Edinburgh Airport Rail Links

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:00 pm on 27 September 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:00, 27 September 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-546, in the name of John Swinney, on rail links to Edinburgh airport. I call John Swinney to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament supports the Scottish Government's plans to develop rail links to Edinburgh airport and to improve other rail services.—[John Swinney.]

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Iain Gray to speak to and move amendment S3M-546.1.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour 3:25, 27 September 2007

On many occasions, my colleagues and I have risen to criticise the Government for reneging on its manifesto promises. I admit that the motion that it has brought to the chamber today fulfils a manifesto promise, albeit an entirely wrong-headed one. It is important to point that out: members should be clear about the promise that the Scottish National Party made. It promised to cancel EARL come what may—not if it was over budget or behind schedule; not if it had management problems; and not if there was a delay in procurement. The project was to be cancelled, full stop.

For some reason, ministers felt compelled to dress up that political decision. First, they claimed that costs were out of control. When they were asked to produce the evidence, they could not. They then asked the Auditor General to construct the evidence, but he did not. They then claimed that the project was irretrievably broken, but it was not. Today, they said that they have found a better alternative, but they have not. They then presented other—extremely welcome—improvements to rail lines in central Scotland, as if the funding for those projects depended on EARL's cancellation, but it does not. We would have done those things, as well as deliver EARL.

The SNP wants to cancel EARL, but not for any of those reasons; it planned to sacrifice the project to release moneys to fund other promises that it has made. Back in March, during the passage of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill in the previous session of the Parliament, Fergus Ewing gave the game away by saying

"that the money can be better spent on other projects." —[Official Report, 14 March 2007; c 33136.]

He made clear that he meant projects in his constituency, as did Rob Gibson—in a piece in his local paper of 28 June this year—and Brian Adam, in a members' business debate only last night on the Aberdeen western peripheral route. That is why ministers have been ducking and diving, seeking ways to defy the will of the Parliament.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth said in the previous debate on the subject that he would abide by the will of the Parliament, only to walk straight into a press briefing in which he conceded the case for Edinburgh trams, but averred that EARL had "had it".

Even this week, the cabinet secretary and his ministerial colleagues attempted to avoid the full scrutiny of the debate that they had promised—they hoped to get by with a statement alone. Let us be clear: on 27 June, the Parliament instructed ministers to continue to progress the EARL project by resolving the governance issues that the Auditor General had identified. Instead of that, the cabinet secretary and his ministerial colleagues stopped work there and then on EARL. Today, they have returned to the chamber with a poorer alternative and, in so doing, they have defied and failed the Parliament, failed Scotland and failed our capital city.

For the Tories, Mr McLetchie described the SNP position on EARL as "depressing negativity". He went on to say:

"the SNP policy on the rail link and trams is hostile to the interests of our capital city and its role as a driver of the Scottish economy. The SNP is an anti-Edinburgh party, and its transport policy speaks volumes about its parochialism and provincialism."—[Official Report, 14 March 2007; c33141.]

That is still true today, and I am sorry if the Tories have now U-turned into the SNP's siding of negativity, parochialism and provincialism.

The project that our amendment supports would provide the best cost benefit ratio of any of the planned rail projects in Scotland—2.16:1 over 60 years—and almost £1 billion of benefit in the first 30 years. It would remove 1.7 million car journeys from our roads and connect 62 stations—serving 64 per cent of Scotland's population—directly to Edinburgh's airport, without a need to change. We accept that the scheme that the Government proposes is better than having no surface link at all and even that it will provide wider connectivity than a simple spur solution would. However, where are the full costings and the Scottish transport appraisal guidance appraisals? What is the cost benefit ratio? How many car journeys will the proposal save? Does the Government know? No. Does it care? No.

In the minister's peroration about getting out of cars, he forgot to mention that, as Iain Smith rightly said, public transport works when it goes where people want to get to. The Government promises an airport station that is not at the airport and which will not get airport passengers out of their cars. We are promised a journey time from Edinburgh to Glasgow of 35 minutes, which is good and welcome, but it will take almost as long as that to get to Edinburgh's own airport from the city centre. The proposal is simply second best and second rate.

The SNP Government is fond of symbols. It has negotiated flag-flying protocols, changed its headed notepaper and got new ministerial business cards. The decision on EARL is a symbol of how serious the Government is about investing in the infrastructure and convenient international connections that a modern economy needs. EARL would be the kind of fast, simple and direct connection that international travellers expect and are used to elsewhere. What message will we send them if we cannot provide that? What message will we send the business community and the construction and engineering sector? The message will be that flagship projects such as EARL will be agreed, designed, legislated for, budgeted for and then cancelled on a political whim to pay for pork-barrel projects elsewhere.

I have heard EARL described as a Rolls-Royce solution—it is, and why not? The SNP ordered a luxury Lexus limo for its First Minister, so why is it delivering a Reliant Robin rail link for the rest of Scotland? The Government might win the vote on the motion tonight, but if it does it will lose any credibility that it is big enough to take on the sort of projects that Scotland needs in order to compete in the 21st century and it will lose any right that it might ever have had to claim to have vision and ambition for Scotland. [Applause.]

I move amendment S3M-546.1, to leave out from "the Scottish Government's plans" to end and insert:

"the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link as approved on 14 March 2007 and improvements to other rail services."

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Alex Johnstone. Mr Johnstone, you have six minutes.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Yes—you have six minutes.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Thank you—I could not hear for the riot.

The Conservatives have always been strong supporters of the case for a rail link to Edinburgh airport and remain so today. However, we have never been convinced that the hugely expensive and disruptive option of a tunnel beneath a live runway was the best way in which to do that, especially with so many other heavy infrastructure projects on the books. It was us, not the Scottish National Party, who led the way by calling for a thorough examination of cheaper and more appropriate alternatives to the EARL project. Having exposed the total inadequacy of the initial appraisal of the Turnhouse option by the promoter of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill, the Conservatives persuaded the promoter to look again at its figures and produce a totally new assessment of the merits or otherwise of that scheme.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No, thank you.

