Sorry, but I am getting heartily sick of the Great Girn, the endless moaning about the weather. We’ve turned into a nation of whinging children desperate for someone to blame. Stuff happens. Weather happens. But instead of just getting on with it, and using the gift of community to adapt to the challenge, we adopt the mantle of victimhood and start looking for politician to hold responsible. Instead of ‘keep calm and carry on’ it’s find me a lawyer so I can make a spurious negligence claim.
Holyrood this week became the centre court of the blame game. Stewart Stevenson, the haples transport minister is hardly god’s gift to political communication, and if there were a pompous politician of the year award, he would rarely be off the shortlist, but he’s a decent enough individual. And as Alex Salmond’s former chauffeur he must know a thing or two about listening. But he’s now being pilloried as Jerk Frost, the Grit Twit, Feckless and other playground names by the red tops. His crime was to invoke the ghost of Michael Fish on Sunday by apparently ignoring a severe weather warning and therefore failing to alert the nation to some of the most severe weather in living memory. This may have led to a number of people sleeping in their cars on the M8 and other central Scotland routes.
Stevenson went on to describe the subsequent chaos as a “first class response”, which it clearly wasn’t. and generally sounded pleased with himself on Monday without any obvious justification. Actually, he was doing the usual politician thing of congratulating the emergency services, police and local authorities for doing their bit, even when they weren’t. And trying to sound on top of things, when he wasn’t. Nothing was working in Central Scotland on Sunday night and Monday morning, so it’s not perhaps surprising that the government’s media management was in chaos also.
The essential problem was that the snowfall was completely off the scale for lowland Scotland. There are no records of 30cms of snow falling in East Kilbride. The actual snow fall in the rest of the central belt was twice what was forecast for the upland areas. This was so unusual that it was bound to cause trouble for anyone travelling by car, especially since the Met Office had forecast that, on Monday morning, it would be “wet” in the West of Scotland. In fact, the whole region froze solid – making travel impossible without snow chains. Grit and salt don’t work at temperatures below -10 degrees, and it was a lot colder than that in many places. The snow ploughs ground to a halt, largely because of stranded cars. This was a genuine emergency and we should be grateful that no one was killed. Getting stuck in a car in snow is very dangerous not just because of he temperature but because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Avoidable? Well, perhaps motorists should have been warned more firmly to stay at home on Monday and motorways should have been shut on Sunday night. But we know what would have happened then. There would have been a row about why the government closed all the roads and made life impossible. Nanny state, too cautious, out of touch, damage to business etc… Look what happened when they closed the schools. What if the government were to order everyone to carry snow chains – as they do in Scandinavian countries and in Switzerland – before allowing them onto the roads. What would we be saying than? A ridiculous overreaction, that’s what. Get off our backs, politicians!
Labour of course are loving it. They could smell the blood in the snow as Stevenson ploughed through his prepared answers yesterday and delivered the now obligatory grovelling ministerial apology. It’s only a couple of weeks since John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, apologised for not upgrading the computer programmes to collect the tartan tax, so this is getting to be a bit of a habit for the SNP. Charlie Gordon, the Labour transport spokesman and MSP for dodgy donations, demanded that Mr Stevenson resign. “Sorry is not good enough”, he cried and called on the Transport Minister to “admit his incompetence and go”. Mind you, that’s the last thing Labour want. They’re dreaming of a white Christmas and further opportunities for Mr Stevenson to slip up. Indeed, Labour are hoping for a white Easter, if possible, so they can go for a snow plough election in May condemning SNP incompetence.
Well that’s politics, I suppose. It’s the opposition’s job to hold the government to account, and that’s what they were doing. But it all seemed so – I don’t know – ungracious. I just wish, we could rest the girn at times like this and just stand in awe at nature for a moment. Scotland has never looked more beautiful than it does now. Children of all ages are having a great time sledging and snow boarding. People are getting out of their houses and speaking to their neighbours for the first time in years, if only to manage pavement clearing and keeping an eye on older people living on their own. This is great. Adversity is great, especially adversity like bad weather which generally doesn’t really hurt too much. Businesses have been adapting magnificently, adapting their working practices and discovering that many people can work at home nowadays.
This what we are programmed to do as human beings, and at times like this we should be congratulating ourselves on our immense resourcefulness. Imagine if we still lived in houses without central heating? Without supermarkets? Without fleeces and outdoor clothing. People have been wearing mountain gear as a fashion statement; now they’ve had a chance to experience the weather it was designed for. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. So, enjoy the snow because it won’t last. By the weekend we’ll probably be up to our necks in mud again, under grey Scottish skies. And then we will have to find something else to moan about.