Forth Road Bridge: Call the engineers

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that there was an "absolute intention" to have the bridge re-opened in the new year to "all" traffic

Stop me if I've told you this one before. Actually, when I think about it, you can't stop my meanderings on this site. So I'll tell it anyway.

I have a vague memory that a Scottish Office Minister way back in distant times was answering anxious questions anent the tirling of sundry tenement roofs in Glasgow during severe storms.

A statement was demanded. Said Minister, becoming exasperated, pronounced: "We dinnae need statements. We need slaters!"

I must confess I warm to this hands on approach - although I don't imagine the bold minister ascended the tenements himself.

Equally, of course, there must be open and thorough scrutiny of political processes and decisions - if those are relevant to the particular issue under debate.

Alternative travel plans

In the Holyrood chamber today, Nicola Sturgeon reminded me of that Minister of old. Yes, she said, it was open to any parliamentary committee to hold an inquiry - and her government would co-operate in full.

But, right now, she stressed - as the Transport Minister Derek Mackay had done before her - the priorities lay elsewhere. They lay in providing alternative transport plans and in reopening the bridge.

In short, we don't need inquiries right now. We need engineers.

Image caption Labour's Kezia Dugdale pressed the FM on the Forth Road Bridge repairs
Image caption "Would the bridge be re-opened to all traffic?" asked Ruth Davidson, Scottish Tory leader

Mind you, in pursuing her case, Kezia Dugdale of Labour was rather effective. She cited information as to capital spending cuts affecting the bridge - with concomitant forecasts that these might prove problematic.

Further, she pursued a particular point with regard to allowing vans, operated by small firms, to gain access to the priority lane which has been developed to hasten traffic - inasmuch as that is possible, given the circumstances.

'Wasn't action promised?'

On the latter point, Ms Sturgeon said it was important to get the balance right. In essence, if too many vehicles were given priority, then the concept of priority would diminish. Ms Dugdale reminded her that action had been promised. Ms Sturgeon restated her point.

On the wider argument, Ms Sturgeon said - with growing vehemence - that the current problem afflicting the bridge was new. That it was not connected with a rescheduled repair programme from five years ago.

She said, in terms, that Labour was effectively demanding that bridge authorities half a decade back should have anticipated that a particular problem would emerge in November 2015.

Image caption The Lib Dems' Willie Rennie kept on the bridge repair theme during FMQs

And the FM got her own back by citing sundry Labour quotations, casting doubt on the value of the new crossing - which is being constructed at a cost of £1.4bn.

These were robust exchanges - valid and valuable, dealing with an issue of genuine public concern.

Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie also piled in.

'Old repairs regime'

Ms Davidson, the Conservative leader, said she wanted to bring the temperature down somewhat. We don't need rhetoric, we need action.

She suggested that unspecified authorities had "gambled" that the old bridge would make it through to the opening of the new crossing. That gamble, she said, had plainly failed.

The Lib Dem leader Mr Rennie said it was not sufficient to persist with what he called the old repairs regime. Troubled commuters and businesses expected better. More - again unspecified - must be done.

It was, said Ms Sturgeon, it was.

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