by Colin Campbell
WHEN plans for the much-vaunted new Inverness prison were kicked years down the road because there was no money to build it, MSP Fergus Ewing had to swallow his humiliation and explain that at least some progress had been made.
His memorably feeble excuse for this SNP Government failure was that the land near the Inverness Retail Park park had been successfully acquired, and unfortunately all that was missing was the £80 million prison.
Now he’s apparently tackled Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, currently working on his new hate crimes bill which would, among other things, make criticising Gaelic illegal, and urged him to get his finger out and get the thing built.
Feeble Fergus versus Hate Crimes Humza – that’s the kind of clash you’d want to steer well clear off on a balcony in Cell Block H.
Yousaf has now agreed that the contract for the work should go out to tender. Ewing seems against the odds to have made his mark. That doesn’t mean we’re any closer to getting a prison built.
Originally costed at £66million, that rose to £80million and the bill for it now stands at £92 million. So it’s reasonable to assume it’ll work out at a neat hundred million pounds if it ever does occupy the land that has already been purchased for it.
Putting it out to tender is a gesture. But it’s not clear, if the SNP Government couldn’t afford the £80million cost a couple of years ago, how they’re going to come up with £100 million anytime soon.
Is that really the kind of money they’re prepared to splash out in the Highlands as opposed to their preferred big spending areas in the central belt, where the vast majority of their support is located, in the ghettos of Glasgow and Dundee in particular?
And how does a jail cost that much anyway? If it was a US Federal Supermax penitentiary housing the world’s worst and most dangerous, these kinds of costs would make sense. But £100million to replace the dingy confines of Porterfield? I could see some people deliberately committing hate crimes so they could get a free holiday there.
From the outset it was never presented as what most people would envisage a prison to be. It was to be a “community facility”, with the main objective being that it should “blend in with the community”. It was depicted in artistic illustrations as an elegant building with wavy contours which would have its own specialised artwork. In terms of design it looked significantly better than sketches of the hotel planned to replace the Ironworks at the bottom of Academy Street.
Inside, the hotel theme continued with everything being “state of the art” and the only thing missing being a pretty girl behind a reception desk and signs pointing you to the bar and restaurant area.
Instead of all the fancy stuff, if they’d come up with a strictly functional building without all the frills – something that resembled most people’s conception of what a prison should look like – it could have been built by now for half the projected cost or less.
So there’s now the possibility of some vague progress on this, maybe. But absolutely nothing is assured.
I can see Feeble Fergus having to square up to Hate Crimes Humza a few more times yet before this interminable saga comes close to any kind of conclusion.