This story first appeared on STV Edinburgh here.
Could the city elect a penguin as Provost in May?
The election pundits say that Mike Ferrigan, also known as Professor Pongoo, a six foot penguin from planet Piper, stands little chance of getting elected as an independent councillor in May’s local council elections.
Afterall, independent candidates struggle at the best of times to compete with the better resourced election machines of the established parties. And in the Pentlands ward where he is standing, more than 40% of the electorate gave their first preference to the Conservative candidate last time.
Could an independent dressed as a penguin with strong environmental policies be a step too far for most locals?
Ferrigan thinks not. He believes that the pundits have underestimated the power of the Penguin to take votes from across the political spectrum.
He has even promised to wear the penguin costume to every full council meeting if he gets elected. He said: “I will make a pledge to wear the Penguin costume in full council meetings.
“The purpose of doing that will be to bring some lightness and humour to the affair. This may help to bring about a more consensual approach to politics within the chamber.
“Hopefully people will calm down a bit, stop being so confrontational and wagging fingers at each other, and instead they’ll have a bit of a laugh, sit around a table and discuss the common good of all as opposed to the common good of all the political parties.”
The penguin is not just a novelty. It has policies too, many of them informed by his involvement in putting together the Occupy Edinburgh manifesto requests.
These include calls for the council to do more to support the development of new co-operative enterprises and a community right to buy for surplus council assets.
Asked why he wanted to stand as an independent, Mr Ferrigan, a former member of the Scottish Greens and an active supporter of the Occupy Edinburgh movement said: “I’m disillusioned with the Greens. They’ve become establishment. But right from the mid-eighties I’ve been interested in politics, but not party politics.
“I feel that party politics has destroyed the economy, and it’s destroying the planet at a very quick rate.
“So what has motivated me to do it is to try to provide a new consensual voice.
Even though he proudly avoids carrying a mobile phone, he insists that he is committed to supporting a “bottom-up politics.” He plans to use Facebook and other social networking to hold regular online referenda to help write a “community manifesto,” and find solutions to problems in the area.
He said: “Communities should be able to make their own decisions and have their own finance available to put those decisions into action.”
He points out that he is one of only two candidates to live in the Ward and his work educating local school pupils about Climate Change means that many of the local children – and by extension their families – are already familiar with his Professor Pongoo alter ego.
His independent status, his established local profile as an environmental campaigner, and his pledge to devolve more power to local communities have come together to inspire at least some of the locals to vote for the first time ever.
His neighbours in the Currie street where he lives, certainly view him as a credible alternative to the party politicians they’ve had to choose from before.
May Higgins, who is 49, works at Heriot Watt University. She said: “I’ve never voted before because I don’t have any faith in politics whatsoever. But put it this way – he’s made me interested.
“I do believe in the community, and I want to see things done. Mike is a community person and he’s actually made me think.
“I think he’s sincere, and I think he’s a hard worker. I have known Mike in the community for a while, and I think everybody young and old can relate to him.”
Sandra Elliot Pride, 53, who lives in Currie and works at Balerno High School said: “In the past I’ve always voted Labour.
“If Professor Pongoo got in he might be able to achieve more of a voice for the people here. People are increasingly paying all their dues, and we see cuts, and we know their have to be cuts, but they seem to sometimes be slightly unfair cuts.
“The people who are being affected are perhaps less well off and there are less well off people in this area. It’s a vibrant area, and it’s not regarded as a disadvantaged area, but there are people who live in this area who are hidden disadvantaged.”
Rebecca Doig, is a 29 year old teacher who lives in Currie. She was keeping a watchful eye on her two children in a local Playpark. She said: “My husband has been going on about the Penguin ever since he put a leaflet through the door.
“I suppose he’s standing on Green issues and they are really important. I might put him as my third choice, but I think my husband will probably vote for him because he’s a penguin.”
“I think the novelty thing will work. He’s got a memorable name and a memorable logo. At a local election, people don’t know very much, so that might work. He could get in, you never know. Stranger things have certainly happened and I imagine that the turnout will be really low.
“I think he’s fairly well thought of locally because he does a lot of work in the schools and things like that. He goes in and does talks with them, and he goes to libraries too. People locally probably do know him quite well.”
The environmental message that Mr Ferrigan is basing his campaign on seems to resonate well with young families in the area. Neal Beaton, 30, lives with his family in the ward. He said: “I think his ideas are very good. Renewables are quite a current issue.
“I think it’s always hard for an independent to get in, but people might be a bit disillusioned with the Tories and the Libdems. There’s always a possibility he might slip through.
“I think some people here might think that being represented by a penguin is a bit beneath them. But it’s happened before hasn’t it? It’s always fun – and there have been monkeys elected before in England.”
The older generation of Pentlands residents are perhaps less convinced of Mr Ferrigan’s election bid. Local James Anderson, 79, who is retired, said: “My priority is keeping the council tax low.
“I don’t think Mr Ferrigan has got a chance, but he’s got as much right to be in the parliament as the rest of the rogues.”
To win a place in the Chambers, Professor Pongoo must win support throughout the Pentlands ward, which spans a varied demographic from Wester Hailes in the east to Balerno in the west.
To do this, he’s adopted another tactic that some of the other parties may struggle to follow. He’s producing three different leaflets, and using his local knowledge is highlighting policies that he thinks will appeal to the different communities.
Local residents will have a chance to quiz Professor Pongoo, along with the other five candidates standing in Pentlands Ward at a Hustings event on the 3rd of May.
More information on the event is available on the specially set-up Hustings website.
A full listing of all the candidates standing in the city is available here.