On 14 February, 2007, at Campsie House, Glasgow, the Board of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, chaired by Shonaig Macpherson, CBE, heard a detailed presentation from Alastair Andrew, board manager and bridgemaster, Forth Estuary Transport Authority, on the current state of the Forth Road Bridge.
In response to questions from my colleague board members, Brendan Dick of BT and Professor Bill Stevely CBE, vice-chancellor of Robert Gordon University (1997-2005), Mr Andrew memorably insisted, “The Forth bridge is no stronger than its weakest link.”
The minute records: “Tam Dalyell suggested that the SCDI ask to meet the First Minister at an early stage to discuss SCDI priorities. This was endorsed by other board members.” Subsequently, we met the First Minister [Alex Salmond] and I recollect that Alan Wilson, OBE, then chief executive of SCDI, regurgitated Alastair Andrew’s concerns, in particular that there should be constant inspection, to the First Minister and his senior officials.
Forty-four years earlier the engineer in charge of construction, Jock Hamilton, told me after a catwalk viewing of the bridge with my fiancée: “It will be your duty as MP for West Lothian and the Southside to look after my bridge.”
Along with Forth Bridge Board members and many others I did.
I am in a position to assert that it is inconceivable that any Secretary of State for Scotland, Tory or Labour, from Michael Noble or Willie Ross onwards until responsibility was devolved to Holyrood would have countenanced the ditching of plans to strengthen part of the bridge, were it deemed advisable. Attempts to shove the blame on officials of Transport Scotland, who advised a strengthening programme, only to have their advice accepted, and then immediately overturned, is contemptible.
Shame on Holyrood politicians. The Scottish Parliament has served Scotland ill. Amid all the blethering about more powers, and vanity projects geared principally to the referendum, they have taken their eye of the ball.
Former president Scottish council for development and industry (2005-8)
Former MP West Lothian (1962-2005)
House of the Binns, Linlithgow, West Lothian