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Scottish Parliament Speech: Scotland's Infrastructure (Investment) (June 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

This has been a fascinating debate, as much as anything else for the variety of views expressed by members of the former Administration, ranging from the far left to the apologetic neo-right.

The debate has reminded me of a person whom no one in the chamber - not even a political anorak like myself - will ever have heard of: the right hon Percy John Pybus. He nationalised London transport in 1932. He was a Conservative, taking over a bill piloted by Herbert Morrison under the Labour Government of the previous year, and he used funds made available to him by the Bank of England, which had in effect been nationalised by Andrew Bonar Law in 1917.

We are in a period of change in the economic politics of this country that is similar to what hit in 1929 to 1931. We are facing the period of peak oil and - much more dramatic - the complete collapse of the housing retail driver, which has produced apparent affluence in the past few years.

A nice quotation turned up when I was looking through The Guardian archives this morning: "When Gordon Brown looks back on his career and broods darkly on why he never became prime minister" - this was written in 2001 - "London Underground may be carved on his heart." That was the underground that Gordon privatised and handed over to Metronet. What became of Metronet? Ask the bankruptcy commissioners.

That shows that, before us, there is a tidal shift in economics. Anyone trying to raise social product capital over the past 10 years has been faced by the runaway housing inflation in this country. In Germany, the price of housing has roughly flat-lined; here, a house purchased in a London suburb for £50,000 in 1986 is now worth £500,000. That gain has competed with the need to provide social product capital for our infrastructure, notably for our transportation system.

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

The problem is that our kids will have to pay the social costs involved in the housing retail driver that has dominated this country until now. Furthermore, our economic models have essentially been derived from the services sector. As a former military officer, Mr Rumbles will understand the cost-plus notion, in which the plus comes from the contractors. They are the people who have given us the great Chinook - £500 million spent on helicopters that have never flown. They are the people who have given us a situation in Scotland in which what remains of our heavy industry is run by BAE Systems - not a company to be trusted with much.

I want finally to make one point about an area of infrastructure that we have not examined to any depth: maritime communications. That is up for grabs at the moment with the likely cessation of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry. We can go in for infrastructure investment in this area by using the long-distance trans-European transport networks programme, which could produce, with the input of the Scottish Government, the sort of collaboration that would provide not only a service from Zeebrugge to Rosyth but, as Napier University has been exploring, the notion of communications right up the eastern coast to Orkney, Scandinavia, Iceland and beyond. That would be a transport system worthy of the arc of opportunity. That is the sort of thing that would cost us £1 billion over 30 years - a fortieth of what Gordon Brown has blown on the northern rocks.

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