Parliament: November 2009 Archives

The Universality of Shame.

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freedomwallace.jpgThis sort of daft behaviour doesn't predominantly damage the SNP. Like other worse scandals of the type, it mostly damages the reputation of blogging, and more seriously, the reputation of politics in general. 

Getting abusive while anonymous online may feel cathartic, but it tends not to help your cause, even if you don't get caught on the eve of the boss's big day.

For a more forgiving perspective, Jeff has more.

Tom Harris in "wrong on PR" shock.

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TomHarris.jpgYou can't argue with the quantity of blogging that Tom Harris puts in, but he will insist on being wrong. Today's egregious example is on the topic of proportional representation. 

It's perhaps no surprise that someone on the hard right of the Labour Party would oppose fairer elections, and it's also pretty clear why the Scottish Parliament as a whole gets up his nose.

The issues MSPs discuss and decide upon at Holyrood tend to be the main issues of the day: there are exceptions, sure, like the economy, welcoming asylum seekers, and whatever wars Labour's gotten us into lately. Scottish MPs just don't get the limelight any more, and that must sting, especially for an ex-Minister.

Today Tom weighed in against his colleagues' doomed PR for Westminster plan, which is about twelve years too late. "In Scotland and Wales", he opined, ""assisted places scheme" MSPs and AMs represent no-one.."

In fact, Tom, 73 MSPs are elected in a relatively undemocratic manner, usually by a minority of their constituents. First Past The Post "assists" these Members, especially those like Kenny Gibson, who won his seat last time with just 30.7% of the vote. Conversely, 56 of our MSPs are elected to reflect that radical thing: the will of the electorate.

Thanks only to the PR element, the numbers of MSPs in Holyrood aren't that far from the popular will, but those 73 less democratic elections do skew things. The SNP got 33% of the constituency vote and 31% of the regional vote, but 36% of the MSPs. Labour got fewer votes in both, but still picked up 34% of the seats. Conversely, Greens got 4% of the vote and just 1.5% of the seats. 

If we had to abolish one kind of MSP, Tom's preference is clear: he'd get rid of the more representative kind. I can't agree.
elephantbridge.jpgIt's satisfying, commissioning opinion polls, especially on topics where the other side is rich and powerful but hasn't published any poll results. That always makes me suspect our position is popular as well as right.

The one we released today (thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland and the ForthRight Alliance for co-commissioning it) covered Ministers' plans for a new Forth Road Bridge. 

But is that the real choice that Ministers face? Could they definitely repair the existing bridge? There are two ways it could be delivered. First, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority are highly confident that the dehumidification of the cables will work. It's underway, and it's costing £10.3m, which is pocket change in bridge terms. 

To give the SNP the maximum benefit of the doubt, though, let's assume that that dehumidification fails. We'd then have to go to recabling or cable augmentation. There are three variants of this approach: replacement above, augmentation above, and augmentation to the side. Any of these would simply work, guaranteed: it's a standard operation, with lots of international expertise available. 

A report from FETA in February 2008 showed that this would cost between £91m and £122m, depending on the option chosen. Perhaps by coincidence, FETA just got a shiny new website and the report is no longer available. I'm not saying it's a deliberate whitewashing, mind: as I've recently been reminded, sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. You can see the Google cache of the report here.

In case there's still any doubt about the potential to fix the existing bridge, the proof is, ironically, in the spin deployed by Ministers in response to the story in today's Scotland on Sunday. They say "we are building a replacement crossing as well as utilising the existing bridge". I can imagine more accurate words than "replacement" to use there. Perhaps "additional"?

So £122m is the top end for fixing the bridge, and that's what YouGov offered as one option. The other, again giving the SNP's spin machine the benefit of the doubt, is their current upper estimate for an entirely new bridge - £2,300m.

Despite the constant deluge of spin, by almost two to one the public just don't think that's a sensible choice. To sum up, the new bridge would be:

Unaffordable. Scottish Ministers don't have the money. They begged Westminster for it, and sensibly, got knocked back. John Swinney and colleagues ceaselessly complain about "£500m of Labour cuts", yet they're planning to blow more than four times that on this structure.

Unsustainable. It's just more road capacity. Labour argued for a "multimodal" bridge, with rail or light rapid transit built in as well as a road route, but the SNP didn't listen. The existing bridge, magically repaired despite all the Ministerial bluster, will supposedly be reserved for buses and taxis, but no-one believes that. As drivers sit in jams on the new bridge and look downstream to the probably empty old bridge, they'll understandably get a bit miffed. If there's one constant since 1999, it's Ministers doing whatever the motoring lobby want, and that reservation for public transport will melt like snow off a dyke.

As a result, there'll be four lanes of traffic feeding into Edinburgh, and congestion levels will inevitably worsen alongside carbon emissions. This ignores the opportunity cost, too - if the same money were spent on public transport, the SNP could be cutting emissions and congestion rather than worsening them.

Unnecessary. There's no argument against simply fixing the existing bridge, apart from the unsubstantiated handwaving about economic impact. The real reason it's being pushed for so hard is two-fold. First, there's a misconception that people in Fife vote for whoever promises them more bridges. Second, Alex Salmond loves his hard hat openings, and who knows, the bridge may even end up being named after him. I look forward to watching the Labour leader's face if that happens.

Unpopular. Our poll had crossbreaks by voting intention, and every party's voters are against it. The closest you come to sympathetic is amongst SNP voters, but even they aren't convinced by John Swinney's arguments. In these times of budget pressure, Tory and Labour voters are the most sceptical, as you might expect, but there's not much in it.  

Going by the constituency vote, here's the specific extent to which all the other parties are out of touch with their supporters:
Conservative » Repair: 64%, Replace: 30%, Don't Know: 6%
Labour » Repair: 59%, Replace: 32%, Don't Know: 9%
Lib Dem » Repair: 56%, Replace: 37%, Don't Know: 7%
SNP » Repair: 51%, Replace: 41%, Don't Know: 9%

Bad politics. Public transport projects across the country are getting put on hold, with GARL just the most obvious example. When the budget and the timescale get blown, and when Fife and the Lothians are snarled up in congestion, the new bridge will plumb depths of unpopularity that will make my time on the Parliament building project look like a walk in Holyrood Park.

Right now there are four opposition parties, and just one, the Greens, arguing against this scheme. I keep expecting one of the other parties to get the arguments against and join us to campaign for repair instead of replacement. Whoever does so can clearly reap a massive political reward, a reputation for prudence, and some pretty substantial environmental credentials.

The alternative is for it to be just us holding the SNP to account while the others go down with them, and while we have to watch the bridge eating a decade's worth of discretionary capital spend. Who's with us?

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Parliament category from November 2009.

Parliament: October 2009 is the previous archive.

Parliament: December 2009 is the next archive.