Letter from Edinburgh 05.09.08
JIM Leask retired from security work at Sumburgh last weekend. He was one of the cheerful gang of people who have to look serious when they ask you to remove your belt and possibly shoes for the security X-ray.
But there was always a cheery glint in Jim’s eye when he saw me coming. I asked, on one occasion, whether it was possible that we would have to walk naked through the security scanner one day!
It’s a somewhat thankless task. Regular travellers take security as just an occupational hazard of passing through airports. For first-time travellers, I imagine there is a sense of reassurance to know that passengers are being checked. For the majority who travel occasionally it’s a bit of both. But someone has to do it.
I flew into Campbeltown’s tiny airport last week. Tiny in the sense of the airport terminal which is no bigger than a glorified portacabin. The runway is four miles long. It was extended to accommodate the massive B52s of the US air force at the height of the Cold War.
Do you remember the Cold War? Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on one side and a succession of moribund Soviet leaders on the other. It all changed with Gorbachev and the Berlin wall came crashing down.
But the craic in Campbeltown was that the Cold War might provide alternatives. Job alternatives. Russia’s aggressive approach to Georgia and its impact on international energy policy, given Europe’s dependence on gas from Putin’s fields, have together turned the clock back. So as Campbeltown wonders whether their airport could re-emerge as a strategic base, my thoughts moved north to Saxa Vord. It seems far fetched, but perhaps not.
In passing, we left Glasgow airport at 9am for the 30-minute flight to the Kintyre peninsula. But the airport doesn’t open to commercial flights until after 9.30am so we flew around in circles on a lovely morning until open for business was declared. Somewhat surreal. In passing the security at Campbeltown looked pretty rudimentary.
Parliament is back this week. I should have had the excitement of questioning the colossus of Scottish politics, Alex Salmond, but he was absent this week for personal reasons, so his deputy stood in for him at First Minister’s Questions.
But next week Mr Salmond should be back in his place and I look forward to our first exchange. We had a cheerful chat this week on issues outside politics but in the chamber my approach is simple. On those things where the government is getting on with it and addressing the issues, I think that the right thing to say is “get on and do better”. But where a government is not working, the job of an opposition leader is to point that out. I expect that Alex will always have an answer.