26 October 2007

Live from Aviemore: Getting Here

Bloggery will be taking place from the SNP Conference for the next few days.

While not getting dragged into a row over the role of gender in bloggery, I've been making my way to Aviemore, for the SNP Conference. It's been a journey with many (fully intended) detours.

The first was to Ibrox, for the match between Rangers and Barcelona. My Rangers-daft father scored tickets and as far as I'm concerned, I'd have been a total idiot if I'd turned his offer of a seat down. Sadly, he buys into the whole political and religious baggage that is associated with the club - he even thinks Paul Le Guen was an Opus Dei agent, sent to Ibrox to bring down a pillar of Protestantism, or something - though has the sense not to air this in public. This meant I had to endure a car journey which involved bloody flute music being played incessantly. I can tell you I am sick of hearing about 'Old Derry's Walls' now, though it was strangely appropriate during the match itself, if only because Rangers were in effect under siege from Barcelona and managed to hold out, so the ghastly song had an oddly symbolic quality. That, however, is the only relevance I can find between the song and the match (or indeed the Club), and even that is tenuous. I can also tell you that despite the Club's best efforts, the sanitised version of 'Follow, Follow' has not yet caught on in the Copland Stand. I don't suppose it will for a long time.

However, Wednesday was something else. It started with a trip (still with my father) to Paisley, to see my grandfather's grave in Hawkhead Cemetery. William John Patterson (yes, I'm named after him) passed away at the age of 62 a few months before I was born, so obviously I only know him from stories told by my parents, but it's no less moving for that, especially as he's buried in the same plot as his mother, who died four years later, at the age of 91. I can't even imagine the sense of loss she had to go through for those four years, but even that wasn't the most troubling part of the visit. That dubious honour belongs to the nearby stones, marking the death of a man at 56, or one at 52, or a woman at 38. They all died in the early 1980s and I can't help but wonder how they ended up there at such an early age. The ages on the more recent tombstones look a little closer to what I'd expect... the deceased were mainly in their 70s or 80s. It's a real mark of the social problems people in the area suffered a generation ago, and a mark of how far things like healthcare have come since then. The place still has a lot of troubles, but life expectancy, if Hawkhead is the best indicator, has gone up by about two decades. It's both disturbing to see the young ages on the older tombstones, but relieving to see that people are living longer now.

After that, I went on to Edinburgh alone. Little to report - other than dinner with an old friend, who I haven't seen in two and a half years. We didn't part company on the best of terms, in fact the last time we were in a room together, we spent the evening glowering at each other across the crowds, but there's been a reconciliation of sorts via MSN over the last 18 months and it was good to see him again.

Then, yesterday, Aviemore. The first thing I notice about a place - despite not driving - is the price of petrol. £1.02 per litre! It's situations like this where you see the main failing of the 'market': the area is sparsely populated and I imagine that cars are vital to people's daily lives, that they represent the best - if not the only - way of getting from A to B around here. Yet in Glasgow and Edinburgh, petrol is - on the whole - 7p cheaper. Distance is less of an issue in the cities, and there are decent public transport links, even before Crossrail, the trams and Airport Rail Links. And the car is more of a problem than a solution: despite those links, many still use their cars, creating the congestion, and pollution, that is causing enough of a problem that the last administration in Edinburgh wanted to implement a congestion charge. Yet because there's more competition, and people aren't forced to 1) get in their cars and 2) use the only garage in I-dread-to-guess-how-many miles, those who do drive save money. This can't be right: either more money desperately needs to be pumped in to rural public transport, or there needs to be a better way of making driving less attractive to those who have alternatives, which avoids punishing those who drive because they have to.

Maybe the answer is to be radical, and give control of fuel duty not to Holyrood, but to local councils, who could react to local needs. Highland could, for example, slash duty, making the lives of residents a little easier and taking one burden off the local economy. Edinburgh, on the other hand, could jack it up, discouraging car use in the city and avoiding the pitfalls of the tolls system that was so soundly rejected, such as the farcical two-cordon system, and the obvious rat-runs that would be created by that. Now, the big downside is that, obviously, anyone could go to a neighbouring Council area once they find out that petrol is cheaper there, and also the bureaucracy that all this would entail.

All the same, the status quo isn't working, and if the duty were to be lowered to ease the difficulties faced by towns like Aviemore, that would exacerbate traffic problems in Edinburgh; but if it were to be raised to put people off driving in the Capital, that would make life in the Highlands even harder.

Now, for Conference...


Julie McAnulty said...

Bring in cooking oil as fuel; it's all the rage in Ireland!

BellgroveBelle said...

That's a really interesting point about fuel duty - if you put it up in the cities, people might use public transport more and leave their cars at home. Also, fewer people in the west end might buy ridiculous land rovers and 4x4s!

Anonymous said...

"give control of fuel duty not to Holyrood, but to local councils, who could react to local needs. Highland could, for example, slash duty, making the lives of residents a little easier and taking one burden off the local economy"

That's a very interesting idea. As a general principle, the more tax that can be directed through local authorities, the better. All the more reason as LAs have responsibility for most road repairs etc.

I went to the high school at the top of Hawkhead Road as it happens.