Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Glasgow Council Leader’s room yesterday when Cllr Steven Purcell took the call from the Scottish Government telling him that they were intending to cancel the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. It was being ditched from Scotland’s spending priorities like the Edinburgh rail link was binned when the SNP took over in 2007.
There is little doubt that after the call which was made just before Finance Secretary John Swinney stood to make the announcement the expletives would have been flying from the usually mild-mannered Labour member.
Purcell is the youngest council leader in the country and was enthusiastically involved with the Commonwealth Games bid and the airport link was a key component of the promise made to win the event. Purcell stood œshoulder to shoulder with Alex Salmond in Sri Lanka when the success for Scotland’s largest city was announced. He said at the time œthe 2014 Commonwealth Games will create a lasting legacy for Glasgow, both economically and socially. The games will change the city, and change people’s lives. That legacy is a bit tarnished if the SNP plans are back by the parliament.
There is now œoutrage in Glasgow that the rail link is ditched as part of the budget process. Purcell does not pull any punches when he claims that scrapping the plan is œa dagger in the heart of Glasgow.
In the week that Gordon Brown finally admitted that cuts lie ahead, the Scottish Government started wielding their budget claymore with the first real terms funding reduction since devolution. Of course the Minority SNP Government are swift to direct blame to SW1 but they now face the wrath of the west of Scotland and may well now be out of the race in the Glasgow North East by election.
Along with the rail project other transport funding is down £87 million and housing and regeneration is set to fall by £260million. The enterprise budget will be down as will spending on tourism and £40 million is to be stripped from the health budget.
In contrast, funding is to be increased on what the opposition claim to be First Minister Alex Salmond’s œvanity projects with extra cash promised for the Scottish Futures Trust the SNP’s mechanism to deliver public capital building projects which has not yet delivered a single new school or hospital. Other winners include extra funds for œinternational relations, the police and the Gaelic language so if you are a policeman from Stornoway promoting Scotland abroad you are quids in!
So ahead will lie weeks of wrangling over the minority SNP’s draft budget every year since Alex Salmond took control in Scotland the political brinkmanship gets more precarious. Last year it resulted in the budget being torn up and the process beginning again after Labour, Lib Dems and crucially the Greens refused to endorse the plans. The annual autumnal ritual of budget tightrope walking is now in full swing.
This year it is again unlikely that the draft budget will get the support of the parliament unless there are significant changes. As in years past what may emerge is a composite bill which everyone agrees but no one is happy with.
The problem for the opposition parties is that although they can squeal about the decisions made by the SNP they have the same amount of cash to divide as John Swinney and cuts have to be made somewhere¦whether the dagger is withdrawn from Glasgow’s heart remains to be seen.