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Scottish Parliament Speech: Forth Crossing (January 2009)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

No hurricane that might hit any future Forth bridge would appear to be anything like the weather conditions that surround not only the immediate business of its funding, but the situation in the finance markets of the world. We have seen the mysteries of high finance become hocus-pocus schemes that make 1920s American fraudsters seem mere amateurs. Therefore, I want to make a plea and argue for a return to barter from finance.

I say that for two reasons. First, the kingdom of Fife is nowadays one of the major industrial centres of Scotland. It is a heavily urbanised area, which really ought to be a city; if it were, it would, with a population of more than 300,000, be the third largest city in Scotland. In Rosyth, Burntisland and Methil, Fife also has a heavy to medium industrial base that is potentially the best sited and most efficient in Britain for the exploitation of new renewables. That it even has a firm - Burntisland Fabrications Ltd - that has set up a subsidiary in Germany is amazing. I have not heard of that sort of export from Scotland for a long time.

Members must remember that when the original or old Forth road bridge was built in the 1960s, it was constructed from steel from Motherwell and Cleveland, and its wire ropes came from Musselburgh - where the rope works have been transmogrified into yet another Tesco. The components of the new bridge will probably have to be almost wholly imported in a period in which peak oil and the $200 barrel of oil - briefly away, for the moment - are likely to loom again and mean that carbon costs will be a major problem if we delay. On the other hand, I believe that the bridge can be packaged and prioritised with other of the Government's infrastructure, renewables, and reindustrialisation priorities to make it an efficient form of political and economic barter. So, may I suggest a wider funding horizon?

The Scottish Government is committed to a nuclear-free and industrially strong Scotland, and that coincides with something that people in Europe would not have imagined a decade ago - reindustrialisation. The amount of investment in productive industry - metal bashing, as the City used to sneer - has gone up, notably in Germany. In Baden-W├╝rttemberg, industrial production is now 35 per cent whereas it was 30 per cent a decade ago. To a great extent, that growth stems from renewable energy.

Now, Scotland is the powerhouse for such industry. Along our Atlantic coast could come the sort of renewable energy for which Germany is in desperate need. Out of Norway, the wise virgin that conserved its oil power, a pensions fund is accumulating hundreds of millions of pounds. Germany has the technology, training, solar and wind power, but it remains desperate for wave and tidal energy. So, in addition to the borrowing powers that any sensible British Government will concede to a Scottish Government - as its fans in the Calman commission are pleading with it to do - should we not make a pitch to the people in Europe who need our power to give us the necessary infrastructural investment and technological assistance?

Over and above all that, we must plan to use the period when the bridge is under construction. We must use the bridge works. The most famous Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford, described every one of his great projects as a true "working academy" for the nation. The bridge could be our means of retechnologising the country and, from a narrow Fife perspective, it could mean the creation of a new Scottish city.

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