Transport chaos - 'He should pay the ultimate political price'

SOME thought it ironic that the transport minister's statement on the slow and inadequate response to this week's big freeze was itself hit by a delay.

But, in fact, it appears Stewart Stevenson's address to MSPs yesterday was deliberately held back so the under-fire minister could hide behind a fig leaf by announcing that the westbound M8 had finally reopened between Hermiston Gait and Harthill.

If that was the intention, the spin did not work. While Stevenson was wise enough to keep the apologies coming for the chaos of Monday morning, his defence essentially blamed poor weather forecasts from the Met Office. And it did not wash.

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David McLetchie was particularly damning, holding up a copy of the blizzard warning map shown on the BBC on Sunday evening. The Edinburgh Pentlands MSP's comment that saying sorry had become a habit "for this apology of a government" will resonate until May.

Of course, the most important issue is not that political points are made but that lessons are learned to avoid a repeat of the icy gridlock that stranded thousands of Scots overnight and cut the main artery between Edinburgh and Glasgow for more than 50 hours.

Stevenson was correct on this, at least, and said he was open to the idea of a review of what went wrong. That probe should be extended to see what lessons can be learned by local authorities, including Edinburgh council.

He even echoed the comments the News has made repeatedly: that we need a national debate on how we prepare for what appear to be increasingly bitter winters.

What is clear, though, is that Stevenson is not the man to lead this review or such a debate. He made himself a laughing stock with his initial claim that the response had been "first-class" and nothing he said yesterday changed our view that he should pay the ultimate political price for Monday's failures.

Mum's the word

THE last thing that mothers-to-be need in the hours before they give birth is disruption and uncertainty.

But that is what was delivered to too many in the first nine months of this year, when the Simpsons birthing unit was shut to anything but serious cases on 51 occasions, diverting pregnant women to St John's in Livingston. We will be watching NHS Lothian's response - and the opening of a new ERI birthing unit this spring will be a welcome first step.