Great strength in adversity

Battling the Beast from the East brought communities together

A week ago in this column I suggested Scotland may have become too fragile in the face of major weather events.

Mea culpa.

The Beast from the East – I still dislike that name – proved to be a mighty foe indeed and there were times when there was simply nothing that could be done to keep the wheels of the economy turning.

The sheer volume of snow – especially the amount which fell on parts of the Central Belt, Fife and Perthshire – was such that normal life simply could not continue.

For a couple of days at least across most of the country it was an impossible situation, with the forced closure of arterial routes and the understandable wipe-out of train timetables.

As ever, such a major event brought both good and bad bubbling to the surface.

The situation on the M80 in which scores of lorry drivers spent a night trapped in freezing conditions in their cabs, was an example of the business community getting it wrong.

They had been well warned.

Employers knew what to expect but drivers were sent out regardless, even though some of their shipments were far from essential items.

That was a bad decision that could have had tragic consequences, and is one the industry – as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon angrily averred – must reflect upon in future.

And we have also seen concerns raised about workers being docked pay for snow days when they were unable to attend for work – or indeed, their workplace was shut down.

For companies whose revenue account for the past week reads nil, paying wages to staff who weren’t working may seem a bitter financial pill to swallow, but it is the right thing to do.

Happily, though, there are many more positive stories arising from the winter chaos in which private sector businesses have stepped up and showed just how central and connected they are to the areas in which they live and work.

Across Fife, Perthshire and Angus we had farmers and companies with access to heavy plant machinery out and about ploughing their way through feet of drifting snow to clear roads, open up access to cut-off communities and help get medication and food to society’s most vulnerable.

We had taxi companies and motor dealers offering free lifts to emergency services workers to ensure those that needed treatment in hospital got it.

And we had plumbers and roofers out in all weathers ensuring damage to property from the Arctic blast was as limited as it could be.

Bravo all round.

I still stand by my central assertion last week that Scotland’s economic infrastructure needs to be more robust in the face of routine winter weather.

But the Beast was extraordinary.

And in that extraordinary moment, Scotland did not show weakness.

What it showed was admirable strength.