Having spent the best part of two years researching and writing my forthcoming book – Waverley Route: the Life, Death & Rebirth of the Borders Railway – I have been following with interest the many twists and turns of the Borders Party in its opposition to the new railway.
As an outsider it has always struck me as odd that any Borderer should be campaigning to retain the Borders’ 40-plus years status as the only mainland region of Britain without a rail service – with Hawick and Galashiels further from the nearest railway stations than any other towns of their size in Britain.
The latest protests over the Falahill A7 diversion surely mark the nadir of thoughtless opposition. To start banging the drum about adding less than 20 seconds to the average car journey is to lose all sense of proportion, but to then claim that this will cost motorists a potential £3.5million in potential lost wages over 60 years – around 4p a journey – is utterly meaningless.
It seems to me that – despite some legitimate concerns about the future of the region – at heart the Borders Party has long been using the future railway as a scapegoat for problems that already exist, dating back to a time far in advance of when delivery of the line was confirmed.
In Nicholas Watson’s December 21, 2006, letter to TheSouthern, for example, he commented: “The heart of Gala is already being ripped out … What damage is done to our local economy by the attendant superstores? … Will Hawick and Jedburgh benefit from more of their residents shopping in Galashiels?”
His long-term vision of the Borders as “a place where people choose to live and where investors locate because of our unrivalled heritage and our strong, supporting communities” no doubt strikes a chord with most rail supporters.
But the assertion that “we want a fast, flexible bus service which would knock the spots off the proposed railway, both economically and environmentally” is a naïve view of public transport policy and provision – and of the underwhelming realities of the X95 bus from Hawick and Galashiels to Edinburgh. The Borders Party’s rosy view of buses is unlikely to have been informed by much experience of actually using them, nor by any intention of patronising them in the future.
Isn’t it time for the Borders Party to accept that the railway is coming and to make sure it provides the widest possible benefit for the Borders?