If the Scottish National Party had been serious about examining alternative ways of connecting Edinburgh airport to the rail network, as it now seems to be, it would have joined us in pursuing further studies of alternatives during the passage of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill, which would by now have saved a great deal of taxpayers' money.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative


The fact remains that Labour and, in particular, the Liberal Democrats, who held the transport brief throughout the second session, are responsible for the managerial paralysis at the heart of the project that was exposed in the Audit Scotland report. In the past four years, both Nicol Stephen, between 2003 and 2005, and Tavish Scott, in 2005 to 2007, presided over a vast number of heavy infrastructure projects that have been characterised by cost overruns and delays, largely because of ministers' steadfast refusal, for reasons of political convenience, to state which projects were deemed to be priorities. By arrogantly insisting on the most expensive scheme and crudely dismissing attempts by the Conservatives and others to suggest alternatives, the Lib-Lab pact stands accused of gross incompetence and an indecent disregard for public finances. Both parties and, in particular, the previous Minister for Transport, Tavish Scott, are bereft of credibility in today's debate and should take the opportunity to apologise to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative


Having abstained at preliminary stage, the Conservatives eventually voted for EARL, on the basis that the previous Executive was not prepared to examine the alternatives. However, following the publication of the Audit Scotland report, we expressed our concerns about the shambolic management arrangements surrounding the project, which are a terrible indictment of the previous Executive's handling of this supposed flagship policy. Although at that stage we did not accept that the report justified cancellation of the project, we strongly supported the expenditure freeze that the Government put in place pending a final decision.

It is now clear that the Edinburgh airport rail link project is in a state of collapse. We are, therefore, delighted that the Government, unlike its predecessor, has agreed with us that an alternative scheme must be sought.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Will the member share with us the evidence that exists to show that the decision to abandon the project is the right decision based on today's information? The minister has not given us that evidence.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I believe that it is the right decision. If the member wants the evidence, he should ask the minister for it.

The Gogar option that the SNP has presented is almost identical to the Turnhouse option that we championed at an earlier stage and has a number of advantages over the EARL project, not least the fact that it ties in well with the tram scheme and will allay the well-known fears of key partners such as the British Airports Authority and Network Rail regarding the proposed tunnel.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No—I am coming to a conclusion.

We strongly support the plans to electrify the Edinburgh to Glasgow route, neglect of which by the previous Executive further complicated EARL, due to the need to decide on the issue prior to procuring new rolling stock.

Key elements of today's proposals will benefit transport across Scotland for a number of years, but there are also difficulties that should be obvious to the Government, having observed what happened to its predecessors. The proposals must be measured and properly costed. We have seen detail of some of the near-future proposals, but little detail of the costs of some of the major proposals that lie further off. I warn the minister not to make the same mistake as his predecessor. He must not commit himself and future Governments to huge, expensive transport projects that do not deliver value for money for the taxpayer and which, ultimately, do not deliver what is claimed for them. The Conservatives will vote in favour of the Government's proposals, because we believe that they are good for Scotland's transport future, that they will deliver for people all over Scotland and that they deliver on the promise that was held out in previous sessions.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 3:39, 27 September 2007

The Scottish National Party wants EARL dead. The SNP, backed by its cosy coalition partners the Tories, will today try to kill a strategic transport project for Scotland. The project is challenging. It is a public transport investment that represents a commitment to Scotland's competitiveness as a destination. However, the SNP-Tory coalition does not want it.

The SNP's solution is not the direct link that Scots, visitors and Scottish businesses want and that the Liberal Democrats want. This morning, the Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce said that the SNP's plan would not encourage businesspeople out of their cars—and Dundee's two constituencies are represented by SNP members, one of whom is a minister. We can identify a theme. Anyone who runs a business or a guesthouse in Aberdeen, Perth, Dundee or Inverness, to name just four cities, all of which are represented by SNP ministers, will now not benefit from a direct, integrated rail service to Edinburgh airport. Inverness Chamber of Commerce, an organisation that is dear to my good friend Mr Ewing, said that EARL should improve the competitiveness of businesses in the north.

People who are coming from Shetland will access Edinburgh airport more quickly than people from Tayside. Can members believe that? A Gogar rail halt is not a direct airport rail link and is not the right solution. The minister gave the game away when it became clear that he does not know the costs or even where the station will be. The proposal is policy on the hoof, which has been accepted by the Conservatives, who are sitting on my very far right.

If the direct rail link was built, people would leave a train that had come from one of 62 stations throughout Scotland and take a lift straight into the airport's departure hall—as people do in Oslo and Zurich and will soon be able to do in Dublin. That will not happen in Scotland.

The Gogar option depends on trams. Trams were passionately opposed by Alex Salmond, John Swinney and Kenny MacAskill but are now the cornerstone of SNP transport policy—I do not know whether to laugh or cry. We will hear no more of the SNP's claim that money earmarked for trams could pay for the A9; the SNP backs trams completely. I hope that members have noticed that Mr Stevenson is shaking his head; the SNP does not know whether it backs trams or opposes them.

The SNP's so-called airport link is utterly dependent on trams.

The SNP's vision for rail in Scotland and what it will spend money on is all about the central belt, as the minister made clear. The minister said that the SNP's vision for electrification is to reach those far-north towns of Dunblane, Alloa and Cumbernauld. We will hear no more about SNP spending being geographically targeted. All the money is going to the central belt, which is the opposite of what the SNP said that it would do.

The Greens, like the Tories, are backing the SNP, because they do not want more people to use the airport. That is a reasonable argument, but the logic of the Greens' position is to back no public transport link to the airport. By backing a link, the Greens make their position as ridiculous as that of the Tories.

I cannot be the only member who read with incredulity the Tories' press statement this morning. The Tories claim that they have always opposed EARL. That is not so; they used to be in favour of it. Iain Gray quoted David McLetchie and I will do so too. Mr McLetchie said:

"the tunnel option represents a better overall outcome in terms of what it delivers".—[Official Report, 14 March 2007; c 33140.]

I agree. The Tories are rewriting history and their position is pretty close to hypocrisy. The Tories have made a U-turn, to prop up the SNP Administration. Why do the Tories not just join the SNP? The two parties are indistinguishable these days.

Mr Stevenson did not mention governance in his statement. Nor did he answer the points that were made in the motion to which the Parliament agreed in June.

The Parliament can invest in Scotland, in public transport and in our ability to compete in the world, or it can vote with the SNP. The Liberal Democrats will vote for Scotland.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 3:44, 27 September 2007

The news that we have received in Scotland this week represents a betrayal of the people of Fife and the rest of Scotland and a betrayal of environmentalists throughout the United Kingdom. The SNP's position demonstrates paucity of ambition and will make us the laughing stock of Europe. Today is a red-letter day for Scotland, because we see our real Government: a coalition of the Tories and the Scottish National Party. We have a right-wing Government in Scotland—there is no doubt about that.

I am certain that ministers hoped that Audit Scotland would provide some evidence that would help to justify the decision that the SNP desperately wants to make: to scrap EARL, which it has now said it will do. The Auditor General's report has not provided that refuge for the SNP Government. As other members have said, value for money was not part of his remit. The Parliament is clear on what that remit was: his review examined the process for estimating project costs and the management of the projects. Audit Scotland was asked to examine the approach to financial and risk management in the two projects that Mr Salmond, Mr MacAskill and Mr Stevenson want cancelled.

The Auditor General's remit cannot be emphasised too much in the debate. Members should consider the views that he arrived at throughout his report. It is important to emphasise that he did not review the projects' operating costs or their projected revenues. Nor did he review the option appraisals for the projects or the benefits that they were expected to generate—and they would have brought real benefit to Scotland had they gone ahead.

Little has been said of the economic and social benefits that would have opened up, such as massive new employment opportunities in the construction and operation of the new railway centre. It would have been a massive new centre, serving 62 other train stations throughout Scotland. If I may speak parochially, that would have meant many more new business opportunities within and outwith Fife for the benefit of Fifers. I am confident that we would all have witnessed major economic benefit in a way that we could not possibly imagine today, but that opportunity has been missed.

When I read the Auditor General's report last night, I formed the opinion that there is evidence that the EARL project is being damaged wholly by the climate of no confidence that has been created singularly by the SNP Government, contrary to what Alex Johnstone said. I guessed that it was wholly because of that climate, but if I was in any doubt, I am no longer in any doubt after hearing the debate. There are phrases in the Auditor General's report such as:

"Procedures are in place to actively manage risk associated with the project".

He also says:

"Financial management and reporting of the project appears sound" and:

"High-level governance arrangements are satisfactory".

The Tories are focusing on the money. The Auditor General's report says that there was evidence that it could be put in place, despite what is said by the new Government of the Tories and SNP that we have seen today. The report mentions all the other projects that have been funded not only by Transport Scotland but by European funding, such as the trans-European network fund. We have heard nothing at all about access to that.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I am sorry, but I am in my last minute and your spokesman would not give way.

The Tories' badge of honour is safeguarding the public's money. Today, you will flush down the toilet £20 million—that is what has been spent to date. You are betraying the people of Scotland. I feel angry on behalf of the people of Scotland and the people of Fife. It is absolutely incredible that the Tories could tie up with the SNP. Despite that, I will ensure that every Westminster parliamentarian and every newspaper that can will know about the betrayal of David Cameron's principles. You try to hide behind your green logos on your headed notepaper, but I hope that you will live to rue the day of this new right-wing Government.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I remind members that I will not rue any day.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 3:49, 27 September 2007

Oh dear, I do not want to be too cruel, but there was an awful lot of heat in that speech and not terribly much light. As far as I know, Helen Eadie is not authorised to be angry on behalf of the people of Scotland.

I was one of five members who sat through all the evidence on the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill. At the end of the preliminary stage, two of us could not vote for the bill to go any further. That was long before any other member present woke up to the subject matter that we were considering and the evidence that we heard.

Nothing has changed. There were huge issues with tunnelling under a live runway, and I raised those issues with the then Minister for Transport when I said:

"I want the minister to address the issue of insurance liability: first, while construction is going on; and secondly, once the rail link is operational, in the tunnel, under a live runway. Will the minister simply tell me who will pay those premiums?"

Mr Scott replied:

"As we would expect in any transport project, the promoter has been in dialogue with the insurance market."

I pursued the point further, asking:

"who is liable for the premiums? The public purse?"

Mr Scott replied:

"The member dismisses the factual way in which a commercial company has to operate. The SNP knows nothing about the commercial world. The promoter has done what any responsible organisation or promoter would do."

I pressed on, "Answer the point." He replied:

"I am answering the point. The promoter has already received an indication that the project is entirely insurable in the commercial world."—[Official Report, 14 March 2007; c 33160-1.]

I am not aware that that is, in fact, the case. We are talking about spending £650 million of public money on a project with substantial risks.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I have only four minutes.

I want to pick up on a substantial and terribly important point about the gradient in the tunnel. Charlie Gordon has a great knowledge of rolling stock, which I admired in committee, and he raised the question whether there were locomotives that we could put on to the track. I am open to intervention on this point, but I am not aware whether there exists a locomotive that can both deal with the proposed gradient and keep to the timetabling. With a hub such as the one in question, five seconds off would mean that the timetabling could not be kept to. In giving evidence, Network Rail said that, even without delays, the timetabling would be "very challenging".

As far as I know, those issues have not been addressed, so let us not be silly and bowl into somebody just because at one time they thought that EARL was a good idea. Under the microscopic scrutiny of the committee, the project failed to convince two members to support it. That is a substantial objection.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

The consideration stage report said that the Virgin Voyager and trans-Pennine express trains, which I accept are currently not in use in Scotland but are elsewhere in the United Kingdom, could do what Christine Grahame referred to. The report said that those new trains would be procured into Scotland.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I asked members to deal with the two points—not just the gradient, but keeping to the timetable. The gradient would impact on the timetabling.

When we consider the limited pot that the Parliament has to spend on transport, we have to be rigorous in deciding what to do. I am delighted that we have looked again at EARL and are prepared to come up with a modest alternative, because Scotland's budget is modest and we cannot be profligate.

As for David McLetchie, I mentioned his Damascene conversion and we in the Scottish National Party always welcome sinners who repent.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour 3:53, 27 September 2007

There is only one thing wrong with the EARL project—its name is rather misleading. It is not just an Edinburgh issue but one that affects the whole of Scotland.

Those of us who live in Edinburgh can use the Lothian Buses link, which is one of the best anywhere. I used it yesterday, coming back from our successful conference in Bournemouth, and for people who are going into the centre of Edinburgh, as I was, it is ideal. However, EARL is much more than that. It would link more than 60 Scottish towns and cities right into the centre of the airport. That is a 21st century solution. We want what is best for Scotland, as Iain Gray said, not what is second best.

It is strange that Patrick Harvie and the Greens are supporting the SNP. They say that they do not want to encourage air travel, but not supporting EARL is naive and short-sighted. EARL would be a national, public transport interchange that happened to be at the airport. People will still fly without EARL—we would need a blockade to stop them going to the airport—and if we do not have EARL, more of them will go by car, which will greatly increase transport emissions.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

No. We are having to pay an increasing price for Patrick Harvie's convenership of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee.

I can give the Parliament a perfect example of how a rail station at an airport moves travellers off the road and on to the railway. Travellers to Prestwick airport used to have to leave the train at Prestwick Town station, from where they would take a shuttle bus to the airport, although few of them did. When a new airport owner took over, a new railway station was built at Prestwick airport with an escalator direct to the concourse, after which rail use rocketed. People want to go right to the centre of the airport.

EARL would benefit travellers from Fife, Dundee and central Scotland, as well as those from the Lothians and beyond, by providing a direct rail link to the centre of Edinburgh airport. The Government claims to be proud for Scotland. How can such a Government accept the second-best option of Gogar? As Tavish Scott said, we have been given no detail or costing, and we have not even been given the location of the new station.

All four London airports—Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and even Luton—have direct links.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party

Will the member take a point of information?

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

The professor is out of date, as usual.

Alex Salmond keeps telling us that he is the man who will let Scotland flourish. He tries to offer Scotland a vision—what he calls

"a radical and inspirational choice for the future."—[Official Report, 5 September 2007; c 1363.]

How can he claim that if he is prepared to accept a dog's breakfast—a guddle—that is truly second best for transport to the airport of Scotland's capital city?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party 3:56, 27 September 2007

One key objective of the Edinburgh airport rail link was to offer a sustainable, public transport alternative way to get to the airport. The proposals that the Government has outlined today still achieve that objective, but not at any risk and not at any cost. The costs and risks that were associated with the original scheme were many.

The proposed tunnel is the key reason why the project was so expensive and such a risk. Much has been made of the fact that other capital cities have rail links to their airports, but none of those was achieved through risking an airport's viability by digging under its runway. The economic cost of closing Edinburgh airport would be colossal not only to the city, but to the wider Scottish economy, yet that is the threat that would hang over the airport if the previous Administration's proposals were implemented.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

While no other city has been daft enough to tunnel under its airport's only runway, we can get an idea of the problems associated with tunnelling at an airport from the collapse that took place during the building of the Heathrow Express in 1994. Occurring between runways, rather than under a runway, the collapse caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The judge who led the inquiry into the Heathrow airport farce said that it was "luck more than judgment" that prevented lives from being lost that day. The SNP Government can be trusted to rely on good judgment and not luck when safeguarding the public and the economic interests of Scotland.

The cabinet secretary's announcement will not only achieve the objective of delivering a public transport alternative cost-effectively and safely, but improve a number of other rail links and services in Scotland. Under the previous scheme, commuters would have faced not only disruption when the building work was under way, but longer journey times once the scheme was complete. That would hardly have been a way to encourage folk to let the train take the strain.

The new scheme announced today will ensure faster, more frequent and more reliable rail services between Edinburgh and Glasgow, with other improvements in the rail network being completed sooner than would otherwise have been possible.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

That Labour and the Liberal Democrats still want to move full steam ahead with their proposal is a sad state of affairs. Despite the risks that I have mentioned, they have not been persuaded. They seem to be happy to play fast and loose with the public's money, even if doing so is detrimental to commuter services and delays other much needed improvements to our transport network.

I urge them to take a step back and reconsider the matter. Their scheme is not a good use of money, and it is not the most effective way to improve rail services. It is true that money has already been spent, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with what would be wasted if the project was allowed to go ahead.

The proposals that the Government has set out today improve not only the transport links to Edinburgh airport but other vital rail services at the same time. I welcome the Government's commitment to improving our rail network.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 4:00, 27 September 2007

As a Conservative in Scotland, I have been accused of many things in my time, but today, Helen Eadie—the scourge of the latter-day Attila the Hun—made the ultimate criticism of the Scottish Conservatives: apparently, we have too much influence over the Government. I seem to remember that, when the Government took office, it was reminded that it was a minority Government and that it would have to listen to the other parties to achieve anything. However, as I did yesterday, I will move swiftly onwards.

I mention only briefly the striking similarities between what is being announced today on the link to Edinburgh airport and what the Conservative party proposed in its election manifesto. The minister should know that we expect to see the details as soon as possible. As Opposition members have made clear, it is important to see the costs and benefits of the alternative scheme, just as that was important for the EARL project.

Some members seem to be confused about what the problems that the Auditor General identified were, and I refer them to paragraph 86 of his report. The Auditor General highlighted problems with BAA and Network Rail, but I have searched in vain in the speech that the then Minister for Transport made on 14 March for any reference to any problems. That is a little confusing because, on reading the Auditor General's report, it is clear that the problems were evident in February. I wonder whether some of the heat that has come from members of the former coalition parties today might be due to a little bit of fearfulness on their part that the scheme that they proposed was not half as robust as they suggested to the Parliament only a few months ago.

The minister has told us today that it was not possible to resolve the problems that were identified in the Auditor General's report. However, he has not identified what actions he took to try to resolve them, and he must do that. It is incumbent on him to tell us precisely how hard he tried to resolve the governance issues that were identified.

Some members have mentioned the cost benefit ratio and, in comparison with all the other transport projects, EARL had the best cost benefit ratio. As far as I am aware, however, the potential risk of Edinburgh airport's runway being taken out of commission was not factored in.

The minister should also give us some clarity on where the savings that will undoubtedly arise from his proposal will go.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

No, thank you—I do not have time.

If I read it correctly, the minister's statement suggests that all the savings will be ploughed into improving rail services for people travelling into Edinburgh and Glasgow, but how broadly should that be interpreted? Does it include upgrades to the east coast main line as far north as Aberdeen?

Does it include improvements to the rail line to Inverness and beyond? Does it include improvements to the road network?

Some members have said that the newly proposed scheme does not provide a direct link to Edinburgh airport. That is entirely correct. I do not dispute the desirability of being able to travel directly to a destination without having to change trains. Although that is desirable, however, it is hardly the end of the world to have to change trains. With several services, people used to have to do that under the previous Government.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

I am in my final minute.

On the point that George Foulkes raised about Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, how many of the passengers who get a direct train service to those airports first have to travel by tube or train to Paddington, Victoria or Liverpool Street? The overwhelming majority do, and that does not put them off using those links.

Today's proposals are still, by a significant margin, an improvement over the current transport options for Edinburgh airport. They would not have been made, of course, if the Conservatives had not joined forces with the Liberal Democrats and Labour to support the tram proposals in June. We definitely need to know from the Government what will happen to the project if, for whatever reason, the tram scheme does not go ahead because the City of Edinburgh Council cannot afford it.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 4:04, 27 September 2007

Once upon a time, the SNP supported EARL—and then it realised that its promises to other parts of Scotland meant that it could not afford to invest properly in transport infrastructure in Scotland's capital. Looking for an excuse to scrap the project, and faced with the fact that it did not have a parliamentary majority, the SNP started spinning that project costs were running out of control. One can only imagine how SNP members' hearts must have sunk when the Auditor General declared that the costs were within the project estimates and appeared to be sound. He picked up, understandably, on governance and management issues that needed to be addressed. That is usually the point at which projects will be questioned and assisted to improve their procedures, and that is exactly what the Government was told to do by Parliament in June.

The Opposition parties united against the Government and gave it a clear instruction that it was to progress the EARL project and resolve the governance issues. Mr Swinney, however, continued to brief the press that the project was dead. It is clear that the SNP had no intention of carrying out the will not only of members in this session of Parliament but of members in the previous session. Members in both sessions had endorsed the project and spent a great deal of time and public money on it.

What are the governance problems? What action has Mr Swinney taken? What discussions have been held? We do not know. There is nothing about governance in the ministerial statement: mentioning the word "governance" three times does not count. The Government has met BAA once, and at that meeting BAA told Mr Swinney that it was happy with the project and wanted it to go forward. I believe that Mr Swinney has a letter from BAA expressing its support.

Ministers have not met TIE—the people who have been charged with making the project work. They suspended the TIE project team, meaning that even if the project goes ahead in any form, they will lose not only time but key personnel. Transport Scotland met TIE, but the organisations did not discuss governance—they discussed wider issues of connectivity to the airport. In reality, that means more roads to the airport, including a motorway spur off the M8, which is what the airport has told me that it will be pushing for, particularly if the modal shift that was expected from the first version of the EARL project is not forthcoming.

The other rail link options, including the one that is favoured by the SNP today, were previously dismissed on the grounds of benefit cost ratio, connectivity and the impact on modal shift. Without a direct link, fewer people will travel on public transport and more will travel by road. The minister failed to answer my question on that point earlier, and he has no figures and no details. Has the Government met with the transport convener of the City of Edinburgh Council to discuss—if nothing else—the interface with trams? No, it has not. It is the height of bare-faced cheek that, having fought against trams, the Government comes forward with a statement today that is predicated entirely on trams being in place. If the final business case for trams is not made, will it be back to the drawing board again?

The SNP has never wanted the EARL project—its only difficulty was that it could not come back and say so to Parliament unless it found accomplices who were equally content to flout the will of Parliament. We know now that it has found those accomplices: the Conservatives and the Greens. The Tories will yet again shore up the minority Administration, as they have done on skills, penal policy and drugs. The Tories are not so much cosying up to the SNP—it is a full-blown affair. It is not a marriage, because in a marriage there is a piece of paper and people know where they stand. We do not know where we stand with the Tories. Alex Johnstone is right—the Tories asked for more information about alternatives and then voted for EARL. Now, they ask for no more information and vote against it.

In June, Derek Brownlee said:

"There is no objection to Transport Scotland considering alternative methods provided ... it does not prevent the existing project from sorting out the issues".—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; c 1142.]

That is exactly what has happened. Today, the Tories have given the green light to trams before we have seen the final business case—exactly what they argued against in June.

Instead of pulling together the key players and taking this project forward, the SNP mothballed TIE and got Transport Scotland to scrap the project that the Parliament had told it to save. It does not matter how the SNP tarts up the statement; it has ignored the instruction of Parliament and, in so doing, has held it in total and utter contempt.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 4:09, 27 September 2007

The Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill was introduced in March 2006. Despite the fact that there was extensive consultation throughout the following year, the SNP is now attempting to overturn the clearly expressed democratic will of the people. In the previous session of Parliament, there was overwhelming support for EARL—there was a majority of 57. The previous decisions were reaffirmed in June, but the SNP is now seeking to usurp the will of the Parliament; it is still reluctant to accept the Parliament's democratic view. Support for EARL came from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory members, as well as members of smaller parties and independents.

The EARL project is about more than simply connecting local communities with Edinburgh airport. It would provide a direct connection between the airport and 64 per cent of Scottish people, giving access to Edinburgh airport from 62 stations across Scotland. The project, as approved, would provide great benefits to the Scottish economy, stimulating economic growth throughout Scotland. Aye, and it would help tourism as well.

A smaller-scale link with Gogar would be of little advantage to the people of Falkirk East and other towns between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Indeed, it could be a disadvantage to travellers on that line, as it would increase their journey time or take trains away from other stops.

Labour promised to spend £700 million a year on public transport to improve and expand bus, rail and ferry links. We would have done that in the same financial climate that the SNP faces now. The difference is that growing the economy and improving social inclusion are Labour's priorities, whereas the SNP would rather spend money on symbolism that leaves them short of money for the people's priorities.

Cancellation would not only be a waste of public funds and an affront to public aspirations; it would undermine confidence in public projects. What company would be willing to undertake such a project in Scotland when, on past form, the Scottish Parliament could turn around and cancel the project? If the SNP makes investing in Scotland a risky business, it will add cost to contracts.

The SNP has done its best to undermine this project and has treated it shabbily. EARL would establish an intermodal transport hub at Edinburgh airport. People would be able to make connections between forms of transport including rail, bus, car, cycle and tram. EARL is imaginative, exciting and visionary and would put Scotland at the top of the league in terms of European transport integration. We should not lose it.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 4:12, 27 September 2007

I hear some indrawn breaths among my SNP colleagues as I rise. However, they should relax, as I am in a conciliatory mood. The statement is a good thing and I congratulate Stewart Stevenson on it.

Airports are prime tourist links but, like all transport facilities, they are two-edged weapons. They make it easier to come to Scotland but, in the recent past, they have also made it a lot easier to get out of Scotland—far too easy. We used to balance our tourism books, roughly, but, for the past 10 years, we have been getting more and more into the red and, like my great Tübingen predecessor, Sir James Steuart, I am a transport mercantilist—we want people in, not money out.

The complexity of building airport railway stations is considerable. We have several in Germany and I have looked at them close up. They are also, inevitably, delayers of other traffic, as trains have to be loaded with heavy baggage, children, prams, trolleys and so on.

Some of those factors can be overcome, but such stations need high expenditure on terminal platforms, grade-separated crossings, escalators and lifts. The examples of Schiphol, Birmingham, Frankfurt and Köln-Bonn show that building only the station will not give us much change out of £400 million—before money is spent on the signalling, flyover junctions and so on.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party

I will take no points of information from a man who does not realise that Luton airport station is three miles from Luton airport.

We need to steer traffic to Edinburgh from the airport but we have to realise that, since we have retained the plans for the tram system, we will have a valuable link to intermediate stations, which is important for much of the hotel traffic.

It is difficult to get more traffic into Waverley station—the current, expensive projects there will increase the number of journeys by only four an hour. The main terminal for a lot of the local services must be Princes Street and, with the tram system in place, it will be. Karlsruhe in Germany uses its main thoroughfare as its main station; it is important that Edinburgh does the same thing.

Costs of transport projects—particularly rail projects—in Scotland are escalating, as was reported in The Scotsman this week. How much of that stems from the accumulation of schemes that were rather haphazardly put together by the previous regime, placing pressure on a very limited railway construction sector? The fact is that the Scottish transport construction sector is so primitive that all it does is flog cars and pour tar.

What is the basis of this bonanza? If we tot up the costs of the current schemes, we find that £1 billion will be spent before anything much has been achieved. As Stewart Stevenson pointed out, petrol could very soon cost $200 a barrel.

I credit Jack McConnell's Government with good intentions, but its financial planning was faulty. In Switzerland and Württemberg, where 470 public transport journeys are undertaken per individual per year—as opposed to 90 in Scotland—such schemes are worked out over a period to ensure that one slots into another with a minimum amount of friction and pressure.

Britain cannot sustain such haphazard rail planning. There was a straw in the wind when, at the end of June, Deutsche Bahn took over most of British Rail's freight services. We have to go to and get help from the big boys; we cannot do this on our own. The noise from the station platform might be: if Deutsche Bahn or the SNCF wants to take over Network Rail, why not? We ought to talk to those people because they know their business.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:16, 27 September 2007

Given that we are the only political party whose manifesto commitment on Edinburgh transport projects is being put into practice, I had expected to come to the chamber this afternoon and indulge in a wee bit of self-satisfied gloating. We pledged to build the trams; to scrap EARL; to build a station on the Fife line that connected to Edinburgh airport; and to spend the savings on other public transport improvements. However, I am a little surprised to hear from the Liberal Democrats and, in particular, from Labour so much silliness and so many attacks on the Greens for supporting the most sustainable solution that we have. The idea that EARL is sustainable is absurd.

Just over a year ago, in the preliminary stage debate on EARL, we argued that creating a station at Gogar, reducing delays on other journeys and integrating, not competing, with the tram scheme and other means of transport to the airport would be preferable to the expensive vanity project that is EARL.

Indeed, "vanity project" is precisely the phrase that should be used. Iain Gray certainly let that one out of the bag when, with puffed-up sincerity, he described EARL as a Rolls-Royce solution. I have to say that I was recently accused of macho breast-beating in the chamber, but Holyrood's own Jeremy Clarkson really outdid me with the number of references to cars in his speech and his apparent argument that Government should display some kind of faux-virility over the amount that we spend on this project.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The argument at the heart of this matter is the exact opposite of the argument that Patrick Harvie makes. EARL is the better scheme, precisely because the modal shift is greater: more people will use the train than will use their cars. The scheme that Mr Harvie supports will not get people out of their cars, no matter how much he might wish it. He is the one who is promoting car usership.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The member has made—perhaps even overlaboured—his point. There is always a question of how much of a modal shift we can achieve when all political parties are willing to accept and build capacity for ever greater road traffic levels.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am voting for this alternative, not for the road projects. We need to remember that.

We have heard a lot of silliness from Iain Gray and, indeed, from other members. For example, I might be willing to take George Foulkes's criticisms on climate change issues seriously had he not found it necessary to fly to a party conference that was being held only at the other end of this little island. As for Helen Eadie's very odd comment that this proposal will be opposed by any environmental person in the United Kingdom, it is perfectly fine to make shallow political points about the Green Party—indeed, I am quite used to it—but I ask her not to misrepresent the views of Scotland's environmental organisations and sustainable transport non-governmental organisations, which do not support the EARL project.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

No, I do not have time to give way. Neither did Helen Eadie.

The proposed project will provide public transport connections to the airport. As Stewart Stevenson said, with oil potentially reaching the figure of $200 a barrel, all political parties will have to stop mouthing platitudes about climate change and recognise that aviation expansion must stop. We must fly less, not more. That, in addition to the modal shift, is essential, and I believe that the proposed project will help to achieve both.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 4:20, 27 September 2007

I am happy to take part in the debate but, like many members, I am disappointed that the new Scottish Government does not have the courage to pursue the EARL project. To me, as to others, that decision reflects a choice by ministers to accept second best.

I took part in the previous debate on EARL, prior to the summer recess, mainly because I was concerned that the debate was focusing on the effect on Edinburgh and not the wider benefits. In particular, the proposed 2,000 new houses in Winchburgh in my constituency would benefit from a new railway station. However, that would be possible only with the additional line that EARL would provide, as the Edinburgh to Glasgow line is already busy.

I therefore ask the minister to enlarge on his proposal for the Dalmeny spur. Does that mean that it will be possible to open a new station at Winchburgh? How will that sit alongside the supporting road network for a new Forth crossing? I hope that the minister has not forgotten that the road network will have to provide roads to support a new crossing in that area.

The minister's answer to Sarah Boyack's question regarding land and property acquisition in relation to the new proposal has, I am sure, stirred up many doubts and concerns for people who live along the lines. Margaret Smith and I will have many worried constituents tonight.

However, I have greater concerns about my constituents in Linlithgow and the surrounding villages, especially given the comments in the media over recent days, which have not been fully answered by the minister's statement today. Let me be clear. I would be happy to see a faster rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I also welcome any proposal to electrify the Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street line, as that would bring benefits to many people who live close to the line, including my constituents. Nevertheless, I would like more detail as to how such a faster service would be provided.

Three of the rail routes between Glasgow and Edinburgh run through my constituency. What strikes me about each of those routes is the number of people who live between the two cities and use the services regularly. Any reduction in the services to people in those towns and villages that resulted from the decision to reduce the travel time between Edinburgh and Glasgow would be totally unacceptable. I want a guarantee today that the large number of people who use Linlithgow station, including the minister, will not see a reduction in services to Edinburgh or Glasgow. How is it possible for the minister to say that he will reduce journey times, increase service frequency and still service such stations?

Like many others, I am not convinced that the combination of two modes of transport—tram and rail—will encourage people to use the proposed service. I do not think that it will encourage people out of their cars. I am also surprised at the minister's reluctance to proceed with a tunnelling option. I wonder whether he will show the same reluctance when it comes to the Forth crossing. If Labour had been in power, we would have provided what the Government is offering today without the complication of having to use different modes of transport to reach the capital city's airport. I would like to believe that what the minister proposes is not second best. I assure him that neither I nor my constituents will allow him to reduce the service that we presently have at our local stations to a second-class service.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party 4:24, 27 September 2007

As is usual at the end of a long and winding debate, there are not many things still to cover. I will, however, address two issues, both of which come under the title of risk.

The first risk is simply that which is inherent in any construction operation as large as EARL would have been. It is a simple fact—I say this as a professional engineer—that a project's cost is not known until the work gets above ground. All the inherent uncertainties are beneath the contractors' feet, where they have not been until they dig, and they do not really know what they are doing until they have finished doing that. A tunnel under a live airport runway is, purely in engineering terms, a very risky place to be. Any Government that shies away from doing that is, in general engineering terms, being pretty sensible.

The second risk, if the decision is made to go ahead with the tunnelling, is the risk to the operation above the tunnel.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

I would rather make my second point before giving way.

Anything as small as a crack in the runway will be sufficient for the airport operator to say that airport operations ought to be stopped. Who, then, will bear the risk of the millions of pounds per week—possibly per day—that such an interruption would cause? I do not know the answer to that question, but I suspect that the risk will be borne by the public purse. Under freedom of information legislation, we were given sight of the contract that was entered into between TIE and the airport operator to push the project forward, but the contents of the guarantee clause had to be blanked out. I suspect that the clause—had we been able to see it—would have informed us that the risks of any interruption to the airport's operation would be borne by the public purse. In effect, that would be an open cheque.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

As he is an engineer, is the member aware that a huge amount of tunnelling was done in London to provide the new high-speed link from St Pancras to the channel tunnel? If such high-powered prestige projects can be constructed in England, why cannot we have a similar project here in Scotland?

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

I rest my case, Lord Foulkes. London is built on chalk. The chalk is pretty extensive and we know where it is. Under those circumstances, we have a fair idea of the costs involved in tunnelling. Going through absolutely solid rock is also dead easy; the problem is the stuff that is mucky on the way through. If we are also trying to divert rivers and need to deal with water, that is the worst of the lot.

For both those reasons of risk, I congratulate the Government on simply steering clear of what could have been a horrible mess.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 4:28, 27 September 2007

I hesitate to follow such an expert. I am a mere politician, so I will pose some questions that I feel may have gone unanswered, even though the Government's case has probably been demolished by the excellent speeches from Iain Gray, Tavish Scott and Margaret Smith.

I am not sure about the minister's statement that BAA does not want control of a tunnel. I can understand that point, but did BAA say that it thought that the tunnel was a non-starter? Can we have a straight answer to that when the minister sums up?

The minister also said that the EARL project is not safe. If he was referring to its financial management, I can understand that, although—as other members have said—the Government was charged with ensuring that the project was robust and safe. Is it quite impossible for the Government to have done that in the time in hand? If so, the Government should have asked for more time, which I am sure Parliament would have provided. If the project is not safe in an engineering sense, why is it that other people have managed to construct tunnels under other airports? Shirley-Anne Somerville said that no other city has tunnelled under its airport, but I think that Texas and Shanghai, for example, have done exactly that. Of course, I may be wrong about that.

As Mary Mulligan mentioned, we are also supposed to be considering another tunnel, which would be under the Forth. That is supposed to be out to consultation. Is that a big kid-on? Have we already made the decision? We have heard it said in the chamber that we have neither the engineering ability and skill nor the ability to organise the governance for a project that would allow for such risk. There is risk in any big project, but there is definitely risk in giving the outside world the impression that we are just too wee and too scared to take anything on. I am happy to note that George Foulkes is becoming as nationalist as I am. In his analysis, if they can do it, so can we, and if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for us. I would hate to give the impression that we are backing away from EARL because of the risk.

My friend Christine Grahame and I agree on many things, but we disagree on EARL. She kept on referring to the limited budget. Usually, like me, she is a woman who does not recognise barriers. If the price of oil is approaching $200 a barrel, why on earth should the Parliament be concerned about a limited budget for something that is integral to the development of the Scottish economy?

When Charlie Gordon and I debated the matter previously, we agreed that windfall taxation had been extracted from companies that operate in the North Sea. Why did we not put in a bid for some of that money, saying, "We will invest it in this project." That is what we do with windfall taxation—we invest it in something that we need and something that we really want. We do not talk about limited budgets.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:31, 27 September 2007

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth needs to answer a number of questions when he sums up the debate, because they have not been answered yet. They were certainly not answered in the statement by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change.

First and most important, the Government was told in June to address the governance issues. What has it done in the intervening months? As far as I can tell, the only thing it did was to tell TIE not to go ahead with the project. John Swinney assured us that he would address the governance issues that the Parliament raised, but the Government did not do that. It would be useful if he could tell us what work it did on those issues.

The people of Fife are disappointed today. For the third time this week, we have had a body blow from the Government. It has scrapped our local enterprise company and our local tourism hub. Now it will scrap our link to the airport, for which we have been fighting for many decades. Why on earth does the Government have it in for the people of Fife? We need to know the answer.

For that matter, why does the Conservative party have it in for the people of Fife? It is backing everything that the SNP Government is doing. Why have the Conservatives done a U-turn on the EARL project? Why have they fallen hook, line and sinker for the nonsense that we hear from the Government? It tells us that the Gogar option is better for Scotland, but we examined that option along with all the others and discovered that it would not provide the net benefits for transport and the Scottish economy that the EARL project would provide. The Gogar option was examined and found to be wanting. It is still wanting and it should not go ahead.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Is the member aware that the Gogar option was not considered as one of the five options in the STAG 2 assessment by Sinclair Knight Merz, a fact that can be learned from the committee's preliminary report?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

With respect, the option was considered subsequently, before the bill was completed. It was considered by the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Committee, of which I was a member. The Gogar option will not give the same return.

We are told that the Gogar option will have great benefits, but how much will it impact on rail journeys in Scotland? If an extra station is put in and trains stop there, other trains will be unable to get past, so journey times will be longer for trains on express routes that do not stop at Gogar. Under the EARL proposal, trains that stopped at the airport would divert away from the existing lines and would not block the path of direct trains. The Gogar option is bound to add to journey times. How many trains will stop at Gogar and what will be the impact on journey times?

Does the Government know how long it will take passengers to get from Gogar to Edinburgh airport? What will be the total journey time compared with the EARL option? My constituents in North-East Fife want a way of getting to the airport more quickly. There are serious questions about whether they will get that. Will they get out of their cars if they have to wait 20 minutes for a tram at Gogar and there is a further journey time of 10 or 15 minutes after that? Perhaps the cabinet secretary will give us some answers. We do not even know where the station will be.

The SNP Administration has done everything it can to block an important investment in public transport in Scotland. It did not consider the EARL project as a responsible and sensible government would have done. It did not do what the Parliament told it to do—examine the issues properly and come up with answers. It completely failed to resolve the governance issues because it did not even try to do that. If it cannot resolve the governance issues, it does not deserve to be in government.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat 4:35, 27 September 2007

There has been justifiable disappointment and anger in the chamber this afternoon—and not only from Helen Eadie.

