Tram inquiry delay highlights 16 years of SNP failure - Daniel Johnson

Lord Andrew Hardie was appointed to head the  Edinburgh Tram Inquiry in 2014. Picture: Lisa FergusonLord Andrew Hardie was appointed to head the  Edinburgh Tram Inquiry in 2014. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Lord Andrew Hardie was appointed to head the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry in 2014. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The greatest irony in the whole trams saga is that even the inquiry report is delayed. It will spend five months at the printers. If the project were a passenger, it would now be too old for free travel.

The precise reasons for yet another delay to this report is unclear, but I am told this is to afford a right of reply to heavily criticised Scottish Ministers before it is made public. Criticism, more extensive than had been anticipated.

Both the fact and the level of criticism are surprising, particularly as key issues concern not what ministers did, but what they did not do at the time.

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Indeed, one of the very first acts of the incoming SNP administration in 2007 was to remove all central government support, including the advice and expertise of Transport Scotland. This left the city council to run one of the most ambitious and complex infrastructure projects in Scotland for decades. Even with the reduced airport link, Edinburgh trams got off relatively lightly. The Glasgow Airport Rail Link was scrapped altogether.

Daniel Johnson MSPDaniel Johnson MSP
Daniel Johnson MSP

Inaction and omission defines the SNP’s time in power. While the delays and cost overruns of the two Fergusson’s ferries may grab headlines, the real scandal is the decade without any new ferry launches. A failure to plan for the ongoing replacement of vessels has led to cancellations and withdrawals literally due to rusting ferries. This negligent approach leaving islanders stranded and who knows what tourists must think arriving in Scotland, hoping to visit our islands to be left looking forlornly at empty jetties.

Most critically, the Tram project is the last major infrastructure project within our major cities.

Scotland’s Central Belt holds huge economic potential. From satellites to pharmaceuticals, you can make it here. For financial, technological and scientific expertise there are few regions of the world that can rival the breadth and depth of capability. Between Glasgow, Edinburgh and their surrounding areas there is extraordinary potential.

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But it requires infrastructure and regional planning that the SNP government is unable or unwilling to deliver. The fundamental basis for any economy is the ability to move people and goods from point A to point B. That relies on roads, rail and services to run on them.

The only major infrastructure to be initiated by the SNP in the central belt has been the Queensferry Crossing and even that was replacement rather than new infrastructure.

The importance of city and regional economic planning is clear around the world. Yet in Scotland, there is no clear responsibility for it. As a result, the infrastructure upon which regional economies are built gets mired in confusion and delay. With it, we run the risk of being left behind other parts of the UK let alone the rest of the world.

So while we wait for the Tram report, the real question that needs to be answered is not why was it built, but rather why has so little been delivered for our cities since 2007.

Daniel Johnson is the Scottish Labour Party MSP for Edinburgh Southern

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