Snow joke, Mr Stevenson!

To the people stranded in their vehicles for twelve hours and more on the A80, M80. M8. A8, A74 and M74, please be assured by our very ain transport Minister, that yesterday saw a “first class response” to “unforecast snow”.

Yes, some of you were foolhardy, others downright stupid.  If you could have avoided venturing out yesterday morning or at any point during the day, then you should have done.  People do need to take responsibility for the current adverse weather conditions and avoid unnecessary risk.  But many people on our main arterial routes would have good reason to be there.

The lorry drivers – whom the Scottish and UK governments had kindly allowed to work even more ridiculous hours in order to be able assuage the nation’s unending appetite for “stuff” – delivering, or at least trying to deliver, essential supplies.  Question:  if from the comfort of your own home, you spend hours online ordering stuff, how do you think it is going to get to you?

The small business owners, who don’t always live next door to their businesses for myriad reasons.  If they don’t get to work, they don’t earn and consequently their families don’t eat.  For many, the festive period is the peak season: some do over half their business at this time of year.  They will absolutely do everything they possibly can to be at work and trying to keep their businesses – and hence, the economy – alive.

Employees who don’t have the luxury of decent employers or whose employers’ business needs people in situ in order to be viable.  They don’t get to work, they don’t get paid.  Worse, some could be sacked.  It’s the poorly paid in the lowliest jobs, a kind of silent, invisible army, who keep all our lives turning and whom we scarcely give a thought to – they are the ones who will chance any weather to get to work while the rest of us get to choose to stay at home. 

Folk with hospital appointments, for essential treatments, not always within the area they live in;  families trying to get to a funeral of a loved one;  teachers trying to get to the schools we all complain about when they are shut;  NHS staff, social workers, NetworkRail employees being ferried about in vans to a succession of points failures;  musicians scheduled to be playing in a concert at the other end of the motorway.  Only the ones who thought they’d nip out for some Christmas shopping are undeserving of our sympathy.

And from Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, the least they could have expected last night, was an apology.  Not a mea culpa, I am to blame apology.  But a sincere, heartfelt sorry for you being in this situation.  They are very different apologies and any media advisor in a crisis situation would always counsel the latter. 

His failure to issue that apology on Newsnight Scotland has now become the issue.  These are the kind of wee political snowballs that tend to gather speed and momentum as they race downhill to the finish line of resignation.  No, Mr Stevenson is not personally responsible for snow nor for the stupidity of some travellers.  But he is the Minister responsible for the environment and transport, and all the bodies that are supposed to deal with such issues.  It is his job to keep Scotland moving.

Yesterday morning’s snow was forecast.  What wasn’t anticipated was the worst case scenario, which is what happened.  Snowfall that was worse than that forecast falling for longer at the worst possible time.  What emergency planning took place over the relatively benign weekend for such an eventuality?  What efforts were made by Transport Scotland before rush hour hit to keep both the major road and rail infrastructure moving? 

And maybe the response to the situation seemed “first class” from the bunker he was sitting in, but not from the front seat view thousands of commuters had on it all.  Emergency planning is also about anticipation and contigencies, not just responding to the latest crisis.  Every year we get adverse weather and every year we seem to get it wrong.  We fail to plan for the worst and then are caught out when the worst happens.

So here are some questions for all the planning authorities.  This weather is likely to continue until the beginning of next week at least, some forecasters are suggesting it could last to Christmas.  So what is being done to prevent more jack knifed lorries on our major arterial routes today and tomorrow?  If some areas run out of fuel, what then?  What is the contingency if our hospitals run out of blood supplies? 

Bins have not now been emptied in some areas for more than a fortnight – what are people to do?  Old people dependent on meals on wheels have gone without for over 10 days now:  who is to feed them?  The economy is losing millions because of the failure to keep schools open, largely because teachers cannot get in and there are no people resources to keep paths and emergency exits clear – what is being considered to change that?  There are huge banks of snow on streets, in gardens, on hills and in car parks.  When the thaw comes, as it will, how do we avoid flooding? 

