John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy First Minister, took to national radio yesterday morning to tell the public they should “avoid travel for the whole of today” unless they were an “essential emergency worker”.
He stressed that even an amber warning for snow meant there was a potential risk to life and property. Police Scotland also used social media to tell people “do not travel” as the amber warning was extended until 10am today.
But, while conditions on the roads were clearly treacherous, is it right that life should grind to a complete halt because of a few inches of snow? People still need to buy food from shops, check on elderly relatives and friends, and move from A to B for various other reasons.
Clearly it is wise to take precautions, like ensuring you have a full tank of fuel, food, water, a blanket or sleeping bag, and a fully charged mobile phone, when setting out onto the roads. And care should be taken when driving. Those who can work from home should do so. And anyone thinking of travelling should consider whether a phone call might suffice instead. But to seek to ban everyone from travelling anywhere – if only by the force of persuasion – seems over the top. Scotland has, after all, experienced snow before. People in the Highlands may raise a bemused eyebrow at the reaction of our politicians to a few inches of the stuff in the Central Belt.
Many things in life are a balance of risk and reward. The risk on the roads has increased significantly because of the snow so it is absolutely right to issue warnings. Employers should also be sympathetic to staff who do not feel able to drive.
However, it is still possible to travel on many roads. By telling the nation to stay at home, Mr Swinney was effectively giving the authorities a free pass – any accidents should not have happened because the cars shouldn’t have been there.
But, in periods of bad weather, local and central government have a duty to keep the roads open as much as possible and to help provide travel advice so motorists can avoid the worst affected routes. It is their job to keep the country running, not close it down.
As it issued a red severe warning for southwest England and South Wales yesterday, the Met Office said “do not make unnecessary journeys in the red warning area”, leaving it to individuals to decide what was “necessary”. This seems a more measured and sensible approach.