Letter from Edinburgh
The 20th April every year is emblazoned on this former farmer’s heart. The world snooker championship starts in Sheffield, there is invariably some kind of election campaign under way and it’s the start of lambing.
I phoned home to Bressay on Tuesday to find out what the weather was like. Snow showers and sunshine – predicable start of lambing weather.
It’s late by lowland Scottish standards. I was driving through Fife this week to an election meeting and saw lambs sprickling around the edge of a field that would be a month old at least. But many areas have had a terrible spring, with losses at lambing, caused by the inclement weather, a real challenge. So the crofting fraternity will be hoping for a change in the weather.
Warmer, southerly winds would help not only in the lambing park but with the eruptions from the volcano in southern Iceland.
On Wednesday night the airlines obviously lost the plot with the government in London. The transport minister was sent out to face the TV cameras saying that, while safety is the fundamental criteria, we’ve in effect changed the scientific model which has been used to keep airspace closed for days on end. So suddenly (almost) every UK airport was open.
I suspect that the airlines said to the government that, unless you change the assessment of risk, then you must financially compensate the industry for the costs we are facing. But that can’t avoid the natural phenomenon of drifting ash which by Wednesday afternoon had closed Kirkwall, Sumburgh and Scatsta again. So a change in the wind is badly needed.
By Sunday we should have the two NorthLink ferries back in service. The shuttle that has run this week direct to Aberdeen must have helped many people stranded by the flight disruption if my email and office is anything to go by. So well done to all the NorthLink staff for a massive amount of hard work.
My colleague Liam McArthur and I both spoke to Scotland’s transport minister this week about the service that islanders, the freight industry and many others needed.
The government’s primary responsibility is to maintain its lifeline services especially where there is absolutely no alternative means of getting to the Scottish mainland.
Orkney came off worse with the odd decision to send the Hamnavoe to Bergen the night that UK airspace was cleared so that the 200 passengers stranded there could be collected. Many of course favoured an hour’s flight.
What was worse was the government’s proposal to stop the Hjaltland coming back north from refit, and instead send her to Zeebrugge. Thankfully that plan was dropped and I am pleased that common sense prevailed. Surely, at a time of flight uncertainty, the boat is certain – so a full and complete service from Lerwick south should be the starting point for the government’s approach.
Tavish Scott MSP