IT no longer matters whether England’s high-speed train system is terminated, cut back, or splutters on into a tunnel of compromise: the damage is already done. The job has been botched.

HS2 was never intended to reach Scotland and more shamefully, it was never intended to cross the border to Wales. It was, according to the political lingo of the day, a central plank of the “levelling-up agenda”, designed at least superficially to address the worst anomalies of the north/south divide.

It has been an abject failure. Although it should have been built first, the leg of the project intended to address the horrendous rail service between Leeds and Manchester was an early casualty, then gradually other plans were compromised.

Perhaps the most humiliating landmark of all was the unveiling of an artist’s impression of the Old Oak Common station, described as “a new super-hub set to be the best-connected and largest new railway station ever built in the UK”.

The brash confidence concealed an overwhelming weakness. HS2 would depart from Old Oak Common and would not even reach London’s established rail terminus at Euston Station.

The National: HS2

Old Oak Common is a patchwork of old railway yards near Harlesden, meaning that super-duper passengers thrusting their way north to bring wealth and opportunity in their briefcases would have to board a local train and then change before they could even stride aboard the future.

If Sunak reels in the galloping cost of HS2 and brings plans to build further north to an end, the legacy will be a pathetic shortfall– a railway line that runs from Birmingham Curzon Street to Harlesden. It is not too melodramatic to say it will be the worst Tory mismanagement since the Beeching Cuts of the 1960s.

HS2 has exposed English exceptionalism at its most delusional and may yet be the crisis that brings Rishi Sunak’s government to its knees. They persistently boast about leading the world and can barely reach Walsall without surrendering.

Ironically, the Prime Minister and his current Cabinet are only in part to blame.

Although HS2 was first mooted by the Labour government in less economically stretched times, it had the awful misfortune to become a pet project for Boris Johnson and his big swinging dick school of modern politics.

Johnson’s personality is notoriously unsuited to complex projects. His flashy, attention-seeking approach to life, his willingness to busk it in meetings, his poor attention to detail and his unwillingness to master complex documents has left a scattered trail of misguided projects in his wake.

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In 2008, as mayor of London, Johnson argued that Heathrow should be scrapped and replaced by an island airport in the Thames. “Boris Island”, as the project was nicknamed, would arguably have limited noise pollution because planes would fly over the river rather than densely populated parts of the capital. It was imagined that the four-runway airport would be built on an artificial platform made of landfill near the Isle of Sheppey and operate 24 hours a day.

An unlikely coalition of environmentalists and business entrepreneurs opposed the idea as the mood against the expansion of Heathrow intensified.

Soon after the airport on quicksand came the Garden Bridge over the River Thames which was sold to the excitable Johnson by a group led by the actress Joanna Lumley. Originally pitched as a floral pathway over the river to be funded by private enterprise, the costs ballooned to £185 million and in 2016, £53m –of which £43m was public funding – was diverted to Johnson’s latest vanity project.

The Garden Bridge was eventually abandoned after sustained accusations of conflicts of interest and a potential misuse of Department of Transport funding.

Unperturbed by the collapse of a new Kent airport built on sands near Sheppey, and the Floral Bridge that no one ever walked over, there was a sense of inevitability that the now prime minister would champion HS2, branding it the fastest train in the world. An overweening ego allied with a taste for un-costed public funding laid the tracks for a full-scale infrastructural fiasco.

The National: HS2 Protest

Predictably, if political analysts ever cared, HS2 came up against another rarely mentioned barrier, a long-standing gut instinct among millions of residents across the north of England from the housing schemes of Hull to the red-brick terraces of Lancashire – that the Parliament in London favoured the south and saw the north of England as a distant irritant.

The anger reached an understandable boiling point as various public bodies and government departments piled money into the bungled Crossrail project, now operational as the Elizabeth Line, a transport link across London, as rail services in the most populous areas of the north festered into deathly decline.

Cancelling HS2 would be a hammer blow to the north of England and an electoral disaster for the Conservative Party’s hopes of retaining votes in the red-wall constituencies. Announcing it at a conference in Manchester would be cruel theatre and electoral suicide.

Events have left Rishi Sunak with no room for manoeuvre. Even if he commits to the north of England leg of the high-speed rail network, it will only be confirming what was promised years ago and will feel like too little too late. The north has lost patience with this government.

Those of us that live in Scotland can only wish the northern towns and cities well, in the face of a new generation of free-market ideologues that openly despise public investment and baulk at the idea that increased taxation for the rich should fund public infrastructure.

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Although it is sorely tempting, we should avoid smirking at the HS2 fiasco. Grand infrastructure projects are problematic around the world, the much-hyped Pacific Coast Line that was envisaged to link Los Angeles and San Francisco will now reach neither. The bewildering complexities of building a high-speed rail link on the Pacific Coast with all its geological and environmental factors has overwhelmed planners.

Civic Scotland has had numerous setbacks too – the delay and overspend of the Scottish Parliament, the Edinburgh Trams System and the glacial pace of “dualling” the A9 are the most obvious.

Set against that is the remarkable delivery of the Queensferry Crossing ahead of time and on budget which still stands as an exception and not the rule. Most Scots have now forgotten how big and potentially fraught the crossing was. The Principal Contract was awarded back in April 2011 to the Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors (FCBC) consortium. The successful tender price of £790m was significantly below the original estimated price range of £900 to £1.2 billion.

Such were the complex challenges, that the consortium drew on infrastructure skills from around the world including Hochtief from Germany, American Bridge from Pittsburgh, USA, Dragados from Spain and Morrison Construction from Scotland.

A popular myth, exaggerated by schisms within the self-governance movement, is that Alex Salmond single-handedly built the bridge, never tiring to take a tea break. It was a phenomenally complex success with many unsung heroes.

Much as we may feel inclined, there is not much room for political grandstanding when it comes to major infrastructure projects. But the HS2 fiasco has blasted a hole in the theory that Westminster knows best and that the House of Commons is the mother of all parliaments. It marks the end of the old Unionist myth that Westminster is the place where serious politicians gravitate.