Pitlochry Festival Theatre is host this week not to one of its usual productions of popular plays or musicals, but to the public local inquiry being conducted into plans for the dualling of the A9 trunk road at Killiecrankie. The option for A9 expansion preferred by Transport Scotland will bring the road not just much closer to the homes of local residents, but will also eliminate much of the existing site of the famous battle of 1689, where the Jacobite army led by Bonnie Dundee defeated Hugh Mackay’s Redcoats.
From the outset, this new Battle of Killiecrankie has hardly been a fair fight. On the one side is the government agency Transport Scotland, supported by a team of expensive lawyers and experts. On the other side is a small group of local residents, unable to afford legal representation and appearing at the inquiry as enthusiastic amateurs. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the likely outcome will be.
I have always been a strong supporter of the A9 dualling project, both on economic grounds and for reasons of road safety. But it is disappointing, to say the least, that at Killiecrankie an alternative option for road widening has already been ruled out, and what we are left with will see the site of Mackay’s lines, where much of the fighting actually took place, disappear under tons of concrete and earthworks.
Even more woeful has been the attitude of the very bodies that are supposed to protect Scottish heritage. Historic Environment Scotland, the public agency that exists to protect our ancient battlefields, withdrew its objection to Transport Scotland’s plans. Meantime, the National Trust for Scotland, which owns the nearby visitor centre, has shown little interest in backing up the local campaign group in their lonely fight to save the battle site.
Ultimately, whatever the inquiry reporter recommends, it will be up to Scottish ministers to decide whether the battlefield will disappear under a widened road. I hope that when they get to that point they will ask themselves whether there is any other country in the world that would treat its historic sites as badly as Scotland does.
Murdo Fraser is a Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife