£80million pretty picture prison that won’t see light of day

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The new Inverness prison plan didn’t get beyond a series of artistic drawings.

THE COLIN CAMPBELL COLUMN

WHAT can be made of the “new prison for Inverness” saga? After five years of tunnelling out plans there’s still no sign of daylight. In fact the entire project seems to have foundered, loosened, and collapsed into a pile of dirt. Tory MSP Edward Mountain was first to hear the elusive prison had vanished over the far horizon after he tabled a question to the SNP Scottish Government. It had been “delayed indefinitely” he was told last week. Even by the abysmal standards of Nicola Sturgeon and co, this has been a seriously botched job.

Given the way the prison plan has crumbled, it’s almost hard to remember the outcry in Milton of Leys when the Scottish Prison Service announced it had decided to build on a site there. That was five years ago, and involved apparent determination from the SPS to press ahead set against the absolute determination of local residents that they should find somewhere else. After petitions and protest meetings the SPS backed off.

Then began an intensive search for an alternative location as they scoured Inverness from Torvean Quarry to the Longman Dump. Eventually they came up with a site near the Inverness Retail Park.

There then followed the release of a series of pretty-picture images of what the prison would look like when finished. This was to be not just any old prison. It was to be a “community” showpiece, with flowing architectural contours outside and  a “state of the art” interior. It was planned to install an array of specially designed artwork there also. It seemed to occur to no-one in the SPS or the Scottish Government that many people would question whether such an easy-on-the-eye masterpiece was really what as prison should be all about.

Meanwhile, aided and abetted by the “best wee prison in the world” type ambitions so familiar to the SNP, the cost kept on rising, from an initial figure of £50million to a total of £80million.

That seems to have been about when the roof caved in.

This astoundingly incompetent government realised it hadn’t the money for the grandiose new prison and began knocking back the starting date. And now we are where we are, with it nowhere remotely in sight. It may not be built for years, maybe decades.

It was left to Inverness MSP and government minister Fergus Ewing – already no stranger to failure – to try and defend the latest one.

As Rural Economy Secretary he said he’d resign if superfast broadband wasn’t delivered to all Scots by 2021. It won’t be, but he evaded responsibility by flitting to another department. In accounting for this next failure he said very earnestly that the necessary land for the prison had been purchased at a cost of over £4million, implying this was a great start. So we have the land and all that’s missing is the prison. That’s what you call progress!

Does Ewing have no sense of irony?

In China a new 1,000-patient hospital was built in 10 days in response to the norovirus crisis there. The Scottish Government takes five years to not build a new prison after it discovers it doesn’t have any money for it. Fergus Ewing should hammer a “new prison” planned here sign into that £4million piece of land. The sign will rot away and the land will turn to forgotten wasteground. But it’ll be a reminder that at one time they did have a plan…

Fake referendum would be joke across Europe

A LEADING light in the SNP, Joanne Cherry, has said it’s time for them to consider holding a “consultative referendum” on independence. She’s the most senior SNP politician to do so.

Cherry will be one of the leading contenders to take over from Nicola Sturgeon when she quits, so she may have been trying to ramp up her support among fervent “Independence Now” zealots. Or maybe Cherry, a QC, is as blinkered as the rest of them when it comes to holding a fake referendum.

Without the approval of the UK Government a fake referendum would be boycotted by almost everyone who stands opposed to the SNP, which is the majority of Scots. Boycotted, probably picketed, mocked and derided, it would be entirely meaningless. If the outcome was 99.9 per cent support for independence it would generate a horse laugh which would echo across Scotland, the rest of the UK, and across Europe.

That would result in another outbreak of grievance-ridden fury from the nationalists but that’s virtually all it would achieve.

However one other – more serious – consequence would be to send out a signal that some nationalists are so determined to have their way that they are prepared to try and subvert democracy to do so. But maybe we already know that.

Where the flowers won’t be in bloom

INVERNESS councillors are likely to agree this week that nearly £80,000 should be spent on floral displays around the Highland capital. There should be no quibbling about that. With vast numbers of tourists pouring in the city should be looking at its prettified best.

But one place where the flowers won’t be blooming will be at the site of the Gathering Place. With work due to start “in the spring” members of the OpenNess protest group pointed out that that was just the time the first expanse of seasonal colour spread across the riverside location, as the bluebells came out. Instead the beauty spot will be turned into a churned up building site at a cost of £300,000. How many beautiful floral displays would that kind of money buy?

And still officialdom can’t or won’t give a date when that work is due to start “in the spring”.

Stumped for first time by ‘mega-news story’

AS I was otherwise engaged on Saturday, very rarely for me I didn’t catch any news broadcasts or see any online news updates that day. So when I went in to a store to buy a Sunday paper I was unprepared for the spread of front pages on the newsstand. Virtually every one featured a large picture of Caroline Flack, who had apparently committed suicide, aged 40. Two tabloids gave over their entire front page to a picture of Ms Flack, for maximum impact. This has previously happened with Elvis, Bowie, Lennon and very few others.

Over the decades I’ve accumulated and kept quite a number of major event newspaper front pages, ranging from the election and downfall of Maggie Thatcher, to the Falklands War, and the biggest events of all, the September 11 attacks and the death of Princess Diana.

The thing about Sunday’s “major event” front pages was I didn’t recognise the picture of Ms Flack, or her name, and had absolutely no idea who she was or what she did. Apparently she was involved with the TV show Love Island.

Her death in the circumstances was a tragedy. But for my own part this was the first time I’ve been so much in the dark – or anything like it – over what was obviously considered by most papers a happening of huge national interest and significance.

It left me pondering, am I starting to lose touch with the very big things which capture attention these days. Alternately, did the newspapers overreact in their coverage of the death of Ms Flack?

And, before her death was announced, was I the only person in Britain who had absolutely no idea who Caroline Flack was?

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