Brian Wilson: Sanctimony will not make our roads any safer or create green jobs

The A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness is a dangerous road that claims human life on a regular basis. That is a statement of fact which sanctimonious verbiage cannot alter. The same can be said of several heavily-used Scottish routes – the A82 and A9 are ones with which I have longstanding familiarity but try to avoid.

Over decades, roads that were never meant to carry current levels of traffic have been upgraded stage by stage as public finances allowed. In some cases, this has made them more rather than less dangerous pending completion of the task. Confusion between single and dual carriageway on the A9 is particularly notorious and even if I’m certain of what I’m on, I’m less certain about the guy coming the other way.

Scotland has a small population relative to size and the great majority is crowded into the central belt. That’s part of the reason the Barnett formula works so heavily in our favour; to compensate for additional costs created by low population densities. Spending money on improving both connectivity and public safety are obligations of government and anyone who thinks otherwise, while engaged in the relatively safe task of pedalling round the potholes of Partick, should be treated with derision.

Not so. Under the Green Nat Pact, roads are the new pariah. In the case of the A96, verbosity is matched only by prevarication. “The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen,” it intones. “We agree to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review to include a climate compatibility assessment to assess direct and indirect impacts on the climate and the environment. This will report by the end of 2022”. So instead of a commitment, there is now a mish-mash of weasel words.

It does not take the GNP to persuade us that a transition to public transport is desirable. However, the public transport first has to be available. The carrot of better rail and bus services must come before the stick of keeping key roads unsafe for those who need to use them, whether in private cars or heavy lorries. As usual, the contrast between the sanctimony and the real world is startling. In the same week, ScotRail, in advance of full SNP control, announced it would kick off by cutting 300 services, one eight of the pre-pandemic total. Whaddya make of that, Patrick of Partick?

I use public transport whenever I can. However, there are many parts of Scotland in which that is not an option and people who live in these places are as entitled as anyone else to investment in infrastructure from the copious coffers of the Scottish Government which makes travel safer and quality of life better. The main instrument of cutting motoring emissions will be through the switch to electric vehicles and the fact they will be powered in that way surely makes it no less desirable that the roads on which they are driven are fit for purpose?

The more one looks at the GNP, the less obvious the point of it becomes. Admittedly, the Bute House set-piece was probably the grandest I have seen since Ms Sturgeon welcomed the Chinese chancers who were going to invest billions in the Scottish economy but sadly disappeared without trace. The same fate will not befall her new pals behind the podiums since the electoral system means they will be around forever though only in government for as long as they are considered useful.

One of the little puzzles the GNP will want to avoid is: “What constitutes a green job?”. This week, Ms Sturgeon and Scottish Power (i.e. Iberdrola) obliged each other with a photo opportunity to announce 152 “green jobs” from a company that “is investing millions of pounds every single day to help bring about a cleaner, greener future.” The fact every single penny is paid for by consumers throughout the UK went unmentioned.

There was also to be a new “green jobs workforce academy”. Some of you might think the word “academy” implies a place of learning and the award of qualifications. Closer inspection confirmed, however, that what Ms Sturgeon was launching was actually a web-site on which the allegedly “green jobs” will be advertised.

Long before the Tories privatised electricity and handed vast bonanzas to companies like Iberdrola, investment in power lines to keep our lights on and industry running was routine. Staff were recruited by advertising the jobs. It did not need a photo opportunity to announce either phenomenon. Anyway, since we are now becoming importers of electricity rather than exporters, who knows where the power carried by the networks will come from? Maybe even the hated nuclear from England.

It would have been impolite of Ms Sturgeon to point out that no company has been more responsible than Scottish Power for the fact Scotland scarcely has a renewables industry worthy of the name because of their arrogant insistence on importing hardware from Spain and other countries rather than creating facilities in Scotland, despite gaining so many windfarm consents here. Launching a web-site is so much easier than asking the hard question – will you change your ways?

There is plenty potential to turn energy transition into economic opportunity and a better environment. Let’s hope the next ten years produce more results than the last ten but my guess is that the GNP will lead to even more photo opportunities and just as little action.

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The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992