Borders Railway – a case study of pork in action

The economist Tony Mackay dissects and despatches the Borders Railway project with considerable elegance in his Monthly Report. The article is reproduced here in the excellent new Internet bulletin for Scottish business, Scot-buzz.

It shouldn’t really be news to anyone that rural railways are an economic nonsense. But good sense often needs to be restated. The Borders project has steamed on relentlessly despite having ‘white elephant’ written all over it and in the teeth of energetic opposition from the Borders Party. I’d suggest two reasons for its persistence.

Both are classic ingredients of pork-barrel politics. The first is that nobody is clearly responsible for the railway. When the costs escalate and the delays mount up, no-one carries the blame. Should it be David Parker, leader of the local council who resigns as another £50million goes down the tubes? Or the transport minister Keith Brown?

The second is even more depressing. I meet quite a few Borderers who are in favour of the railway on the grounds that someone else is paying for it. In other words, to them it’s a freebie. You don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth. Even if they use it just once a year, it’s worth it from their point of view.

This is not just morally wrong (if something’s a waste of money you shouldn’t wish it on others). It’s also bad from a practical point of view. The half billion or so could be spent so much more effectively in the Borders. And subconsciously, the Borders has now had its ‘turn’ at a big centrally funded project. Another opportunity won’t come along for many years now. As we walk to the back of the queue and look at the rather modest, overpriced present we so graspingly clamoured for, disappointment will soon set in.

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One Response to Borders Railway – a case study of pork in action

  1. Brian says:

    The Trams in Edinburgh are a glimpse into the future for us. Long delays, insanely over budget, disruptive, inappropriate and destroying business (not to mention that via you know who’s procurement rules the contract went to a foreign contractor which is not ideal for Britain).

    CEC saw £500m being dangled in front of them and no concept of what it really meant. The people however could have told them. They offered a local referendum on the congestion charge and were embarrassed when people rejected it as they had already bought the machines – who says the political class are assumptive and arrogant! – had they offered the same local referendum for the trams and acted as representative not masters they would have got a flat ‘No’ from the citizens of Edinburgh. It is clear that people know better than politicians and that politicians have forgotten their place and function in society.

    The Borders Council have been duped just like CEC and they have locked the people out of the decision for fear of getting the ‘wrong’ answer. Sound familiar? In a proper democracy it shouldn’t! This is the root cause of distrust and disaffection with the political class they no longer represent us, keep their promises or give us a voice on the big issues they essentially do what they want which gives rise to the sentiment that it doesn’t really matter if you vote or who you vote for. Can they turn around and honestly counter that when they are not giving us a vote on Europe, they only allowed the Scottish referendum through gritted teeth (I don’t agree with Scotland leaving the union but if the Scottish people want it then who are we to prevent it? – thankfully I think Mr Fishy will get a resounding ‘No’ from the Scots!). What is this fear of democracy? Thankfully people are getting to grips with their politicians and for a change putting real pressure on them via campaigns such as ‘The Peoples Pledge’ lets hope this is the beginning of the dog wagging it’s tail rather than recent times vice versa!

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