"IT’S open!” It was hard for Radio Scotland’s reporter to keep the air of surprise and faint disappointment from her voice.

The Queensferry Crossing had reopened at lunchtime yesterday after its surprise closure on Monday when big lumps of ice fell from bridge cables.

Now let’s not get too cocky. Since no-one seems to understand exactly why the bridge succumbed to ice build-up this week, after shrugging off the Beast from the East last year, it’s possible the next burst of windy, wintry weather will reproduce the problem.

But in all likelihood, a few days of traffic disruption has come to an end, and the bridge has retained her proud record of not closing because of high winds.

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Of course, the Queensferry Crossing was not the only bridge affected by winds and icy weather. Around the world about 100 bridges also closed – two bridges connecting Quebec City and Levis were closed for four days because of ice accumulating on the super-structure. Meanwhile the Humber Bridge was closed to high-sided vehicles due to high winds; Cawood Bridge near Selby was closed due to flooding; the Old Severn Bridge was closed after a lorry overturned in high winds; the A52 Clifton Bridge in Nottingham was closed; the Orwell Bridge near Ipswich was closed and will be again this weekend, and the Miners Bridge in Betws-y-Coed was completely washed away.

Of course, no-one inconvenienced by these bridge closures demanded their Prime Minister’s head on a platter or suggested s/he should cancel all other engagements, as Tory leader Jackson Carlaw (below) suggested Nicola Sturgeon should do in a bizarre tweet, sent a few hours before the bridge re-opened.

The National:

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So, let’s applaud the plucky young Queensferry Crossing. It’s remained open 34 times in wind speeds that would’ve closed the Forth Road Bridge – and it was opened on time and under budget.

Poor young bridge. It’s got nowt going for it at all.

Now no-one can be happy about the dangers that faced drivers from massive, falling lumps of ice or the lengthy diversions. But it’s important to learn from problems – and that’s what seems to have happened.

The Scottish Government looks set to ensure that road maintenance on the old Forth Road Bridge won’t happen if ice sensors warn of potential trouble on the Queensferry Crossing in future.

There were 50% more bus journeys and thousands of Fife car commuters switched to the train without sinking the rail service. Perhaps exposure to the ease of public transport journeys will push some people to change their travel plans permanently.

But for much of the media, there would be no silver linings. Rarely has a bridge closure become so swiftly and totally weaponised with ludicrously over-the-top headlines like “Farce Road Bridge” or “Bridge closure brings Scotland to a standstill”.

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Of course, we all know why. Any blow landed on the Scottish Government is also a proxy blow to the cause of independence. It’s illogical, sure. But the Queensferry temporary closure does come in the wake of other design problems with new hospitals and ferries, which in turn have rekindled memories of the trams fiasco and the Scottish Parliament building saga. All were the responsibility of different public bodies. But that list, which hovers in people’s minds and is hammered out every week by opposition parties at First Minister’s Questions, makes swithering voters doubt the competence of Scots to pull off anything big and bold.

So, a bit of perspective is called for.

First of all, the long roll-call of Westminster Government infrastructure cock-ups is truly impressive.

Take Crossrail – a rail line running through central London – which won’t be fully open until mid-2022, four years late and £2 billion over budget, slowed down in part by allowing contractors to pour the wrong mix of concrete into Bond Street station. Did you hear about that? No, me neither.

The National: The Millennium Dome was a catastrophic failureThe Millennium Dome was a catastrophic failure

Or the Millennium Dome which attracted only 50% of a predicted 12 million visitors and cost taxpayers £1.8 million a month to upkeep, while it sat unloved and unsold for five years before redevelopment as the O2 arena.

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Or the Channel Tunnel which opened in 1994, one year behind schedule and £2bn over budget. Just like HS2, in fact.

Now let’s keep things in proportion.

No current “build” problem faced by the Scottish Government is on the epic scale of these Westminster blunders.

But it’s strange. Some big project failures are seared into our souls, whilst others are easily forgotten. Could that have something to do with the confidence/arrogance levels of the politicians who commission them?

Boris Johnson can sound light-hearted about spending billions (or wasting billions on No Deal Brexit planning) and seems to get away with it. Perhaps politicians who appear “to the manor born”, can inflate the importance of new projects with flowery rhetoric and shameless exaggeration, so that no-one notices the illegal deportation of British citizens or news about tariffs on EU exports going on in the background.

“In the 21st century this United Kingdom still has the vision to dream big dreams and the courage to bring those dreams about.”

It’s a rail line, not the excavation of Atlantis, Boris.

“We [must] have the guts and the foresight to drive it through.”


In modest, down-to-earth Scotland, our politicians dinnae talk up big projects in the same booming Boris manner.

The National: Boris Johnson has famously spent billions on failed projectsBoris Johnson has famously spent billions on failed projects

IN many ways, that’s both a relief and a canny precaution against possible snags. But undue modesty can also leave that list of “problem projects” turning over constantly in people’s minds.

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It’s not just the work of the Unionist media – it’s human nature.

Folk – and news organisations – don’t remember the myriad problem-free projects that finish on time and on budget. They remember, discuss, dissect and analyse the ones that go wrong.

Combine that entirely normal human tendency with the fact that Scotland has experienced under-investment, under-development and a consequent lack of confidence for centuries, and every snag, teething problem, early difficulty or downright mistake on a large infrastructure project seems to prove our governance systems are rubbish, our politicians are useless and essentially, we, the Scots are just crap.

So, it’s important to get some perspective.

According to Nick Davies from the independent Institute for Government think tank: “Nine out of 10 mega-projects around the world (where costs are more than £1bn) go over time and over budget.” And that’s not because people or systems are inherently hopeless.

I know. We expect better.

But all governments make mistakes, all procurement processes are prone to bad decisions and all new structures and buildings throw up hitherto unforeseen difficulties. In a rational, mature society, it’s how these problems are resolved that really matters, not whether small, resolvable problems arise in the first place. The danger of this week’s hysterical media reaction to the temporary closure of one new bridge is that it encourages a defensive reaction – a culture of cover-up, denial and secrecy and an unwillingness to learn and improve, as all parts of the public sector must do.

Let’s hope the Scottish Government is confident and responsible enough not to fall into that trap.