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Time to create something of value – and finish it

November 28, 2002

Criticising the parliament building budget is wrong: we need more projects like it

 

WHEN THE EDINBURGH International Conference Centre was running over time and budget in the mid 1990s, money was saved by taking out one of the escalators. As a consequence, delegates at this otherwise world-class conference venue often have to find the stairs to get between the floors, while the staff switch the single set of escalators up or down to suit the main flow of delegates.

 

When the Museum of Scotland building was running over time and budget in the late 1990s, money was saved by eliminating some of the stone cladding.

 

As a consequence, this otherwise magnificent landmark building has ugly white concrete bits on its top and back, where there should have been attractive sandstone.

 

But when the new Scottish parliament runs over time and budget in 2002, things, I’m glad to say, are different. For, in the parliament building, ISSIF rules apply, as inspired by TV’s Mastermind.

 

You’ll remember Mastermind — The upmarket TV quiz show that specialised in public humiliation even before Anne Robinson had perfected her wink. Magnus Magnusson, the dominator of that particular programme, had a great solution when time ran out: “I’ve started, so I’ll finish;’ he would intone — the ISSIF approach.

 

And the parliament project has adopted this ISSIF policy. It has started, and it is going to finish, no matter what extra costs and complexity are incurred along the way. This will be a landmark building; and visitors from all over the world will see it and will hopefully be mightily impressed at the fantastic quality of the new parliament building in the newly devolved Scotland.

 

The pathetic Moaning Minnies of the press are up in arms, and the opposition politicians are using this as fuel for their lacklustre election campaigns. Even Jack McConnell is disappointed and apologetic.

 

But I must admit that I don’t feel that way at all. I think all this depressing, downbeat criticism about the Scottish parliament building is misplaced. It’s not really a disaster — it’s an ISSIF. And, personally, I think we could do with more ISSIFs.

 

I think getting the new parliament building right is important to Scotland . We really shouldn’t have a second-class building. It will be with us for a long time, and we really should make sure that it is of the very highest quality Surely Scotland, as a matter of national pride, is entitled to a fülly finished new building for its parliament?

 

But I’m hoping that there will be other benefits, such as the wider adoption of this goal-directed approach to public projects - the ISSIF. If it is good enough for our parliament, it seems to me that we should apply the ISSIF to other key challenges.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get into the habit of finishing things? How about finishing the motorways to Glasgow; how about finishing the electrification of the main railway line? How about completing the A8000 to the Forth Road Bridge; or the Al dual carriageway to Newcastle? We need more ISSIFs, not fewer — projects that get finished.

 

Of course, public ISSIF projects are not uncommon, but they are usually negative rather than positive. The foot-and-mouth crisis last year was an ISSIF, and no doubt the military action against Iraq will be an ISSIF Yes, there have been infrastructure ISSIFs in the past, such as the Channel Tunnel and Concorde, but in recent times they have sadly become rare.

 

So it’s time for a new positive ISSIF, and here is my modest proposal. Announce a programme to link up Scotland; give it an aspirational name like LinkUpScotland, and determine that it will cost, say, £40m. This project will build a modern transport infrastructure connecting motorways, airports and high-speed railway lines through the main Scottish economic corridor from Ayrshire through Glasgow and Edinburgh and up to Aberdeen via Tayside. People will say that it can’t be done for £40m, but they will just be unhelpful moaners, so we can ignore them.

 

Once this project has started, make sure that it has the recognition and status fully deserving of an ISSIF. As costs rise above £1bn, make sure that everybody knows that this is an ISSIF, and it will be finished, come what may - it’s a matter of national pride.

Of course, the responsible politician would get roasted in public, but who cares. We would have created something of real value to Scotland .

 

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