The burd would like to feel assured that our Transport Minister and others are asking and planning for such eventualities.  Like everyone daring to venture over the door this morning, I fear I travel more in hope than in expectation. 

Last night, Mr Stevenson gave a textbook “how not to” media interview.  He did not – could not? – emphathise and feel people’s pain.  He was almost arrogant about the quality of the response.  He shifted the blame for the situation – to the weather, to the commuters, to the infrastructure – thereby, failing to take responsibility.  

As the Minister said, “winter is not yet over”.  Get it this badly wrong again and his career might just be.

11 thoughts on “Snow joke, Mr Stevenson!

  1. Pingback: The winter wonderland, tuition fees and wikileaks Edition – Scottish Roundup

  2. Pingback: Stevenson’s resignation hurts Salmond more than it damages the SNP « A Burdz Eye View

  3. There have been too many apologies from ministers recently. Alex Salmond should apologise for his ministers apologising for matters out of their control.

    (tongue in cheek as Nicola Sturgeon’s apology was very good and proper)

    • Ha! But if there has been too much apologising, it suggests they are maybe getting things a bit wrong? The Govt just seems a bit off kilter at the moment – events, dear boy, events – and I wish it could get back on track.

  4. “If you and Malc are right, why did we get a very different Minister on the radio and TV today”

    Because the media have a much greater influence on politicians than they should have.

    Let’s just imagine for one second if politicians did not have to spend so much time worrying about what the papers will say the next day about so-and-so’s performance on Newsnight and what they can do to please the BBC and much more time worrying about how to please the voters.

    Would be a whole new ball game wouldn’t it?

    • I would agree to some extent re the influence of the media and how much worrying politicians do. But the media are a necessary part of our society. They are a conduit to the audience ie real people so thats why they matter. And for all they cannot claim unbias, it could be a whole lot worse! The biggest problem in Scotland is that the political hack pack is too small and getting smaller, and far too often they hunt as a pack ie agree a line and apply it across the board.

      Stewart Stevenson did the right thing by changing his approach, it made the story go away much more quickly… whether it comes back to bite again depends on what happens next week, after our “less cold” spell.

    • Oh I agree. I think the quality of weather forecasts generally needs to improve – in this day and age I think we have a right to expect better.

      Get intae them!

  5. Your well-wrought sarcasm is absolutely right Malc, but of course the *last* thing you would want is ‘someone important’ saying he had no idea it would snow. This is not Stewart’s fault – and it will certainly bear much repeating – but lots of cleverly confected reporting will try to smudge over the ill-feeling onto his shoulders. There is no position to consider.

    Although trapped at home and not in a car, I felt quite frustrated at the lack of useful info on the range of radio stations (mainly) available. Would it not be possible to have an emergency channel which worried road travellers could tune to? Then police/transport scotland/etc. could directly advise drivers as to the best ‘escape’ routes from churned up highways…

    • If you and Malc are right, why did we get a very different Minister on the radio and TV today. Expressing regret, apologising, acknowledging that things could have been handled better…. someone had a word overnight and classic crisis media handling kicked in. But big praise for that! And seeing off a potential Ministerial crisis before it happened. The boy done good!

      And fantastic suggestion for an emergency channel. I too am fed up having to surf around and switch radio channels trying to keep up with news on school closures, bus stoppages etc. This would mean we would all know where we can get info, and get it round the clock. Superb idea.

  6. I guess you are right. I mean, if I were sitting in my car freezing my balls off for 13 hours on one of our motorways yesterday, the one thing that would have made me warm and fuzzy inside was knowing that our transport minister was apologising for the snow and the inconvenience. The only thing that could have made me even warmer – positively tropical in fact – is if he offered his resignation. After all, everything else is the SNP government’s fault – the snow should be too.

    Sorry Kate. I agree with you on a lot of things… but I totally disagree with you here! I should point out that its not because I have much love for Stewart Stevenson (and to prove the point – I said the same about the UK Government) I just don’t think you can pin this on him. The weather was unexpected and the people who travelled did so after police advice not to.

    Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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