THE COLIN CAMPBELL COLUMN
WHILE hailing the creativity of the SNP Government’s latest budget Inverness MP Drew Hendry dolloped praise on new Finance Minister Kate Forbes, the Highland MSP elevated to that job following the resignation of her disgraced predecessor, Derek Mackay.
He said her assuredness was all the more impressive given that she was only elected to Holyrood a year or two ago. But we can all have the greatest confidence in Forbes to successfully manage the nation’s purse string, he suggests. Hendry is a prolific user of Twitter – indeed he may be the best MP on Twitter we’ve ever had – but he often has a clumsy way with words when he opines elsewhere.
Boundless confidence in a 29-year-old newcomer MSP hastily shoehorned into the top job as a result of yet another SNP scandal? Somehow I don’t think so.
But given the fact that she isn’t disgraced, hasn’t resigned, unlike so many of her colleagues, and isn’t engaged in the SNP’s internal feuding over “gender wars”, she may well be the best choice available.
Hendry also invites us to be grateful to the SNP Government for the advantages we enjoy “over England and Wales” in the form of free bus travel and other free stuff.
And yes, as a beneficiary of free bus travel, I am appreciative of it, but not with regard to the SNP. He omits to mention (they always do) that the principal reason we are able to have free bus travel and other convenient freebies is because in Scotland we get £2,000-per-head a year more in public funding than the people of England and Wales.
Without it we’d be scraping money together for old second-hand cars or be at the roadside thumbing lifts.
Hendry also urges Highland Council to take advantage of a new transport fund to set up its own “green” bus company, which he says would help tackle climate change.
Our council is struggling badly and often failing to make a success of the responsibilities it already has, without also taking a flier into the travel industry. How confident would people be in the rickety council bus regularly turning up on time?
Now that Hendry – a former councillor himself – is living the high-life at Westminster he no doubt feels well able to dispense advice to his former colleagues still labouring away at Glenurquhart Road.
But if he was still a humble councillor himself would he be so eager to be the local man with spare-time responsibility for making sure the buses in his area ran on schedule, and to be held personally to account by disgruntled voters if they didn’t?
Somehow, I very much doubt it.
Tourism and jobs certain to be victim of virus
THOSE of us heading for a European football match in Glasgow on Thursday night are entering a zone where these days it’s probably unwise to be.
If Rangers get beaten by a very classy German team it’ll be bad enough for those in attendance. Returning home with the coronavirus would be multiple times worse.
The second leg of the two-match tie will be played behind closed doors in Germany. After that, the likelihood is that the tournament will be abandoned. How long before that happens here too? With the pace of developments in the coronavirus crisis, it’s highly likely – if not inevitable – that senior football in Scotland will be prematurely shut down.
That will seem a matter of trivia compared with what could happen if the virus spreads rapidly, but it’s never happened before, outside wartime. We are indeed entering uncharted territory.
The only thing most people seem certain about in a rapidly changing situation is that “panic buying” from supermarkets is ridiculous, and that they themselves won’t be booking holidays anytime soon.
The panic buyers can feast their eyes on their rooms full of toilet rolls if they wish, but the likely collapse in holiday bookings everywhere is more serious, and certainly for Inverness.
We’ve enjoyed record tourist trade in recent years, with visitors sustaining many jobs and bringing in millions of pounds. It’s impossible to see anything other than a plunging downturn this holiday season. Inverness and the Highlands will still get many visitors from the rest of the UK, so it won’t be a complete disaster, but will the countless coach tours with American, European, Australian and Japanese visitors by the thousand still be arriving? As things currently look, there’s no chance of that happening.
It’s only a matter of weeks since there were protests from the hotel industry about Brexit and an end to “freedom of movement” being set to cause staff shortages. That was a myth. There is no shortage of EU hotel workers in Inverness – more than enough to go around.
But many might not stay here if there is no work for them in half-empty hotels this season. Brexit hasn’t caused anyone to give up and leave, but the coronavirus certainly could.
Still no explanation of £190,000 mystery
THERE are rumblings within Highland Council about a freedom of information application being used over the Gathering Place controversy. Councillors opposed to it want to get to the bottom of a claim that cancellation of the Ness riverside wall and concrete pathways project would have cost the local authority £190,000.
That figure was presented by the chief executive at the key meeting where the scheme was given the go-ahead last August, without any explanation as to how it had been assessed.
The £190,000 loss assertion was a decisive factor in persuading some swithering councillors to press ahead with the Gathering Place.
If it takes an FOI request to find out how it was arrived at, that’s what should happen. Better still, the council should explain it openly without being pushed. It’s something that should obviously be outlined in full. Why are councillors or members of the public even having to ask for details?