Scotland set for ‘worst winter in 50 years’

Could Scotland get one of its worst winters in half a century?
Could Scotland get one of its worst winters in half a century?
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Transport minister Derek Mackay has confirmed he is preparing for the worst amid predictions of the coldest winter for 50 years.

There will be a record 205 snowploughs and salt spreaders available following the acquisition of 57 new gritters and a “healthy supply” of salt, he told MSPs.

Offenders may also be ordered to clear snow and help keep communities moving, he said.

Rail operators have procured new snow and ice clearing machines, and airports have bought snow clearing equipment, runway sweepers, de-icers and improved forecasting equipment.

Labour MSP David Stewart said: “I read a press headline today which said ‘coldest winter for 50 years to bring months of heavy snow to the United Kingdom’. The article went on to reference the 1962-63 winter which saw rivers freeze across Scotland.”

He added: “I think there are very real fears that Scotland faces fuel shortages as road and transport networks grind to a halt. What emergency contingency plans are in place if the dire warnings predicted by the press come to fruition?”

He said a record number of people are using government information services, with more than 100,000 users now following the Traffic Scotland Twitter feed.

Former transport minister Stewart Stevenson - who resigned amid criticism over government communications during the severe winter of 2010/11 - urged Mr Mackay to maintain the use of “traditional methods” of phones, text messaging and FM radio as well as social media to communicate weather risks.

Mr Mackay said: “I suspect Stewart Stevenson probably invented them, which is why I am more than happy to look into that.”

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “I have some sympathy for the minister, as the challenge of Scotland’s transport minister versus Scotland’s winter weather is one that assumes the proportions of Canute trying to order the tide back.”

Mr Mackay said: “Mr Johnstone asked me if I believed things are totally resolved and prepared for. We can do our best, I can’t guarantee there won’t be incidents, but, yes, I believe the actions have been undertaken.”

SNP MSP Stuart McMillan asked if people issued with community service orders will be called upon to help keep communities moving.

Mr Mackay said: “It is a matter for local authorities, but of course the Scottish Government is sympathetic to councils deploying people in this way.”