Resignation ridicule

So farewell Stewart Stephenson, a man few people had heard of until it snowed and he found himself, as transport minister in Scotland, at the sharp end. He mainly resigned not for the fact that Scotland came to a standstill last week, but rather because he made injudicious remarks about how the response had been first class.

¬†While we are, indeed, the laughing stock in places like Finland and Switzerland over our response to the weather, I do think it is hardly the hapless Stephenson’s fault. There is a great reluctance to pay for the necessary preparation, both equipment and manpower, that would be required to ensure that all systems remained ‘go’ in the event of such weather. Moreover, it was really, as the politicians kept on saying, the perfect storm

OK, he may have been a bit daft to say that the response was ‘first class’ but very little is within his control. On the railways, for example, Scotrail and Network Rail were too busy blaming each other for the complete cancellation of trains north of the central belt, to bother sending out the snowploughs. The separation of the railways claims yet another debacle.

I don’t think that Stephenson’s resignation increases in any way the chances that the same thing might not happen again next year.Quite the opposite; far better that he commissioned¬† and acted on an investigation into what exactly went wrong. Resignations are just a sop to the ever voracious media.

  • Stephen Mackenzie

    He did make a prize fool of himself on Newsnicht. It was perfectly bloody obvious there was serious snow coming down from about 2am on Monday night… Claiming the forecast was wrong when it wasn’t was deeply silly.

    But of course he was in the awful position of having responsibility without power. The councils and the trunk road contractors would have made a mess of it with or without a Scottish Transport Minister.

  • The main reason SS had to resign was because of his performance on Newsnight Scotland at 11.00 that night where he was not only rejoicingly complacent but also clearly unaware of the fact that people had been stuck on various motorways for many hours with no realistic prospect of relief.

    I agree it’s unfortunate that his head rolling will not make much difference.

    As to ScotRail – is was bad enough that they couldn’t run trains, but not being able to update the National Rail database to show which trains were running was scandalous.

    more here –

  • RapidAssistant

    Arguably, it is true that resignation is all too often the “get out of jail free” card for ministers with egg on their faces, but perhaps in this instance it was necessary.

    For the M8 – often the third busiest motorway in the whole of the UK after the M25 and M6 remember – to end up being closed completely with people freezing to death in their cars whilst SS is jollying on Newsnight that everything is hunky dory was unacceptable IMHO.

    I **could** play the cynical card and say yet we have another SNP minister who represents a northern constituency with little understanding of the central belt…..

    As for ScotRail – well chdot – agreed. I noticed that the London Sleeper had been cancelled completely during the snow. Fair enough, the lines north of the central belt were badly disrupted, but both Virgin and East Coast were still managing to struggle up and down during the day on both the WCML and ECML, albeit with delays, so they could have run the services as far as Glasgow/Edinburgh.

  • Gamster

    Scotrail seems to be obsessed with the Glasgow to Edinburgh corridor. Yes, a lot of people live there but that is no excuse for abandoning the rest of the country. The services north of Edinburgh got worse as the weather got better. Scotrail’s website was not upated at the start of each working day which was no use to travellers. We just had to turn up and hope. Even when the trains did run they were woefully ineadquate. At one stage they were down to single train every two hours whereas we would normally have nine (including East Coast and Cross Country) and even then these were just two or three car DMU sets. People were being turned away at Waverly because the trains were too crowded.

    The irregular service was only half the problem. Apart from the ‘Fife Circle’ line to Dunfermline the railway system north of the Forth is just the East Coast main line. However, a great many of us who travel to Edinburgh from the north come from towns which do not have a rail connection despite having a sufficently large population to support one (St Andrews, pop 18,000 Leven and Glenrothers with 40,000 each). Consequently, we had to cope with dangerous journeys from our homes to the stations as well.

  • Farci

    The sound of First Scotrail’s MD publicly blaming Network Rail for not updating the boards at Waverley Station when trains were cancelled told us everything we needed to know about disjointed railway operation and navel gazing.
    If another ‘non-storm’ example were needed, just go to Scotrail’s website where yesterday the new Edinburgh-Helensburgh (Airdie-Bathgate line) service was front-page news. Unfortunately, nobody told Journey Check operated by Nexus Alpha (who he?) which one day later insists there are no direct connections.
    Cheer up – more snow forecast for the end of this week!

  • WHP

    Perhaps this might prompt the Scots to pre-empt the McNulty report and demand to be allowed to run their own vertically integrated national railway system?

  • RapidAssistant

    WHP….the SNP promised it in their manifesto, then once they were in power did a U-turn and extended First’s franchise.

    Given that First is a pretty big Scottish company with a fair bit of clout….I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a wee bit of lobbying of Alex Salmond and co once they were in the driving seat.

  • Farci

    Rapid Assistant – Alex Salmond constituency in North East Scotland. First Group threatened to move its HQ from Aberdeen. Furst Group also dominates expensive and useless deregulated buses in Scotland. Nuff said

  • RapidAssistant

    Indeed Farci, indeed. Although I’d have thought Tim O’Toole would be finding it a wee bit cold up there by now…….in more ways than one!

  • JG

    Never mind about next year what about next week! If the same happens again it must surely open people’s eyes to the fact that “ministers” have very little real control these days.
    The privatisation of trunk road maintainance in Scotland was carried out by the labour/lib dem coalition here in Scotland, it’s a bit rich for them now to bleat over the direct consequences of their own actions.

  • RapidAssistant

    Well – 2011 is a Holyrood election year. As far as the bigger picture financially is concerned, the devolved government is still a pretty toothless affair….Westminster still calls the shots. And transport isn’t going to make much of an impact on the SNPs electability either for or against when the poll is upon us, despite the failure to dual the A9 as promised, doing a U-turn on renationalising the ScotRail franchise, the winter weather debacle, the Edinburgh tram fiasco and cancelling both GARL and EARL.

    The effects on the Con-Lib coalition in Westminster are set to get more interesting when Holyrood goes back to a Labour majority or a Lab-Lib coalition – which looks very much the case given that the SNP is historically used as a protest vote during a Westminster govt’s mid-term blues – that was the case in 2007.