Thursday, 11 December 2008

The road to realpolitik

Tayside residents will be familiar with MSP John Swinney's "tireless" campaign to upgrade the A9 to dual carriageway all the way from Perth to Inverness, due to the road's accident record.

For example, a 2005 Parliamentary motion from Mr Swinney said:

...the road will remain fundamentally unsafe until it is reconstructed as a dual carriageway from Perth to Inverness.
Following the debate on the motion he said:

On the general question of the safety of the A9 we heard warm words but only limited action.
The BBC reported Mr Swinney as saying the road created a "climate of confusion", and he stated:
When we get information that this is the deadliest road in Scotland, we need urgent action from the government.
Mr Swinney now his hands on the levers of power - and indeed the purse strings as the Scottish Government's Finance Secretary - and yesterday his administration announced its plans for A9 dualling as part of its future transport strategy. But today the Scotsman reports:
The Scottish Government has, for the first time, made a definite commitment to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness.

However, ministers have not set a timetable on the road improvement,
stating only that it will be done over 20 years. The reason for this reticence is that the proposal is hugely expensive – probably £4 billion or more.

Ministers wanted to make their commitment known but did not want to get tied down on timetables, aware that it will be difficult to find the money to make good their pledge, at least within the next ten to 15 years.

So a "fundamentally unsafe" road which required "urgent action" instead of "warm words but only limited action" while Mr Swinney was in opposition now seems to require only...er...warm words but limited action when Mr Swinney is in government.

Of course, Mr Swinney is hardly the first politician to change direction slightly when confronted with the realities of office, and dualling the A9 is by no means the Scottish Government's biggest headache, but this is yet another issue which demonstrates that those expecting a fundamentally different kind of politics from the SNP must be sadly disappointed.

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