There’s a good article by Muriel Gray in the Sunday Herald today, lambasting the government’s neglect of transport to the Highlands. She rightly describes the A82 as like a cycle path, and criticises the spending of money on trams in Edinburgh at a time when tourism and business demands that it’s the rest of the country that should be the priority.
It’s an aposite subject for me as I sit just now on the sluggish train south from Inverness towards Sheffield, where the line meanders (often single track) at a frustrating pace, passing countless suburbs and villages that could easily be made more viable by the insertion of a railway station. Gray rightly points towards the recently-announced plans for a high-speed link from London to Glasgow as an example of Scotland falling behind.
I say “good article”. Actually, it’s just mostly good. It’s one of Gray’s typically hot-headed rants that seems to lambast everything from the SNP’s moves for an independence referendum to the fact that Iain Gray is a rubbish leader of Scottish Labour, while occasionally touching on the main subject in hand.
Plus, it’s clearly written from a southern perspective – the A9 is described as starting in the central belt when as we all know it starts in Caithness.
It also fails to mention the other side of the issue – it’s not just travel to the Highlands that’s the problem, it’s travel within the Highlands that urgently needs sorting. I could bore you with countless anecdotes of travel around the region where I’ve been held up, frustrated or nearly killed by dangerous motorists, expensive ferries, infrequent or non-existent bus services, and broken down trains.
If you go over the water to Scandinavia (not that there are many direct connections from the Highlands since the end of the short-lived Inverness-Stockholm air service, apart from the occasional eighteen-hour Scrabster to Torshavn ferry), you’ll see that the sparse population and challenging terrain should be no obstacle to a world-class transport network.
Heck, even Torshavn, the capital of the tiny Faroe Islands where islands are connected by tunnels, has a better municipal bus service than Inverness.
I will leave you some words of Gray that I entirely agree with:
A tiny country that doesn’t even have its main cities linked by motorway or express, high-speed rail, is not a country that deserves to be taken seriously in the global marketplace, and in business terms, the economic isolation that piss-poor transport links have inflicted on cities like Inverness and Aberdeen is nothing short of a scandal.
If we also accept that tourism is still one of our most important industries then why do we think it acceptable to serve Fort William, a town that has worked hard, brilliantly and convincingly to position itself as Outdoor Capital of the UK, with a road connection that resembles a cycle path and a rail link that hasn’t changed for a century, except for having grown worse?
Having travelled quite a lot in various countries, I am convinced that transport is one of the defining characteristics of a country and perhaps the best way of attracting visitors, business and residents – some of my favourite countries are ones that have had easy, extensive, cheap and reliable ways of getting from A to B. And of course in the Highlands, we don’t just need to get from A to B, we need to get around the B too.
Although of course, we’re actually the A…