AS IT SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN
+ Holyrood has said little about talks with Germany
+ Getting value from Tartan Week
+ Edinburgh’s war on motorists
You would think that the deadening impact of the ferries fiasco, the latest in a list of poorly judged interventions, would encourage Scottish Government ministers to get back on the front foot and take greater credit for something quite exciting that they’re quietly promoting.
As we reported earlier this week the Holyrood and Westminster governments have been in talks in Edinburgh and London with a delegation of business leaders, scientists and politicians from Germany about supplying green hydrogen to help reduce its dependency on Russian imports of oil and gas.
This is not any old delegation. It was more than 100-strong, representing the most powerful economy in the EU and at a time when it is at its most vulnerable.
Yet there have been no press releases, no statements or debates in the Scottish parliament and none of the usual chest-beating about building another global industry, even though, on this occasion, ministers would have every right to do so.
I’d hate to think that the near-silence on these talks is because Holyrood and Westminster are showing a level of cooperation that would not go down well with the SNP’s hardliners, but something is holding back the usually voluble Net Zero and Energy Secretary Michael Mathieson from championing a potentially huge Scottish export.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a conference was set up by Scottish Development International and the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association in Edinburgh to discuss Scotland selling green hydrogen to Germany. Among the attendees was the President of Lower Saxony, H E Stephan Weil, who makes no bones about the ambitions of Germany’s fourth largest state to become the number one for climate protection and hydrogen. He is keen to explore closer business relations with Scotland which he sees having “great potential for the expansion of renewable energies.”
Scottish ministers should seize the opportunity here to see beyond their continual point-scoring over Brexit and their latest grievances over the Westminster government’s Energy Security Strategy. More than 40% of businesses in Lower Saxony say that they find it harder to trade with the UK after Brexit, but they wish to see the economic relationship improving again. Green hydrogen, which is part of the new energy plan, might just prove to be one route to re-establishing such links.
Getting value from Tartan Week
Speaking of overseas business, a notice lands in my email basket regarding Scottish Government External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson’s visit to Washington as part of Tartan Week.
The statement went to some length to explain that he met an executive from the AI and advanced analytics company SAS and was given an update on its ongoing commitment to Scotland, including an R&D centre in Glasgow and the Bayes Centre in Edinburgh.
Unless he’s been given promises that we’ll hear about in due course, one wonders why Mr Robertson could not have been briefed on progress in a phone or Zoom call or email from Scottish Development International which has people working in the US. Or maybe now that we’re ‘back to normal’ a transatlantic visit seemed a reasonable expense, whether or not it makes any difference to SAS’s plans.
Let’s hope news emerges soon that proves it was time and money well spent and that other delegates on the Tartan Week trip, including those who were at the COP26 climate summit, also deliver something of value beyond waving the saltire and serving samples of haggis on the streets of New York.
Edinburgh’s war on motorists
Edinburgh council is feeling pretty chipper that its tram extension is on budget and on schedule to open next spring. Well, that’s the good news. Whether it proves to be worth the effort and the £200m+ cost of the project is yet to be determined, but I can’t help thinking the council chose the wrong route in its ongoing stand-off with motorists.
If the aim of the tram is to reduce car use then taking it to Leith was always of dubious advantage given that it has one of the lowest car/household ratios in the city and is well served by buses.
Better options would have been to build the tram through middle class neighbourhoods served by Morningside Road, the A8 through Corstorphine and along Queensferry Road, connecting the city centre and airport with Barnton and Cramond, all roads that are nose-to-tail for much of the day and where there are big housing developments under way.
Now the council is spending more millions on a major road reconfiguration in the south side to clean the air and help the largely non-existent cyclists navigate the Meadows, George IV bridge and George Street.
Illustrations show traffic-free streets populated with happy people. The streets may look pretty and will probably smell good, but there will be few, if any, spaces for motorists to park or unload. Together with the likelihood of a workplace parking levy the outcome will be another nail in the coffin for city centre businesses as frustrated shoppers, office workers and traders stay away.
These car-free projects are laudable for removing filthy emissions, but whereas other cities have tackled congestion with underground rail, road tunnels and inner ring roads, Edinburgh’s traffic problem can only be shunted on to already congested roads around the city. If you can’t park near the shops or places of work, can’t ride a bike or don’t live near a bus stop, then you’ll just have to park your car or van outside someone else’s premises and add to their frustration.
The council must already have an eye on extending the tram to the south side. However, there is no timetable for coordinating this transition. No doubt when the roads and cycle paths are finished they will be dug up to install tram lines as happened in Leith Walk where at least the council finally realised they screwed up the paving/cycling/bus lane priorities in the first round of works.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business