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FERGUS EWING: Here’s hoping for a more boring year in politics!

By Fergus Ewing

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Will sceptics be pleasantly surprised on A9 dualling – at last?
Will sceptics be pleasantly surprised on A9 dualling – at last?

The old year ended with the late arrival of a plan for the dualling of the A9.

Of course, having heard these promises before, the prevailing view in the north is of long-standing scepticism. Will the plan be delivered? Be assured, I shall be holding their feet to the fire.

The Petitions committee will meet later this month to hear further evidence about what went wrong with the old plan. Bosses from Transport Scotland, spanning over two decades, will give their evidence.

We shall also hear from Grahame Barn. He speaks for most of the civil engineering companies. His previous evidence was pivotal in persuading Transport Scotland to alter their form of contract – which in effect deterred bidders from coming forward, defeating the whole point of tendering and causing an enormous waste of time and money.

We must listen carefully to industry. I predict that the next two decades will offer, in the Highlands, major opportunities of huge civil engineering schemes. Coire Glas – the pump-storage scheme; major grid upgrades, as well as the Green Freeport opportunitys in the Moray Firth and beyond. ( Not forgetting Kishhorn!).

The challenges ahead therefore may be: Have we got enough people, especially skilled engineers to do the work? And will companies be ready to bid for roads contracts if the returns are much lower than in the other projects available?

One thing is clear: my job is to press the government to implement the plan whilst listening carefully to the voice of industry about how in practice we must ensure that it can be delivered.

The old year ended with the wounded Gender Recognition Law in limbo. Vetoed by Westminster for breaching Holyrood powers, the courts predictably found against the Scottish Government. That followed upon the defeat of the unprecedented court challenge by the Scottish Government against the freedom of information commissioner.

My view was always that both cases were doomed to fail. I hope this year the Scottish Government will cease to be so “trigger happy” in going to court. Moreover, I question whether it is prudent for them to bring forward further controversial legislation on banning so-called “conversion therapy”. In the expressed view of many in the churches of various faiths, this could seriously impinge upon and impair the rights of parents, and also teachers, doctors, ministers and others. That would for many, I suspect, be a step far far too far. Remember the “named person” law! That was always doomed to fail precisely because most parents were deeply unhappy about someone being appointed to have power over their child.

In short, it would be great if the Scottish Government in 2024 can stick to the bread and butter job of delivering competent government, and in particular on health schools and the economy !

After the never ending dramas, stooshies and unnecessary conflicts of 2023, my hope for 2024 in political terms is the more boring, the better!

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