stick but it doesn’t stop me and it is improving all the time. The brain is fine now, the tumour has shrunk right down. They operated but not to take it out, because it was too small and in too dangerous a position,” he said.
Buchanan was educated at St Edward’s School, Oxford and then at La Sorbonne in Paris. He was formerly Managing Director of George Harrison & Co, a company which was established in 1863 manufacturing and designing fine cloth, tweed and tartan and chiefly involved in export. Latterly it became Harrisons of Edinburgh and he was a consultant operating throughout Europe. He was Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year in 1992 and was also a government appointed Director of the British Wool Marketing Board until 2010 and is currently President of the Master Tailors Benevolent Association of Great Britain. He is also a former Moderator of the High Constabulary of the Port of Leith and is Honorary Consul of Iceland in Scotland since 1993.

A former vice chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, he was also European election candidate and he is presently the chairman of the City of Edinburgh Conservatives’ Association.
He said: “I got quite enthused about the Scottish Parliament and so in 1998, I put myself forward as a candidate for the Scottish Parliament but stood down because I realised I didn’t have enough experience, so I let someone else take my place and became an election agent in Edinburgh, which turned out to be a good way to get to know the politics. I then helped in the elections in 2001 and was election agent and worked for Malcolm Rifkind’s campaign, he is a close personal friend and neighbour. I then worked on other campaigns but my main interest was in Europe, so I stood as a European candidate three times.

“I became vice chairman of the party under Jackson Carlaw who was chairman at the time. I then got myself on the list for the Scottish elections in 2009, never thinking anything would happen but then was struck down by a brain tumour. I recovered sufficiently to become third on the list after David McLetchie and Gavin Brown.”

In September, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson unveiled a new frontbench team and the local government spokesman role changed from Margaret Mitchell to Buchanan. He is also now a member of the parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee. Buchanan said: “Local government is vital, and it isn’t just about trams and potholes. On the whole, our local government works reasonably well, it is active and proactive, and councillors and all parties work well. My own feeling is I wish we could go back to single councillor wards because the criticism I hear about local government is people don’t know who their councillor is. I don’t think these multi-wards work very well, people want their own ward and area and councillor. That’s my own opinion. In terms of being local government spokesman, I think we’ve got it sussed out in Scotland regarding the number of councils we have, they are local, they shouldn’t be amalgamated too much and put together but there are too many councillors.

“I’m interested in transport and how local government runs this important aspect. This obviously takes in the situation with the trams. At the beginning, I was for the trams, but when I realised they had run out of money and weren’t going to the places that other buses don’t reach, I turned against it. I wished they’d gone to the Royal Infirmary and down to Leith and Pilton, to stop in St Andrews Square is ridiculous but however, I hope this is only temporary.

“I’m also interested in urban regeneration and the schemes which are currently ongoing around that. One of the first things I did was go with the Local Government and Regeneration Committee to Dundee, to visit urban regeneration areas. They’ve been to various other places and I think it’s fascinating to see what’s happening across Scotland. One of the advantages of the committee is one can make proper comparisons between areas. Transport is also important, for example, how it is funded and used.”

A recent Audit Scotland report found that the amount of money councils charge for a variety of services across Scotland differs drastically. It revealed that the costs charged to the public for services like gym membership, social care and pest control vary greatly. In some local authority areas, extra music tuition for school pupils is free, while in others it costs as much as £340. Pest control for residents in some local authority areas costs nothing, while elsewhere it can cost £102 per visit.

The report, ‘Charging for services: are you getting it right?’, also revealed disparity in charging for home care, special waste uplift and street trader licences. Audit Scotland said the public found these discrepancies “unfair” and “confusing”, and pointed out councils raise about £1.3bn a year from service charging. But rather than use charges purely as a means of income generation, the organisation said local authorities could use them to change behaviour, such as encouraging healthy living by reducing gym membership charges.

It added that councils should have clear policies in place relating to how much it charges and for what. Buchanan welcomed the report, saying: “It’s completely wrong that people in one area have to pay through the nose for one service, yet a few miles down the road this could be provided for free. I hope this study leads to a change in approach from local authorities so we can see some equality across the country. I appreciate that in some cases there may be certain local pressures that result in a disparity, but when this happens it has to be clearly explained to service users.”

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