I READ TWO DEPRESSING news stories the other day. The first predicted a ‘bullet train’ between Edinburgh and Glasgow which would link the cities in under 30 minutes; the second was that the Scottish Executive was to support a bid to bring the European Football championships to Scotland, and would supply millions of pounds to upgrade several sports stadia to facilitate this.
Why are these two stories depressing? The first because it is unlikely to happen and the second because it probably will, such are the priorities of our political leaders.
Edinburgh is booming as never before. The financial sector is in tremendous form. Technology companies are growing fast, fuelled by excellent Universities and a new generation of ambitious entrepreneurs. The arrival of the Parliament has created new economic activity in public sector projects, and brought corporate, consulate, and media presence.
This most attractive city boasts one of the finest qualities of life of any European capital. So why do we have to put up with such a poor transport infrastructure, and such a low level of ambition?
Is there anywhere else in Europe where two cities such as Edinburgh and Newcastle are not connected by an appropriate road, and where two cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow cannot justify the electrification of the rail service between them?
As you collect international visitors at Edinburgh airport and head for the Forth road bridge, you have to apologise for the state of the A80 - a scrappy two-mile gap in Scotland's motorway network.
Does the Government actually know about the poor impression this gives to business visitors? Well, Gordon Brown travels down it each week to get to his constituency.
If you drew a circle around Edinburgh Airport of a radius of two miles or so, it would take in three railway lines and two motorways. Is any of this joined up? Afraid not.
As you travel South across the Forth rail bridge you may marvel at the confidence our Victorian ancestors showed in investing in such a superb feat of engineering. You can then watch the end of the runway of Edinburgh Airport, but you can’t get off. If you want to catch a plane, you must take the train into the centre of Edinburgh and then get a bus back out. This, I believe, is what passes for an integrated transport policy.
The average London worker now has a miserable time, fighting through dirty tubes and crowded commuter services to reach affordable family housing many miles out of town, or having to leave at 6 a.m. to get on to the M25 before it grinds to a halt.
But we need to avoid the same fate. The benefits of the booming Edinburgh economy could easily be spread throughout Scotland – if we were to build the infrastructure to allow rapid and effective travel around our small country. If we don’t take this opportunity right now when our economy is healthy, we will surely regret it later.