Sir, – On February 14 2007 at Campsie House, Glasgow, the board of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, chaired by Shonaig Macpherson, had a detailed presentation from Alistair Andrew, board manager and bridgemaster of Forth Estuary Transport Authority, on the current state of the Forth Road Bridge.
In response to questions from my Brendan Dick of BT and Professor Bill Stevely of Robert Gordon University, Mr Andrew memorably insisted: “The Forth Road Bridge is no stronger than its weakest link.”
The minute records: “Tam Dalyell suggested that SCDI ask to meet the First Minister at an early stage to discuss SCDI priorities. This was endorsed by board members.”
Subsequently we met the First Minister and I recollect that Alan Wilson, chief executive of SCDI, raised Mr Andrew’s concerns, in particular that there should be constant inspection.
Forty-four years earlier, that gifted engineer, Jock Hamilton, in charge of construction of the bridge, told me severely after he had taken my fiancee and me over the catwalk: “It will be your duty as MP for West Lothian and the south side of the Forth to look after my bridge.”
I am in a position to assert that it is inconceivable that any Secretary of State for Scotland, Tory or Labour, from Michael Noble or Willie Ross onwards until responsibility was devolved to Holyrood, would have countenanced the ditching of plans to strengthen part of the bridge, were it deemed advisable.
The attempt to shove the blame on officials of Transport Scotland, who advised a strengthening programme only to have their advice accepted and then immediately overturned, is contemptible.
Shame on Holyrood politicians. The Scottish Parliament has served Scotland ill.
Amid all the blethering about more powers and vanity projects geared principally to the referendum, they have taken their eye off the ball.
Tam Dalyell. House of the Binns, Linlithgow.
Minister must come clean
Sir, – Transport Secretary Derek Mackay’s claim that Labour is “deliberately misinterpreting the facts” surrounding the closure of the Forth Road Bridge only has a chance of holding water if he were to tell Scots what the facts actually are.
When the failure was first discovered, the Scottish Government tried to tell Scotland that it was spontaneous and unexpected.
This argument was slowly picked apart by online bloggers, not Labour, who trawled through FETA minutes and Audit Scotland reports.
These blogs, amplified by press reports, forced Nicola Sturgeon to admit that her government had made substantial cuts to FETA’s budget.
This was followed by an admission from Mr Mackay that work cancelled in 2010 would have seen the failed component replaced. This contradicted advice he had previously given to parliament.
Following these revelations, First Minister’s Questions last week proved to be an open goal for the opposition leaders and Kezia Dugdale scored a hat-trick.
Mr Mackay’s response to this was to blame FETA.
By doing this he blamed internationally respected engineers who were hamstrung by the budget his party had cut.
In a move that can only mean that those within FETA were unhappy with the blame game being played by the SNP, documents were leaked over the weekend to bloggers and to newspapers.
These showed that FETA had real concerns about the “truss end links” and that they were communicated to the Scottish Government.
It is within this context that Labour’s Alex Rowley, whose Fife constituency is hugely affected by the closure, is asking for full disclosure of all the documents surrounding the bridge’s maintenance.
Bizarrely, in response, Mr Mackay accused Mr Rowley of “deliberately misinterpreting the facts” for asking for all the facts to be placed in the public domain.
The impact of the bridge closure has been huge.
This ranges from ruined Christmas plans to lost profits and spiralling commuting costs. Everyone affected deserves to know why this seemingly preventable failure occurred. Mr Mackay must listen to Mr Rowley and come clean.
Dr Scott Arthur. Buckstone Terrace, Edinburgh.
Dangers of cutting corners
Sir, – At First Minister’s Questions Nicola Sturgeon tried to dismiss suggestions that cuts in the Forth Road Bridge’s repair budget could have played a part in the critical failure that now is causing travel chaos for a large swathe of Scotland.
But the denials from the First Minister and her Transport Secretary Derek Mackay are sounding rather hollow.
Evidence of 2010 proposals of strengthening work that did not proceed and further deferrals of capital works in 2013, clearly show that decisions were being taken based on financial savings rather than the interests of the travelling public.
We are all now paying the cost of short-sighted decisions by politicians and civil servants who should instead have been listening to civil-engineering experts.
The value of the Forth Road Bridge is now painfully clear to everyone. There are no excuses for cutting corners and putting this critical piece of our national infrastructure at risk.
Keith Howell. White Moss, West Linton
. Scottish link overlooked
Sir, – So the taxpayers of Great Britain have sent the first British-flagged astronaut, Tim Peake, into space.
Born in Sussex, I wish him and his fellow travellers well.
Imagine the media coverage if our intrepid spaceman had come from Scotland.
Tim’s wife Rebecca hails from Perthshire, however, so it was sad that BBC Scotland barely mentioned the Scottish connection. STV did acknowledge the fact.
Bob Harper. 63a Pitteweem Road, Anstruther.
Comfort from native beliefs
Sir, – Over the past few weeks there have been a few letters from secularists and people of faith, each setting out their positions.
Christians hold no doubts about their faith and the existence of their God.
Sometimes our children are given no choice and are christened at birth but drift away from their church.
I am always intrigued by the way some profess that their god is the only god.
There are many gods and many more interesting and harmonious than the Christian one.
While on holiday in Canada, I visited a Native American/Canadian centre.
I listened to a lecture on native beliefs. It was one of the most beautiful and enlightening things I have ever heard on harmonious living and care which put Church of Scotland/Catholic sermons in the must-be-avoided category.
Bryan Auchterlonie. Bluebell Cottage, Ardargie.
Recipe was in poor taste
Sir, – On December 10, you carried a story, “Hard to stomach: Scotland’s poor diet”, which highlighted the problems caused by this country’s high-fat, high-sugar diet.
In the same issue, in the Craigie column, you had an item which was a thinly disguised advertisement for a pure sugar product. The recipe included more than one-and-a-half teacups of sweets plus icing and cupcakes. I would not like to calculate the sugar content of this recipe.
To compound the problem, you have even included a link to a website for more high-sugar recipes.
Does your paper wish to be part of the solution or part of the problem?
Noel Muir. 66 Sherbrook Street, Dundee.
Evil roots of British Empire
Sir, – Like all apologists for the British Empire, Kenneth Miln (December 16) chooses to ignore its bloody history.
The British Empire was not on a benign evangelical mission. It plundered resources and enslaved native peoples.
Anyone who resisted was tortured and hanged.
Hans Sloane, for example, listed the punishments for a variety of offences for slaves in 18th century empire. These included castration and mutilation.
In the late Victorian period, between 12 and 29 million Indians were starved to death by British policy.
Britain killed 100,000 Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s, interring 320,000 of them in camps.
The British Empire was a force of evil which committed many of the worst crimes in history.
Alan Hinnrichs. 2 Gillespie Terrace, Dundee.