It looks very much like we will all have a white christmas, at least here in Scotland. Though more snowfalls are unlikely, the snow we have will remain for some time as we continue to suffer sub zero temperatures. This will the second Christmas in a row with snow lying around. However last year the snow came just before Christmas and only lasted a couple of weeks or so. This time the snow started in late November, so will have had a whole month or more of snow.
While this all makes for some stunning photos and a bit of sledging for those brave enough, the reality is that all this snow has come at a terrible cost for most of us. For it is not just the snow, it is the bitter sub zero temperatures that have come with the snow which has caused all the troubles. Transport of any kind has become a bit of a nightmare for many people. With the low temperatures the snow has not just remained, but has in many places turned to ice. Most of the pavements on our street are still icy and dangerous to walk over. It is the same all the way into the centre of Broughty Ferry. What should be a pleasant stroll along the estuary for a bit of local shopping has become a bit of a life threatening endeavour. Luckily for us the main roads were cleared fairly early on and have been kept clear ever since, including our street. Some of the side streets though have probably never been properly cleared. This is the case with Elena’s street in Tayport. We have also been lucky in that the local buses have kept running more or less all through the snow.
This has not been the case with trains, very few of which have ventured north of Edinburgh. Nor with airplanes. First we had the closure of Scottish airports and recently the closure of the main London airports which of course have had a knock on effect for Scottish air travellers. Though we have been spared the worst, here in Dundee, other parts of Scotland have suffered some trully terrible conditions. Initially the north east bore the brunt of the bad weather with roads brought to a closure and people having to spend the night trapped in their cars. Later on similar conditions spread to Glasgow and west central Scotland with even worse outcomes for road users. Along with the worsening transport conditions came the closure of schools, with most schools in the east and north shut down for the whole of the first week of the bad weather. Since then they have mostly stayed open.
These have been trully unprecedented weather conditions. I cannot remember anything quite as bad for so long a period. The winter of 1947 was apparently very, very bad, but as this was just after I was born, (not my fault, really) I have no memory of that winter. During the late 1950s and the early 1960s we did have cold and snowy winters in St Andrews. A playing field in the town would be regularly flooded to make a skating rink and just about everyone owned a pair of ice skates. Most people would also have a sledge. My Dad made mine and we would haul the thing up the nearest little hill and slide down. However I don’t think we had snow lying about for every Christmas and I don’t really remember how long the snow lasted. Certainly since then we have had nothing in any way comparable to the present white out. The normal pattern over the last couple of decades is for two or three snowfalls over the winter period, usually between January and March. Each would last for two or three days and then magically wash away. So this current combination of repeated snowfalls with continuous sub zero temperatures is way out of anyone’s expectations.
On the whole, despite the atrocious weather, most people have just got on with life. Not so however, the opposition politicians, backed up by an aggressive media. All out to somehow pin the blame for the transport chaos on the SNP government. Now, I don’t especially blame the politicians, as politics is a pretty messy business and the SNP can usually give as good as it gets. Nevertheless some of the accusations hurled by Labour, Tory and LibDem MSPs bordered on downright lying. Either that or complete ignorance. Perhaps both in some cases. I also do not expect much from the media, which is completely hostile to Scottish independence and hence to the SNP government. However the BBC is a public service body, paid for by all of us, with a clear duty to be impartial and honest. BBC Scotland’s coverage of the worst of the weather chaos left a lot to be desired. From the beginning they seemed out to get the Scottish Transport Minister, a call quickly followed up by the opposition parties. The fact that Scotland as a whole and west central Scotland in particular faced some totally unprecedented levels of snow was just ignored. Scottish journalist Joan Mcalpine has some very good comments on the BBC’s coverage in her blog, Go Lassie Go. She brings out the rather disturbing extent to which senior staff and reporters at BBC Scotland have very close links with the Labour Party. In the event the Transport Minister did resign - the SNP is a minority government. However what has made this attack on the SNP government so despicable is what has subsequently happened in England. There in recent weeks there has been similar transport chaos, with trains cancelled, pile-ups on roads and the closure of two of the world’s largest airports. Yet the BBC in England has generally treated all this in a fairly light hearted manner. There has absolutely no aggressive grilling of the English Transport Minister - there has been very little grilling of any kind. Even the Labour Party has been pretty muted in its criticisms. Belatedly the BBC has begun to ask questions - but to the rail companies and the airports and airlines. Now this fine, these are the people who have most responsibility for keeping our transport system working after all, not the Minister. But why oh why did BBC Scotland no adopt a similar line? I cannot recall the head of Scotrail or the East Coast railway being grilled as to why they could not keep trains running up to Aberdeen. Or any grilling of the private companies charged with maintaining our motorways. Perhaps that would require some real research - much easier apparently to attack the Minister.
It is also worth noting in all this that other parts of Europe have also suffered greatly on account of this unprecedented cold weather. Not just the usual suspects - Sweden, Norway et all - but France, Germany and parts of Spain have all seen serious transport chaos during December. Yet not one of their Transport Ministers has been forced to resign.
However this is the season of goodwill, and we should make the most of the snow. There have been some lovely snowmen in nearby gardens and it looks like there will be outdoor curling for the first time in many a year. If you can get to the ski centres this must be a great time for winter sports. And the odd snowball fight can raise the spirits a bit. So let us enjoy what is left of the snow. A Merry, if not white, Christmas to one and all.