Hip, hip, hooray, the day arrived when the Queensferry Crossing was officially opened and in a few days time traffic will be streaming across this fantastic new connection between the Lothians and Fife, allowing any required remedial work to be done on the current Forth Road Bridge with no inconvenience to the many thousands who travel regularly over the bridge at the moment. Eventually, the Queensferry Crossing will be designated a motorway and traffic will be able to cross at motorway speeds, with public transport and non-motorway traffic being returned to the Forth Road Bridge. The last couple of days have seen thousands walking over the bridge, taking the one chance before it’s closed to pedestrians for ever. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the thousands as, in common with most raffles I get a ticket for, my name didn’t come up.
The new bridge and, more particularly, the funding for it have been the subject of considerable controversy. Originally suggested by the Tories in the late 1990s, the project was cancelled by Labour just as soon as they could, when they and the Lib Dems took office in Holyrood in 1999.
There the situation stood until 2007. Despite warnings by FETA (not the big cheese, but the Forth Estuary Transport Authority) that the Forth Road Bridge was not designed for the volume of traffic using it and various well documented maintenance issues like corrosion of the cables, Labour refused to authorise spending the money on a new bridge, despite having the cash available. In fact, during their period in office, Labour actually returned money to Westminster because they couldn’t think of anything to spend it on. I, and lots of others, I’m sure, could have helped them out with ideas. Still, it wasn’t altogether a bad thing as it did mean that Jack McConnell got a peerage for services to Westminster.
In 2007, everything changed. When the SNP took control of the Scottish Government, they almost immediately conducted a review of the case for a new bridge and, by the end of the year, announced that they were going to give the go-ahead for the construction of the bridge.
Cue an outpouring of “support” from the Unionist parties. Danny Alexander (remember him?) accused the Scottish Government of using taxpayers’ money to fund an SNP vanity project. MSP James Kelly, at the time Scottish Labour’s insightful (or do I mean incompetent) infrastructure spokesman (OK, I am joking … about insightful) also called it an SNP vanity project, as did Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, while MPs at the time, Alistair Darling (Lab), Malcolm Forsyth (Con) and Ming Campbell (LD) all described the bridge as a waste of money. I won’t repeat what George Foulkes said about it, but I don’t suppose he remembers anyway.
BBC were quite happy to repeat that it was an “SNP vanity project”. They alternated between this and “cut price bridge” because the SNP Government seemed to think they could deliver the bridge for less than half the £4Bn that Labour had claimed it would cost. And to make matters worse (for the Unionists), it turns out they were right.
Vanity projects were in. Practically everything the Scottish Government proposed was described as an SNP vanity project by one or other of the Unionist parties, Gaelic road signs, scrapping university tuition fees, Borders railway, even the Edinburgh trams, a project which was actually run by the (Labour controlled) Edinburgh Council.
Of course, insults were not the only problem faced by the Scottish Government. The decision had been taken to use public funding, but there seemed no end to the effort made by Westminster to raise problems. Gordon Brown, a “proud Scot but”, was the man in charge of the money at Westminster and he was determined to do everything possible to prevent a Scottish Government run by the evil SNP from claiming credit for such a major piece of infrastructure. Various attempts to get Westminster funding were thrown out. Borrowing powers were rejected and even a request to bring forward Scotland’s capital grant was knocked back by Brown, who instead suggested that the Scottish Government could cut back on services to allow them to save up to be able to afford it. A typical Unionist plan.
Despite Westminster’s best efforts and without even a penny contribution from them, building work began in 2011, with a contractual completion date of June, 2017, though, unfortunately, Transport Scotland told everyone the bridge would be complete by December, 2016, providing the opportunity for all the Unionist media to be able to claim repeatedly that it was “months late”. The media were less keen to say that construction was £250 million under budget. To put that in context, I have compiled a full list of Westminster funded projects completed under budget in the last 10 years.
Don’t you think that’s an impressive list?
Now the bridge is complete, there’s a concerted effort by the Unionist media to try to write the SNP Government out of the history of the bridge. We find it described as a “triumph of British engineering” by both the BBC and Sky (is that a step up from SNP vanity project or a step down?), with no mention of the Scottish Government’s role, built using public funds with no mention of where the funds came from, and worst of all, a BBC commissioned radio programme charting the history of the Forth bridges, starring BBC’s favourite politician (now Ruth has gone into hiding), the great growling beast that is (you’ve guessed it) Gordon Brown.
It’s hard to imagine the BBC could have delivered a bigger insult to those involved in building the bridge than using the man who did more than anyone to try to prevent it being built. I suppose it won’t be long before we see Monica Lennon describing, in breathless terms, the challenges she overcame in pushing the SNP into funding this wonderful new, Labour inspired construction.
Following on from the British triumph, we’ve had a procession of proud Scots but rubbishing the idea that there’s anything for Scots to be proud of. They’ve pointed out the use of materials sourced from elsewhere (how can you think it’s Scottish when the steel came from China) and the involvement of “furriners” in the design and construction (how can you think it’s Scottish as the design involved Danes). It’s only a bridge, they said. You can’t be proud of anything Scottish, they said. It’s too wee, there were queues when it opened, they said. It should have been a tunnel, they said. It’s not as long as that one in Hong Kong, they said. But what they really said was: “We think it rubbish because it’s Scottish and because it was built by an SNP government” and “Scotland are too wee, too poor and too stupid to ever complete a project like this on their own”.
OK. So we all know that it’s not sensible to have an overwhelming belief that nothing your country does can ever be wrong. But is that really worse than an overwhelming belief that nothing your country does can ever be right? And do those who hold to the latter belief still consider themselves Scottish, or are they just Britnats who haven’t yet outed themselves.
Finally, in answer to the opening question, “A bridge too far … are the Unionists right or wrong?”, the answer is undoubtedly wrong. The Queensferry Crossing is an impressive Scottish bridge, conceived in Scotland and brought into existence with the help of friends and partners from other countries. Praise for the bridge has come in from all over the world, but only in Scotland are there people so determined to denigrate everything that happens in their country that they are lining up to tell everyone how useless it is.
Sad, sad people.