HIGH speed rail (HSR) is slowly inching its way northwards from London, or at least the plans on paper are.
There is, however, little sign that the UK government is thinking much about how to extend this important new artery of communication beyond Manchester and Leeds to Scotland.
Of course, Scotland has to face some economic realities here. Such will be the huge cost of constructing this important north-south link that it has to start where it will deliver most benefits, including passenger fares. The route between Birmingham and London is where there is most congestion and therefore where usage and gains to the economy are likely to be highest.
It is also, because it is the most densely populated part of the country, where opposition is likely to be greatest. So it makes some sense, if this is to be a genuine link between Scotland and south-east England, to surmount these hurdles first on the grounds that getting the most difficult part of the line built first should make it easier for the rest to follow.
In Scotland, it could be usefully acknowledged that faster rail journeys between London and Birmingham will have some benefits north of the Border, just as improvements to the M1 and M6 south of the Border have benefits for road haulage of Scottish exports to the south-east and mainland Europe.
The UK government, for its part, could also do more to accelerate the planning of the line’s extension to Scotland. During the recent referendum, it repeatedly asserted the benefits to the whole of the UK and to Scotland of Scotland continuing within the union. More energy behind HSR’s extension to Edinburgh and Glasgow would serve well as a concrete and positive affirmation of that argument.
The Scottish Government, rather than just shouting about this, could also take some positive steps. It is already, with the UK government, taking forward a study into how the line could get from Gretna to Glasgow/Edinburgh with a view to getting a firmer grip on likely costs than the very rough ballpark figure.
It could take a leaf out of the northern English councils’ book. They have put together a case for a third phase of HSR running east-west linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield. It seems to have sufficiently impressed George Osborne, the Chancellor, for the UK government to positively back it.
Scotland, it is generally agreed, has its own need of an east-west HSR link between Edinburgh and Glasgow to cut the journey time between the cities to less than half an hour. It may be possible, if this route broadly follows the existing Edinburgh-Glasgow rail route through Carstairs, that this could also become the final northern leg of the north-south HSR.
Getting ahead with that might not just be a major benefit to Scotland in its own right, but make the case for cross-border HSR irresistible.
Manners maketh a difference
Is IT proper etiquette to greet people of the other sex at a business meeting with air kisses? Is it good manners to blind copy e-mails so that the recipient doesn’t know it has been sent to others? Is vaping at the workplace impolite? Does anyone care two jots about these questions?
Actually, lots of people do care. They are among the most common questions sent to Debrett’s which, apart from being a publisher of a sort of who’s who of the aristocracy, also produces various guides to what, and what not, to do in various social settings.
We had thought that, rather like men routinely opening doors for women which, in some female eyes insultingly implied that all women were physically incapable of such tasks, all this stuff had been stampeded out of fashion in the rush to embrace the modernity of equality and to consign deference to history’s dustbin.
Apparently not. Debrett’s receives some 10,000 questions a year of the type listed above to which the answers, in order, are no, sometimes, and yes. (Vaping, by the way, is using an electronic cigarette.)
In times when rudeness and thoughtless lack of consideration for others seems to have become an everyday occurrence, this revelation that lots of people are sufficiently concerned to find out about good manners to write to a publishing firm and get a ruling on them is touching and uplifting. We can imagine the Dowager Duchess of Grantham being unimpressed and remarking: “Anyone who has to ask about good manners does not have them.”
To which, the only mannerly response is to suppress thoughts of her frightful snobbery and to titter politely.