Tom Johnston, Nye Bevan and Donald Dewar, why can’t all politicians be like them? – Susan Morrison

We decided we’d go for a wee weekend away. Pitlochry, or St Andrews?

Workers dig a tunnel in October 1949 as part of the hydroelectric power station that is still producing power in Pitlochry (Picture: Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Workers dig a tunnel in October 1949 as part of the hydroelectric power station that is still producing power in Pitlochry (Picture: Fox Photos/Getty Images)

I was sneakily edging towards St Andrews. You see, as I told himself, I know a chunk of the history. There’s the harbour and the castle and the cathedral where Robert the Bruce was ultra-nervy during the consecration and there’s the guy they burned and the Reformation and the tunnels and Cardinal Beaton’s grim and grisly murder.

Not really up to speed on that golf thing, but I do know what happened when plague hit the city. Really amazing stuff, and I can tell you all about it. For hours.

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He said: “I’ve never been to Pitlochry.” So, Pitlochry it was, and jolly pleasant it turned out to be. Like many Highland towns, it’s become a bit of an outdoors pursuits centre. There are shops bung fu’ with seriously priced rain wear, wellies and wetsuits. I could see the point. As we drove into town, I clocked the River Tummel in full spate and rising closer to the road.

There are those alluring shops selling unfamiliar whiskies and very familiar gins, which makes me think that those outdoor types are fair putting it away when they get off those mountain bikes.

The best thing about Pitlochry? The hydro-electric dam. As huge fans of mid-20th century engineering, this is basically Disneyland for us. It’s a marvel, with a gem of a visitors centre. Lovely gift shop. You need to try the cake. It generates energy too.

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The dam’s turbines create clean power. The film in the visitors centre says, diplomatically, that Scotland’s climate is excellent for producing hydro electricity. They mean “it rains a lot”.

Back in the 1940s, people moaned about the dam being built. Suddenly, the full might of 20th century engineering thundered into picturesque Pitlochry, complete with an army of workers from all over the globe, including nations we’d just defeated in war. Bet that livened up the Friday night dance at the village hall.

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The moaners complained it would kill tourism in the area. It didn’t. Who wouldn’t go out of their way to see a fish ladder? I rest my case. The doubters and the naysayers were all wrong. The dam is magnificent and the entire massive project is still producing power.

It was wildly ambitious, especially for a nation with an economy on its knees after fighting that war. The project was punched through by one of those Scottish politicians who outwardly look terribly sensible and calm but are actually driven like Tasmanian devils. His name was Tom Johnston. He’s worth looking up for those who don’t remember him. He vowed to bring power to the glens, and boy, he did it.

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We used to have these great, dynamic ambitions to make life better for people, led by politicians and public servants so committed they seemed slightly bonkers. Men like Tom, Nye Bevan and Donald Dewar. Now we seem to be at the mercy of squabbling unimaginative political pygmies, especially down in Westminster, constantly carping that there’s not enough money and the only solutions are cuts, misery and austerity.

Take a trip to Pitlochry and stand above the roar of the sluice and feel the power at your feet. We built that. It’s still fit for purpose. Not sure our politicians are.