Issue 212
March/April 2020


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Apr 10, 2020

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Another Boris Bridge? No thanks!

UNLIKE HIS U.S. counterpart, our prime minister fancies himself as a bridge builder rather than an erector of walls and maybe for this reason, the Pope should congratulate him.

Should we do the same? Mr Johnson wants a bridge built in my back yard (the Wigtown District of the Dumfries & Galloway region) over the Irish Sea from Portpatrick to Larne in Ulster.

Much like when in 2012 as London's mayor, he dangled from a zip wire above an East London park, Johnson's notion to construct a flashy bridge connecting two, deprived areas of the British Isles, is no more than a stunt, 'a vanity project' and, for my money, an utter insult to all of us who live in the region.

Extravagant ideas leading to flamboyant structures may be acceptable for cosmopolitan London but not in what is arguably the poorest part of the UK. Galloway has the largest number of people earning less than the living wage of anywhere in Scotland. 17,000 workers in D & G are paid less than £ 9.30 per hour so that a third of local employees are trapped in poverty.

Although our PM is not too hot on visiting parts of the country he governs, even when towns are awash, as they have been recently in Wales and Shropshire, he should at least take a look at the place in Scotland where he plans to build his bridge.

If he is not dropped in by helicopter, Trump-style, Johnson's vehicle might take a battering on our roads with their potholes and uneven surfaces. Our local garage owner who re-located recently from Coventry, is inundated with requests for repairs to cars damaged by the Wigtownshire roads. Work of this kind has trebled since he left the south.

It's ludicrous to spend £ 20-£ 30 billion on a bridge to Ireland when the Scottish road links, the A77 from Cairn Ryan Ferry Terminal to Ayr and Glasgow and the A75 to Dumfries and Carlisle are sub-standard.

Stena Line, P & O Ferries and Belfast Harbour have pressed Transport Scotland to improve them but for the foreseeable future, neither will be upgraded to dual carriageways.

If Johnson caught a train to this region, he would head north, instead of west, at Dumfries, until he reached Glasgow, where he would change stations and board a train south to Stranraer, making a detour of 162 miles when the journey from Dumfries is 74 miles.

Axing the Stranraer-Dumfries railway line was the work of Dr Beeching in 1965. The government could put a fraction of the £ 20 – £ 30 billion allocated for the bridge to re-instating our railway line. For the 24 per cent of Galloway residents who don't drive, the only form of transport is by bus, meaning a journey of at least two hours.

When our most pressing problem is to beat climate change, a 60+ mile railway line with a link to Cairn Ryan Ferry is a sound plan for the 21st century, with the bulk of freight transported in this way.

While surveying the spot where his mega project would stand, Mr Johnson could take a look around the local towns. Newton Stewart and Stranraer have plenty hair-dressers and, conveniently for this tousled, blond-haired premier, there are several barbers.

The former, however, trades in no electrical goods and, wait for it, its Job Centre has closed down. Stranraer's Tourist Information Centre has also gone. So have many shops since Stena Line shoved off to Cairn Ryan in 2011.

Johnson may well admire Stranraer's refurbished town clock on the harbour front but shudder at the shell of the George Hotel, once a bustling, Victorian stopover for ferry passengers. The southwest does a nice line in derelict hotels. The outer walls of Port William's redundant Monreith Arms hotel are covered with an ugly, green algae.

As a child of the 50s and 60s, I was sometimes treated here to afternoon tea and can still remember the cake stands groaning with chocolate eclairs and meringues and the bus-loads of people rolling up.

If the PM's chauffeur remembers to fill up with fuel in Newton Stewart or Stranraer (there are no filling stations south of the latter), he could drive Johnson to the exclusive Knockinaam Lodge hotel, a former hunting lodge, situated on the coast near Portpatrick with views over to Northern Ireland.

Johnson could book into Churchill, the hotel's largest bedroom where his hero, Sir Winston Churchill slept during his WWII secret meeting with General Eisenhower and their Chiefs of Staff.

As an Old Etonian, Johnson might be embarrassed to learn that bright kids from the Stranraer area are bussed daily for their education in Ayr, a round trip of over 100 miles. Maybe he might raise an eyebrow if he visited Stranraer library where if he wanted to spend a penny, he would have to ask for a key to allow him access and when he entered the cubicle, he would be met by a penetrating, blue light. For the naïve, these are measures to prevent drug users from 'shooting up'.

On a more cheerful note, if he's lucky, our PM's tour might coincide with a Scottish Opera recital at Stranraer's Ryan Centre involving four singers singing Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and G & S (no Wagner, though, nor Tippet or Janáček). The snag is the company only comes to Stranraer once every two or three years.

So, who actually wants this bridge? Michael Matheson, the Scottish Transport Minister doesn't. Neither does Colin Smyth, Regional Labour MSP.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, SDLP, the Ulster Unionist and Alliance party are all sceptical about it.

Nicola Sturgeon says cautiously that the £ 20 billion could be put to better use elsewhere and Eire's Leo Varadkar is happy about it so long as the UK foots the bill.

Unsurprisingly, Alister Jack, MP for D & G and the Scottish Secretary of State, supports it. As one of Johnson's side-kicks, he would, wouldn't he?

MARY GLADSTONE


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