A bumpy ride to learn a lesson about how detached politicians are from the lives of ordinary people – Laura Waddell

Last week I ended up in the Borders to take part in BBC Scotland Debate Night. It wasn’t surprising the audience wanted to talk about how bad the roads are.
Poorly maintained roads are often a source of public concern (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Poorly maintained roads are often a source of public concern (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Poorly maintained roads are often a source of public concern (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Destination: Stranraer. The driver picked me up and we set off south on the scenic route. Country roads endlessly bent and veered and wound under the tyres as we motored through the hilly terrain, flying past farm houses, here and there spotting a Saltire or, more rarely, a Union flag flying from a flagpole in a private garden. The driver hadn’t been to this part of the country before. “Are we still in Scotland?” he asked.

Together we city-dwellers marvelled at pheasants pecking by the roadside in handsome courting pairs, but the novelty soon shifted to hazard. We saw sheep, lots of them, under sun shining down from picture book blue skies, but no sooner had we skirted a couple of valleys than the weather had changed completely. The big light now dimmed, cows grazed muzzle down in thick, dark grey drizzle.

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Sometimes we went over a small stone bridge, appearing suddenly and rainbow-shaped on the landscape with a lurch; once or twice we drove along single-track roads, eyes fixed straight ahead. What had felt scenic at the start of the journey eventually turned repetitive, then punishing. I chomped a motion sickness tablet into powder.

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Eventually I could no longer hold back the building nausea from all the twists and turns, bumps and stomach-dropping descents, and had to ask to pull over, sliding and fumbling at the door handle to get out. The cold, pure air was bracing; a few gulps of it pulled me up straight.

Sorry, sorry! I apologised to the driver, imagining his concern for the upholstery. He offered me water and another Werther’s Original. I found out he had a daughter just a little younger than me.

A few days prior, a different taxi driver on a much shorter journey through town had told me, while idling at a red light, that he’d just collected his teenage daughter’s coat from a bar, and her friend’s too, and when he went in for them the barman had bags and bags of them waiting to be picked up. At least, I said, they’re wearing them in the first place. In my day we didn’t wear coats out at all. Abandoning them halfway through the night could be said to be progress.

At the debate (me, chalk white but recovering, the politicians, suited and unfazed), the audience wanted to talk about the state of the roads – how dangerous, inconvenient, and poorly maintained they were. They had my full sympathy.

I could still feel the journey, all the times tyres shuddered over potholes, reverberating through my body. This fund and that fund and this political party and that council, said the politicians, passing the buck, their words shimmering like hot air above the tarmac.

They couldn’t have fixed it then and there. But I listened thinking how much political chat is altogether separate from the tangible issues citizens have, floating around them, never truly touching down on the terrain.

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