‘Stop talking down Scotland’ goes the perennial cry of the Scottish Nationalist, which roughly translates to ‘Stop pointing out unpalatable facts about Scottish Nationalism’.
It’s not enough that the SNP governs every aspect of our lives, from how much tax we pay to where tobacconists can display their shameful contraband, they expect us to be grateful for it.
Contrary to the sour gripes of these sore winners, those of us who critique the Scottish Government are happy to give credit where it is due. The Nationalists replaced a Lib-Lab Scottish Executive that was well-intentioned but by the end stale and listless. They brought new ideas and fresh talent and, until they got sidetracked by independence, tried to keep the ship of state cruising ahead.
And, yes, the Queensferry Crossing is a laudable structure. Ten million man hours, 150,000 tonnes of concrete and 23,000 miles of cabling — the 1.7-mile bridge is a redoubtable feat of engineering. The designers and workers involved, who hail from as far afield as the United States and Australia, are justly proud of their achievement.
The Scottish Government deserves a pat on the back for pursuing this £1.35billion project, though Lord knows it has done enough self-congratulation already, not least Nicola Sturgeon who unveiled the new crossing in August with a dazzling light show and a vehicle parade. The First Minister spoke as if she’d been putting in nights pouring the concrete herself.
So you might expect Miss Sturgeon’s government, after taking all the credit for the crossing, to accept at least some of the blame now that a ‘snag’ has been hit. You would be wrong. In fact, ministers refuse even to acknowledge that there is a problem.
The bridge was closed to southbound traffic on Thursday night, barely three months after opening, to allow for what the First Minister called ‘snagging’ work. Southbound drivers will be diverted via the Forth Road Bridge until Wednesday morning while 15 metres of tarmac are replaced.
A temporary speed limit of 40mph has been slapped on both crossings. Transport Scotland admits that it knew about the faults before the bridge opened and the agency warns motorists to expect further travel restrictions over the next ten months.
Despite this, the First Minister cannot even bring herself to admit the crossing is partially closed. Last week at Holyrood, Ruth Davidson tried to pin down the First Minister on the matter, only to be told: ‘The bridge will not be closed during those five days; instead, southbound traffic will use the existing Forth Road Bridge.’
The look that spread across the Tory leader’s face — half bafflement, half wonder — will stay with me for some time. Say what you like about Nicola Sturgeon but she can hold a line, no matter how ridiculous, with the stony face of a Las Vegas poker player.
Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger once posed a thought experiment about a cat sealed inside a box with poison — as its fate could not be known until the container was opened, it was in theory both dead and alive at the same time. The First Minister has one-upped Schrödinger’s Cat with Sturgeon’s Bridge — both open and closed but, no matter what, not the SNP’s fault.
The First Minister could have been up-front about the repairs but she wanted some good headlines and for a woman who, pace Oscar Wilde, never interrupts a flatterer, good publicity was always going to come first. Motorists who rely on the Queensferry Crossing for commuting and business owners who use it to transport goods and workers will have been as galled as Miss Davidson by the First Minister’s performance.
Sometimes it’s not the crime or even the cover-up that damns you, it’s the self-serving plea in mitigation.
Over the weekend, one of Miss Sturgeon’s spin doctors sneered on Twitter that the Tories were ‘working themselves up into a state of outrage about some roadworks’. It was a telling remark for a party that is increasingly out of touch with the lives and concerns of ordinary people.
Ministers who are chauffeured from one photo-op to another in taxpayer-funded cars could hardly be expected to grasp the inconvenience caused by up to ten months of diversions, delays and reduced speed limits. Politicians who work three days a week at parliament and rarely knock off after 5pm probably wouldn’t understand the rigmarole involved in late-night travel when you work shifts or are tasked with moving goods at all hours of the night.
Make no mistake, there are some hard-working members of the Scottish Parliament; most of them you won’t have heard of because they spend less time in TV studios and more time helping their constituents. On the whole, though, the working patterns of a career in politics are very different from those involved in running a small business or staffing hospitals as a junior doctor.
For the entrepreneur, the prospect of a major crossing being closed for up to ten months — even if only partially and no matter whether the First Minister is prepared to admit it — is alarming. At best, it will mean disruptions and logistical headaches. At worst, it could mean late deliveries, missed meetings and, as a consequence, even lost contracts. For the junior doctor and others on the frontline of public services, it means already dangerously long shifts become longer still.
Ministers would understand these realities if they lived them, or at least spent some time talking to those who do. More and more, the Scottish Government seems uninterested in hearing from anyone outside its bubble of advisers, flunkies and third-sector head-nodders. Certainly, they appear blithely incurious about the views of those who are out there putting in the hours, creating jobs and keeping the economy and public services running.
If the SNP wants gold stars for projects like the Queensferry Crossing, it also has to take the rap over the knuckles when faults are found. Good government isn’t about sitting around waiting for praise. Good government is getting on with it and turning political capital into lasting achievements.
The praise will come and if it doesn’t, and the wretched ingrates fail to appreciate your greatness, you can use your memoirs to tell the world they were just talking down Scotland.
Setting side the unfathomable mysteries of cricket, there is no sport whose appeal confounds me more than hunting. A hopeless townie, I can only tell the difference between venison and veal if they’re in different freezer cabinets in M&S. Blood sports and game-shooting are as alien to me as my preference for coffee with three names and foam on top probably is to most country people.
But the SNP’s decision to back further restrictions on hunting with hounds and to impose a licensing regime on grouse estates smacks more of class prejudice than animal welfare. The Scottish Government only launched its independent review into grouse management two weeks ago and this kind of capricious move is an act of bad faith towards rural communities.
Despite the caricatures, many of these people are not rich and depend on rural pursuits for their livelihoods. You may not like the jobs they do but if you want to take them away, first tell us what you plan to replace them with.
Nigel Farage says he won’t forgo the £73,000 European Parliament pension he will be in line for after Britain quits the EU. Mr Farage has made a career out of blasting others for being on the Brussels gravy train. Now we know why he was so keen on Brexit. £73,000 a year buys a lot of Bisto.
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