2007 - 2021

Europe’s Greater Springfield

c070fd0a0bbfae2b0971bc3ba109317bYellow, four-fingered, but getting somewhere: Europe’s Greater Springfield’ can learn from the Simpsons.


It is good to see Jim McColl banging heads together to revive Scottish marine enterprise after three decades of steady shrinkage. It also reminds us that we had such a scheme, forty years back, from Sir William Lithgow, called Oceanspan … We have the resource of a remarkable coastline to offer a Europe whose port facilities are increasingly congested and threatened by inundation. We have safe deepwater quays and anchorages, offshore skills honed across the seven seas, and latterly the possibility of tapping the unlimited power of wind and tide. But to take advantage of efficient oilfield exploitation, carbon capture and storage, coastal protection and low-carbon generation we have to generate at least a doubling of Scottish manufacturing from its present desperate level: increasing the country’s ‘social saving’ to fund this.

Instead we have the problem of Scotland featuring as ‘Europe’s Greater Springfield’: run by drivers for cars.  Our bus passengers (despite pensioners’ free travel) are down by 6 per cent since 2002. Cycling – which we invented – registers 2 per cent of passenger movements, Contrast this – ok, as I always do! – with ‘my’ Baden-Wuerttemberg. Europe’s main industrial region: home to Mercedes Benz, Voith and Bosch. Bus, train and tram loadings are – over this period – up by 12%. Kids and families walk and cycle by preference, in the place that in 1885 delivered the automobile. People travelling in this way are reading and working or exercising. We aren’t, and we seem proud of this. Cast an eye on the loopy prose of the car supplements of even the HERALD or SCOTSMAN’, lauding our omnipresent four-wheel drives, and realise: ‘Jeremy McClarkson lives!’ UK road vehicles may have overall decreased since 2002, but Scotland’s are up by 16 per cent: making their mark with the record pollution levels of our cities – and every week some tragic ‘carambolage’. The Ba-Wue ‘social saving’ dividend has flowed into the locally-owned ‘eco-hi-tech’ enterprises which give Swabians an export surplus greater than that of the entire United Kingdom. In Scotland, as the tragic cases of Longannet Power Station or Tullis Russell, Vion Meats or Youngs Seafood, show, a manufacturing sector bumping along at 10 per cent simply won’t survive. Nice wee stories in our remaining business pages about boutiques, microbreweries or entertainment apps are no more than flowers on the coffin.

We are, though, on the eve of reconnecting the Tweed Valley to the modern world, with the reopening of the Borders Railway, and this is good news. The rail closure of 1969 blighted our most promising high-value industrial region: remember Bernat Klein, Reid and Taylor, Lyle and Scott, Via Electronics? Elsewhere, we’re still far from creating a co-ordinated public transport system on Swiss or South German lines. In the central belt, billions have been spent pouring concrete on and around Uddingston, benefiting logistic concerns in the English  Midlands, to no great Scottish purpose: and we can still provide an all-road transport shambles at the new Glasgow hospital. Only weeks before the opening of Tweedbank terminus, we’ve yet to see a co-ordinated bus timetable linking it to Hawick, Kelso, Selkirk and Jedburgh. The local Hawick-Jedburgh-Kelso bus is under threat. We have plenty of – largely empty – buses, true, pretending to compete along the lines of the idiotic Thatcher-Rifkind 1985 transport act, and not a trace of the co-ordination that marks mainland Europe. The new Tweedbank Station, to serve Borders General Hospital and – soon – the Tapestry of Scotland, lacks any prevision of a bus timetable, and even a toilet!

Over to the USA’s very own Springfield, where Matt Groening’s hometown – ‘iconic’, our favourite journalistic word (and how!) – is neighbour to Eugene, Oregon. It has four Scotrail-type trains a day (good going for the US), but from there, a four-hundred-mile high-speed ‘corridor’ is being planned to Vancouver via Portland, famous since the 1980s for its revived trams. Our ‘learning curve’ at Edinburgh cost €50 million per track kilometre:  three times the European level). But that was our cross-party, Quango-driven, fault: not that of the technology.

They may be yellow and four-fingered but Homer and family have learned since 1985 when, in an early episode,  Madge wrecked the Springfield monorail. In THE SIMPSONS MOVIE the family come back from Alaska by train to rescue the joint from Arnie Schwarzenegger. There is no such railway, but you get the drift … The fabulous San Francisco regional railway Bay Area Rapid Transit is named after Bart. Lisa, member of Mebyon Kernew is the World’s Most Famous Celtic nationalist. Are we Scots satisfied at being represented to the world by Groundkeeper Willie, C Montgomery Burns, Rupert Murdoch … and Top Gear?

