THE Capital’s trams project has always been a rollercoaster ride – and it’s been particularly bumpy since last week’s bizarre decision to end the line at Haymarket.
But, as the News reveals today, the latest dramatic change of direction may just stop it becoming a complete train wreck. The about-turn by the project’s arch-critics, the council’s SNP group will astound many people. Some may even feel betrayed that they are now backing a line to St Andrew Square.
This newspaper has previously criticised Steve Cardownie and his colleagues over their failure to help rescue a scheme that has made the city a laughing stock around the world.
When the SNP sat on their hands as Labour and the Tories clubbed together to defeat the Lib Dems last Thursday and force a halt at Haymarket we blamed all parties for their role in the farce – and we portrayed all group leaders as a bunch of clowns.
But today we are happy to salute Mr Cardownie for showing remarkable political courage and doing the right thing for Edinburgh.
Yes, his opponents will accuse him of cynically trying to be seen as saving the city’s blushes. And, yes, his critics – including some fellow Nationalists – will claim he’s sold out. A few may even suggest he has been nobbled by ministers who fear the trams mess has tainted all of Scotland. Such sniping is inevitable in politics. But even if there is any truth in any or all such accusations the bottom line is that – finally – the SNP has come good on the trams.
There are all sorts of good reasons why the News has campaigned for months for “St Andrew Square or bust”. We argued that anything short of the city centre would be all but useless.
Council officials estimated a line to Haymarket would make an annual £4 million loss, and that could only have taken money out of Lothian Buses and eaten into the cash available to the city for other public services.
In the last 48 hours it also became clear that the line to Haymarket would need £30m more than previously thought, and then John Swinney warned he might withhold £72m of government funding. Meanwhile, there was the very real threat of the consortium building the trams walking away by terminating the contract – and demanding a lump sum of £161m which could have bankrupted the city.
All of which adds up to only one sensible conclusion: if there is to be a tram line it simply has to reach the city centre.
We are pleased the SNP now accepts that. Labour and the Tories should do the same. Rather than squabble over procedures for the special council meeting on Friday they should turn up and vote for the longer tram line. That would show a rare unity across the council and a determination to do the best for the Capital.
Oh yes – and then the council must get the damn thing built.