OPPOSITION parties rounded on Scotland’s Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson today (tues) demanding he explain why the country was not better prepared for the crippling effects of the extreme winter weather after hundreds were stranded in their vehicles on Scotland’s major roads on Monday.
Hundreds if not thousands of people spent a chilling night in their cars following the onset of harsh winter weather and politicians have asked the SNP Government why the transport network was not better prepared and travellers not better informed.
The Scottish Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have demanded an explanation from the SNP Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson as to why transport conditions became so bad on Monday and why hundreds of people were left stranded in their cars.
While business leaders called for a full blown inquiry.
Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, MSP, wanted to know why the situation got so severe for travellers and they did not receive more warning of the dangerous conditions given that Scotland has experienced the worst winter weather for 40 years.
Mr Gray said: “We must have explanation why the media got it right and the Scottish government got it wrong.
“On Sunday night there were forecasts of snow overnight and on Monday morning with severely deteriorating conditions.
“A clear warning should have gone out.
“But the Transport minister’s excuse is they had different information which he finally admitted late on Monday night was wrong.
“Why after a week of the worst weather on record for over 40 years there was not greater state of alert by the Scottish government needs to be explained?
“Stewart Stevenson was claiming there was ‘a first class response’ at the very moment thousands of people were stuck on roads across Scotland in freezing conditions.
“Why were people not warned off the motorways when they were getting stuck early on Monday morning?
“The Scottish government only called an emergency meeting late on Monday evening. It was only then the Transport minister issued helpline numbers on television. This was more than 12 hours after many people had been stranded.”
The Scottish Conservatives were equally unimpressed by the way in which the Scottish Government had prepared the transport network, and have claimed the Scottish infrastructure “totally collapsed”.
Jackson Carlaw, MSP, Shadow Minister for Transport, said: “Even as we pay tribute to the heroics of countless individuals struggling to keep Scotland moving and the many examples of individual kindnesses to bring much needed and overdue relief to those stranded in extraordinary sub zero conditions, it is clear that for thousands of motorists and travellers and particularly those across the central belt of Scotland, the last 24 hours have been truly desperate.
“There is no point in pretending other than that there has been a total collapse of our transport infrastructure. At the very least, most Scots will have expected that lessons should have been learned from last winter’s snowfalls, yet it is clear that once again our transport network is paralysed.
“Today, our first priority is to assist anyone still in difficulty. Thereafter, Stewart Stevenson must lead the Scottish Parliament in a full investigation into Scotland’s preparedness for future severe winter weather and the co-ordination of our national response.
“We cannot go on planning exclusively for changes in the climate in 50 years and ignore the reality of today’s weather. The Transport Minister must also clear up why the BBC forecast yesterday’s snowfall but the Scottish Government apparently wasn’t listening.
“Where did Stewart Stevenson get his advice?
“While we cannot be prepared for every and any eventuality, it is our duty to ensure that Scotland’s response is more effective than it patently currently is.
“This is not the time to bluster or indulge in a ‘blame game’ but rather to take proper measure of our ability to cope in severe weather. We must ensure that Scotland is better informed and prepared next time – recognising that ‘next time’ could be imminent.”
The Liberal Democrats have also thrown their weight behind the argument and ask the Transport Minister to qualify his reasoning for blaming weather forecasters for the chaos that spread across Scotland’s transport infrastructure.
The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott, MSP, said: “We need to know if the Government convened their emergency committee on Sunday in response to the severe weather warnings that were being broadcast by forecasters all weekend.
“As a former Transport Minister, I know fine well that the Met Office sits on that committee and would have briefed Ministers about the approaching weather conditions.
“I was briefed by the Met Office in my living room courtesy of my television. I knew that heavy snowfall was predicted at the weekend, as did many other mere mortals. Ministers certainly had time to plan for yesterday’s chaotic scenes.
“It is unbelievable that Stewart Stevenson has blamed the Government’s poor performance on weather forecasts.
“This excuse is even more slippery than the roads.
“The Transport Minister has apologised for the Government’s lacklustre response that left people stranded for hours. He now needs to add to that with an apology to forecasters.”
Scottish Labour Transport Spokesman, Charlie Gordon applauded the work of the emergency services but has questioned the SNP’s preparations for this weather.
“I want to pay tribute to the work done by the emergency services to keep people safe, but we have just experienced the worst gridlock in living memory and hundreds of drivers spent the night stranded in their cars.
“We have to ask serious questions about whether there was a failure of planning and the Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson should come before Parliament and explain why he thinks things went so badly wrong.
“It is not good enough for the SNP Government to blame the weather forecast, when heavy snow and ice was predicted by the BBC on Sunday night. Much clearer warnings should have been given telling people not to travel.”
Speaking on Radio Scotland the Transport Minister admitted they had experienced “greater weather than we were ready for”.
He added: “Today we’re now facing temperatures so low that salt is no longer working on the network.
“We’ve actually seen snow ploughs damaged by the solidity of the ice on the M8.”
“We will continue to make very substantial efforts indeed, but I’m sorry it will take some time before we’re back to anything approaching normal.”
He added: “I think there is an acceptance that the advice we were working on did not meet the requirements.
“We can’t allow that to happen again.”
“My focus this morning – and I’m sure this is what people will require of me, and of everyone else – is to resolve the problems.
“We will review our performance very carefully, once we’ve got the immediate problems dealt with.
“That I am sure is what people wish us to do.”
However the Federation of Small Businesses stepped up the pressure by demanding an inquiry.
Scottish Policy Convenor Andy Willox said: “Business people and their staff can’t get to work, orders can’t get to customers and their stock is stranded– we can only speculate about true scale of the impact on an already fragile economy.
“But thereafter there must be an enquiry into how this failure happened, the extent of its effects and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“Many small businesses are furious – not because they don’t understand that the weather conditions are difficult and exceptional, not because they don’t understand that many people are working exceptionally hard, but because they feel left in the dark.
“The business community expects those public bodies charged with keeping Scotland moving to communicate key messages in a co-ordinated manner.”