Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Senatores boni viri, senatus autem mala bestia

WWF Hustings Castle Douglas Thursday 5th April

Phew, that was a relief. The audience did outnumber the candidates - but only just . There were 12 of us …

Chaired by Richard Dixon , we had Chris Ballance for the Green Party, Alasdair Morgan for the SNP, Alastair Cooper for the Lib Dems, Alex Ferguson for the Conservatives and Stephen Hodgson for Labour.


All the candidates had two minutes to give their ’environmental’ (not ’green’) pitch and every one agreed that climate change is a reality and all agreed ‘something must be done’, quoting from relevant party policies.

Climate change and environmental problems sorted then?

Not quite, the devil was in the details of their answers to questions from the floor. Apart from Chris, who was playing to a home crowd as it were, the problem of ‘how do we get there from here’ still remains. For example, John Schofield (D and G Green Party) asked a road transport question and the consensus was ‘ we still need to build more roads/ bypasses / extend the M 74’. On the M 74 extension both Alasdair Morgan and Stephen Hodgson made similar points - practically we can’t just leave it as it is.

Yes there was support for improving public transport, including rail, supporting rural bus services [a good and detailed point from Alex Fergusson] but…

But… gap between rhetoric and reality. The rhetoric is ‘green’, the reality is ‘business as usual’. The difficulty is that if the politicians get too far ahead of the voters - on the car/ road transport issue for example - they worry the voters will say ‘No’.

Realistically, Chris Ballance was and (I hope) will be elected on the regional list vote, but a Green constituency candidate would not. Although, since there was unanimity about how lucky we are that Galloway (and Upper Nithsdale) is such a green and pleasant land, a campaign which applied Green theory to local practice might work.

With my question, I tried to shift the focus from the global to the local - I asked what would be the most effective arguments to get funding for converting a section of disused railway [ CD to Dalbeattie] into a cycle route to connect up with the 7 Stanes mountain bike circuits in Dalbeattie Forest. Unfortunately, it was not quite as concise as it should have been and got lumped in with a ‘nuclear power -yes please or no thanks?’ one.

Stephen Hodgson was a bit vague , but suggested I should highlight the need for a cycle path network to help the niche marketing of Galloway , but said he goes on cycling holidays.

Alex Fergusson reckoned I would be pushing at an open door, but should emphasise that transport policy should take the need for non-motorised transport into account . A useful technical point to make and one I will bear in mind.

Alastair Cooper felt this was not an MSP/ Scottish Executive issue, but one which local government needed to decide on re funding. I should have challenged him on this - from experience such a project needs support from MSPs and local government spending is constrained by Scottish Executive priorities.

Alasdair Morgan said we need to be much more determined on cycle routes - that local advocates have to push harder to get them taken seriously. He also made pertinent and practical points based on his local knowledge - that parts of route were lost to the CD Dalbeattie road, land had been sold off to farmers and that bridges were missing.

Chris Ballance suggested that arguments based on health and tourism benefits would be strongest, but that reduction of pollution and related arguments are not yet useful/ accepted .

Conclusion : Senatores boni viri, senatus autem mala bestia
(The senators are all good men, but the senate is a beast)

Green issues are now motherhood and apple pie issues - in theory.

In practice… we are not yet at the tipping point. Which is worrying. What ever the ‘big’ outcome on May 3rd, the next Scottish Parliament and next Scottish Executive is likely to pursue a set of ‘business as usual/ carry on regardless ‘ policies which prioritise economy over environment. But the economy is the superstructure and the environment is the base. If the environment fails, there will be no economy …



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