By Colin Laing
Last night [Thursday] I was doing my daily drive home from the quarry at Blair Atholl to Aberfeldy on the A9. As usual BBC Radio Scotland Newsdrive was on.
After the hysteria of the Olympic torch was discussed an MSP from the Highlands and Islands came on “pleading” for the A9 to be upgraded much faster than the timetable set out by the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister.
She mentioned the Tory “champion” of the A9 Murdo Fraser, the local list MSP whom I feel knows in his heart that Scotland would be better off independent, but who’s party politics insists that he wave the union flag along with the rest of them.
Predictably the BBC, like the bold Murdo, is aligning itself so both can use the A9 and the recent tragic crashes, as a stick with which to beat the SNP. However let’s look a little deeper into the A9 and its history of upgrade and death.
My working life seems to have been inexorably linked to the A9. Today I’m a humble lorry driver driving asphalt and concrete to projects on and off the A9. Previously however, for over twenty years, I was a cop stationed at Pitlochry, Bankfoot and the Tayside Traffic department.
During these years, along with my hard pressed colleagues, I put over fifty people into body bags, searched them for identification or washed the blood from their hair and face, sometimes having to mask horrendous injuries with strategically placed pillows or blankets, to allow relatives to view and identify bodies.
Latterly I was a family liaison officer, tasked with knocking on the door, then helping the bereaved through the first few days of the grieving process.
So maybe arrogantly, I feel I can comment with a little more authority on the Perth to Inverness Road (A9), than the likes of the lady MSP from the Highlands and Islands or Murdo.
Prior to today’s A9 the old road, known as the great north road, was only a few meters wide and wound its way through every town and village from Redgorton to Daviot. Pitlochry was a car park, and the narrow rail bridges at Blair Atholl and Calvine were vehicle grave yards.
Something had to give and in the seventies the then Scottish Office began upgrading the road. To save money only short sections of the road were upgraded to dual carriageway, the rest was given over to the new ‘sliced bread’ of road engineering, a system of long sweeping bends, rather than the traditional long straights and sharper bends design.
Sadly, (although no one at the Scottish Office would ever admit it) this design has – excuse the unfortunate pun – a fatal flaw.
It presents very few completely safe overtaking opportunities. At today’s speeds it is very difficult to judge the speed of approaching traffic on the bends, and in the dark it is sometimes near impossible to tell if the oncoming vehicle is on its correct side of the road.
But so paranoid of their road were the Scottish Office, at one fatal accident enquiry involving an accident at Faskally Bridge, they sent two officials to Perth Sheriff court merely to argue if required, that the road at the locus was “single lane duelling” rather than dual carriageway.
However the design of the road is not the real issue. It is the fact that during the time of the upgrade of the A9, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was marking a report detailing Scotland’s oil wealth, written by a certain Mr Gavin McCrone, top secret ,and draining billions out of Scotland to keep UK PLC afloat during her drive to destroy the unions and manufacturing.
If even a fraction of that money had been used to give Perthshire and the highlands the road that they deserved, then I and the firemen, ambulance staff and trauma teams would have been much less busy and hundreds of relatives would have been continuing their happy lives as normal.
In short, the problems of the A9 lie firmly at the door of successive Unionist governments in London and not at the feet of the present Scottish government who have had their hands and purse strings bound tightly by Westminster constraints.