Comments (14)

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  1. Dorothy Bruce says:

    “We are, though, on the eve of reconnecting the Tweed Valley to the modern world…”

    The new Borders rail line does not run through the Tweed Valley. It runs by the Gala Water and the A7 to Galashiels and Tweedbank.

  2. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    I dream of a train service to the wilds of the western and northern Highlands (and Islands. Why not?) They manage this, as CH points out, either in Ba-Wue or in Scandinavia, or in China or Japan. Why not? I can dream….

  3. C Rober says:

    Thats right force the poor onto rail and bus , freeing up the roads for the rich , rather than investment on roads from the money motorists actually pay to use it , with its fuel duty and vat on top.

    Forget bikes in Scotland , you may have noticed that its a wet and cold country , there is a reason why bikes are the upper middle class preserve , and even then conveniently on the back of said 4x4s.

    I like my car , it means I dont have to sit with the plebs , or should that be neds?

    I like to be able to get to my destination , in a quarter of the time it would take by rail , then bus , or taxi to get to the station on time originally…. and without the free buckfast bottle malky speedily provided for “you looking at ma burd ya dick”

    The last time I used rail I swore never again , cost more than 2 tanks for fuel for two returns off peak to Englandburgh , just because it like Glasgow has not thought about private never mind public transport.

    What about the switch over to co2 reduction , electric and hydrogen vehicles ?

    If we want the uptake , then just ban all vehicles in city centres from cabon fuels , including delivery trucks , taxis and buses …. or is that just too simple for the likes of Westminster and Hollyrood to figure oot. Old trucks , taxis and buses give off more co2 than private traffic , especially if we insist on Prius taxis in cities with its 40 miles at 40mph then the petrol engine works until proper infrastructure is in place …. with Free electricity charge points paid for by a congestion charge.

    Think London and its congestion charge , 2 hours to go 10 miles on bus after cramped commuting services inward , tell me this isnt geared that the wealthy will have quiet roads that can afford to drive in inner London.

    The future is here though , with some thought.

    Google cars or the Toyota I-Road short hop electric automated taxi …. this is the new personal monorail , simply use an app and have the robot taxi appear in the city centre ready for you to traverse the urban landscape back to your car parked outside the city proper…. taking all that bad gases with it and parking near the urban motorways to further reduce co2.

    The problem with the bad gases and the modern engine is that city is stop start driving , sub 40mph creates far more gases than motorway use , but what are each govt doing , lowering speed limits in the city and suburbs.

    There has to be a time frame in place , to rid the cities of the gases , not just co2 but all of them including the cancer causing ones from heavy oil.

    25 years is long enough to order cities to make changes , to get rid of diesel and petrol in this manner , meaning I-Road taxis or mini monorails and trams , rather than the fiscal embarrassment of Edinburgh trying to be European Germany.

    Or we could just do a LCC and call it a tax income just like London , yet not use the income to make any difference.

    1. Muscleguy says:

      To get from the far East of Dundee to Ninewells Hospital, high up on its western hill I take the bus. There’s even an express version. Despite being solidly middle class and in possession of a PhD I’m not allergic to my fellow people and have never had a problem on Dundee’s buses. One big advantage is that Ninewells is a major bus terminus and hub. I can get to Perth, or St. Andrews etc from there. It is also smack, bang outside the front door of the hospital. We also have one of the few pay to park schemes. And even if you want to pay, after about 08:20 you are limited to the outer reaches of carpark 9 about half a mile from the entrance. Fine on a nice warm, dry day, if you are hale and hearty.

      My over the road neighbours, an increasingly frail elderly couple who still drive take the bus to Ninewells. Similarly the city centre in Dundee is set up so that you can get much closer to the shops on the bus than you can in a car. I’m surrounded by bus stops, they run every 10minutes at peak times and there’s an app to tell you when the next one is at any stop. Some of them even have wifi and some are electric hybrids making them more environmentally friendly than your gas guzzler.

      Did I mention that when you get off the bus there’s a covered, level walkway all the way to the hospital entrance? The walk to the bus stop is at least 1/3 of that from the far reaches of carpark 9 to the hospital entrance. Handy if you or yours is feeling under the weather.

      You write as though you have never travelled by bus, or not in a long time. They come with CCTV now to deter anti-social behaviour (and make the prosecuting of it easier). I can’t remember the last time I saw so much as a slashed seat.

