'The SNP has no mandate to scrap trams'

ONLY a badly-worded opposition amendment has allowed the SNP to avoid falling at the first hurdle as it attempts to steer its action plan through parliament from a minority position.

The bid to keep the Edinburgh tram scheme on track flopped because the Nationalists were able to bandy semantics, but the fact remains that any attempt by the fledgling government to derail plans to return trams to Edinburgh flies in the face of overwhelming political opposition at both local and national level. They may have wriggled off the hook for now, but pressing ahead with the plan to scrap trams is still set to end in defeat.

Their intentions with regard to both trams and the direct rail link to Edinburgh Airport may become clearer today, when opposition parties will seek to flush them out during a debate on plans to axe road tolls on the Forth Bridge. It is expected that even though some SNP members privately have no objection to funding trams, they will toe the party line if forced to vote against it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But before doing so they would do well to remember that the bottom line remains that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and the Greens in both Holyrood and in the City Chambers are in favour of the scheme and do not want to waste the 100 million of public money already spent.

Leading city companies led by the Business Assembly and the Chamber of Commerce see the economic benefits of the return of trams, with 75 per cent backing the plan. Organisations like Friends of the Earth, who this week helped launch the "Don't trash our trams" campaign see the environmental benefits. Surveys, like the one carried out by the Evening News, indicate ongoing public support and all of this leaves the SNP looking isolated on this issue.

It is understandable that they wish to be seen to adhere to their manifesto pledge to scrap both trams and EARL. But it would be naive of them to believe it was instrumental in them becoming the single largest parliamentary party, something more to do with consolidation of protest votes than outright rejection of the previous coalition.

With only one first-past-the-post MSP elected in Edinburgh it is fanciful to claim a mandate to scrap two major infrastructure projects and they run the risk of losing the political high ground if they refuse to entertain a compromise. It would be even worse were they to leave themselves open to the allegation that the cash was being diverted to major road-building projects like the A9 and A96, because they serve the northern heartlands of three of their leading MSPs.

The way is still open for a pragmatic approach to this impasse, and if Ian Paisley can sit down with Martin McGuinness, then Kenny MacAskill should be able to stomach a deal on trams. If the Nationalists are to stand any chance of pushing a meaningful programme of legislation through parliament they need co-operation. But axing trams against the will of parliament, the council and local opinion will not be much of a start.