Yellow, 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?