  4. George Gunn says:

    You can get the train to Mallaig and you can get the train to Thurso. In each case you can’t go any further because of the lack of land. Having said that north west Sutherland only has one road in and one road out. No bus, train, plane, ferry, tram – only cars. Or loads of Germans or elderly English Hell’s Angels (I kid you not) on motorbikes.

    1. DR says:

      Or to Kyle, although the marine facilities there suffer from military take-over (civilian use could fairly easily provide additional transport options to NWS). Do we think the current road-tripping promotion (‘Scotland’s Route 66’ etc.) will help basic connectivity?

      The end of the post-bus service was a huge – though silent, elsewhere – blow to Highland connectivity, having provided a daily service from/to every inhabited area. With the current threat to the USO (and the in-practice dearth of any usable alternatives) there is surely room for an innovative multi-function reinstatement?

  5. David Hood says:

    Superb; it is high time that we not only reviewed, but revamped our (strategic) place in terms of commerce on the ocean.

    Not only should we take charge, and invest, in our own shipbuilding and associated industry, but as the guys at ‘Lateral North’ and others have pointed out, the ice cap is melting, opening up the northern routes for shipping and short-cutting trade routes over the north in both directions, but as Scotland moves closer to independence and forming closer ties with our Nordic cousins, then it makes sound commercial sense to capitalise on our fantastic, strategic, location as THE hub in the North Atlantic.

      1. David Hood says:

        Re the ice cap; Im certainly not celebrating its demise, merely reflecting that it is happening.

  6. Crabbit says:

    Rotterdam is a hub because you can break up a cargo there and distribute it across the continent by rail and road, which is where the main population is.

    Landing and breaking up a cargo in Scotland only makes sense if you’re going to send it to Scotland

  7. Crabbit says:

    I think what is interesting about the rise of Corbyn is that he could overtake the SNP on the left. SNP economics are broadly centre-right and a challenge on public ownership could discombobulate the SNP pro-business strand (exemplified by the current ambiguity on fracking and coal bed methane).

    Though both parties have the challenge of complying with EU competition rules.

    And Labour of finding suitable standard bearers in Scotland.

    1. C Rober says:

      Eu competition laws are one way traffic , Germany uses them and ignores them , So do France , no surpise there really they arent a services dominant economy.Many of the minor players in the EU also have their protection mechanisms in place too.

      Do a google on the ownership of the car makers by govts , ownership of postal carriers , rail and power , you wont be that surpised to find that the state still holds ownership of them at least in part , plus we have the damned EU ref to consider.Yet they set legislation for the rest to follow.

      When HMG bailed out banks it prevented the EU big boys from buying them up for a song , this is how they operate , France and Germany have absorbed much in their tenure of the EURO in exactly that way. They cite better for competition , yet protect their internal industry , farming and banking.

  8. DialMforMurdo says:

    What we need is a monorail…

    Oh we had one, but let it rot…


    A focus on rebuilding and expanding the ferry service for the west coast; along Norwegian lines, they only have a mere 25,000 kilometre’s of coastline serviced by a mixture of private and state owned operators, would take freight off our poorly funded, poorly maintained single track roads (with passing places) and make them more manageable for lightweight traffic.

    Then there’s the never carried out plan of a tunnel or bridge linking Scotland and all of Ireland. A mere 21 miles between the two countries, linking train lines between Stranraer and Belfast, like the double track railway and motorway Øresund Bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen. For any critics seeing it as unviable, what about the 102 mile long Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge in China?

  9. Gordon Benton says:

    All good stuff – but where, oh where is the long-term Master Plan for Infrastructure – in this case, for transportation – for Scotland? I would add the north of England in such a plan. I say ‘long-term’ since a master plan should cover 25 to 50 years.

    Travelling by rail, we might agree, can be inconvenient, and explains in part why many trains travel near-empty. With today’s technology, if we are serious about establishing a sustainable environment and a reduction of fossil-fuel consumption, private vehicles (often with a single passenger) have to be priced out of the market. Substantial taxes have to be imposed on the purchase and licensing of such vehicles as well as petrol, automatic CBD ‘gates’ erected at each road entry to each major conurbation, and nothing older than 10 years will be allowed on our roads.
    And up- and down-stream connections with public transport (all on one ticket) have to be established at the same time. I am not against private cars, but If we are serious … !
    Bridge or tunnel connections to Ireland, Orkney and all the larger Island on the west coast have to be constructed within the coming 25 year time-frame. Archipelagic nations don’t work – check Denmark’s and Japan’s success as compared to Indonesia’s and the Caribbean’s lack of political and economic connectiveness. Incidentally connection to both Ireland and the Orkney Islands is a mere 16 and 12 km as the crow flies – very do-able. (if I have the right scale!).

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