I call on everyone who is ambitious for Scotland to support the EARL project—a project tested through intense scrutiny long before I became an MSP. That scrutiny included more than 200 hours of parliamentary inspection. The project has support across the country.

The First Minister is always keen to let us know who in business has backed his latest announcement. Well, he had better not be looking for much support this afternoon, because the project that his Government has just axed had the backing of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, the Institute of Directors, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Enterprise Fife—to name only a few.

As Mary Mulligan and George Foulkes pointed out, this is a project for all of Scotland, not just for Edinburgh. It would have provided rail links to 62 separate stations across Scotland, linking 64 per cent of the population to its capital.

Scotland deserves better than the second-rate scheme now being put forward by the Scottish National Party. The surface access option now proposed will not deliver enough benefits. Only the tunnel option provided a station adjacent to the airport terminal; it is by far the best scheme. All the other options, including that of a station at Gogar, were considered and rejected earlier.

As Margaret Smith said so well, on 27 June the Parliament approved a motion

"to continue to progress the EARL project by resolving the governance issues identified by the Auditor General".

The cabinet secretary responded by saying:

"I also put on record that the Government will pursue the terms of the resolution".—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; c 1192.]

However, the next day the press was briefed that the project was a dead duck, and in July all work was suspended.

Earlier this month, the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change made it clear at the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee that he had already decided to defy the will of Parliament and to ignore the promises of his cabinet secretary. He said:

"We asked TIE to suspend work on EARL in view of the significant governance issues that exist. That is the way to ... ensure that we do not allow the project to go ahead".—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 11 September 2007; c 26.]

Yet, in response to my questioning in the chamber later that same week, he said:

"I assure the member that we continue to engage with the governance issues."

When pushed on the point by Des McNulty, the minister said:

"We are firmly engaged in addressing the governance issues that the Auditor General for Scotland identified."—[Official Report, 13 September 2007; c 1734.]

But has the minister really been looking for solutions to these issues? No. He has been engaged in dismantling this project. He has not brought governance solutions to the chamber today; instead he offers this country an inferior scheme. There was not one word in the statement about governance issues. Responding to a question from Charlie Gordon, the minister said that those issues were not capable of resolution. What an admission. How feeble.

As Iain Gray pointed out, it is clear now that the SNP planned to scrap the project all along. Why? Because the SNP has made so many spending promises to the electorate and cannot fund them all.

This new Government will settle for second best. As Margo MacDonald and Cathy Peattie pointed out, that will give out the message that investment in Scotland is a risky business. This Government is all over the place on transport. It has no coherent strategy. It ditches well-developed projects and announces new, untested ones on an ad hoc basis. As Tavish Scott said, it makes policy on the hoof.

Contrary to what Alex Johnstone said, it is the Tory party that is bereft of credibility. The Tories are utterly discredited on this matter. When the project was going through Parliament, they said that they were satisfied that EARL was a higher priority than some other projects and deserved to be seen through to completion. Now they are going to vote with the Government for this half-baked scheme. What backroom deals have been struck to bring about this volte-face?

I urge everyone to support the amendment to the motion, in order to get the real thing—a proper rail link to our capital's airport, and improvement to other rail services. Scotland deserves that. Members should support the amendment.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 4:39, 27 September 2007

Today's contributions from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties can be best characterised as a rather desperate exercise in self-justification. I was somewhat surprised to see that Iain Gray was leading the case for the defence. During his four-year absence from this Parliament, his former transport portfolio was woefully mismanaged by the less-than-dynamic duo of Nicol Stephen and Tavish Scott. The pair seem to have spent most of the time asleep on the EARL job, as is glaringly evident from the shambolic arrangements outlined in the Auditor General's report on the governance of the project that was presented to the Parliament before the summer recess.

The minister's statement confirmed all that and more about EARL. We now know that key stakeholders in the project, such as BAA and Network Rail, were never fully committed to it, which should have been perfectly obvious to previous Scottish Executive ministers. However, in pursuit of the expensive tunnel option, they chose to ignore the warning signals, refused to consider alternatives properly and tried to buy off objections—compare the insignificant contribution to funding that was eventually agreed with BAA with what was originally sought.

We were continually told that it was the tunnel or nothing and that, despite the massive price tag, the favourable benefit to cost ratio was the critical factor. However, the problem with that methodology is that, as Nigel Don ably pointed out, it fails to take proper account of risk and of the absolute costs of a project relative to the total budget at the Government's disposal. In other words, the project may be desirable in the perfect, money-no-object, Rolls-Royce world that Labour and the Liberal Democrats inhabit, but the real question is whether it is actually affordable. My answer is no, given the substantial demands on the public purse of all the major transport projects that have been approved in the past eight years, which the previous Executive and its ministers resolutely refused to prioritise, on the basis that there was enough money for everything.

While I could say much about the turns and twists of SNP policy on this issue, I will, in fairness, limit myself to noting that, as Tavish Scott and others pointed out in their speeches, the proclaimed merits of the SNP's alternative rail link plan—the Gogar option—depend heavily on its connectivity with the Edinburgh tram line to the airport. Of course, only a few months ago, the SNP was determined to abandon that project.

Iain Gray and others were probably right to say that the SNP wanted to cancel the EARL project all along. However, if we look at the history of the project in the Parliament, it will be demonstrated clearly that it was the Conservatives who, all along, demanded that cost-effective alternatives be considered, building on the fine work that was done in committee by Christine Grahame and my colleague Jamie McGrigor.

The great escape for the Scottish taxpayer has been effected without the need for a tunnel, because there was no need for a tunnel. EARL is a winger who is about to be sent off—that will be a well-deserved red card.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 4:42, 27 September 2007

The constitutional issue is not that the SNP is ignoring the previous Parliament's decision of 14 March 2007, but that it is ignoring this Parliament's decision of 27 June 2007. Of course, financial issues overshadow the debate. We have not really had answers to questions on the detail. For example, I asked the minister to give us a scheme-by-scheme financial breakdown, but that has not really come back. Of course, we have had leaks and evasion.

Other issues overshadow not just EARL, but the package that the minister announced. Will Fergus Ewing's friends at Network Rail again arrive a day late and a dollar short on various projects? Then there is the very tall shadow of John Swinney—mind you, everybody is tall to me—who must balance the books, and not just for transport.

When the detail emerges in the weeks and months ahead, not just about EARL but about other aspects of SNP transport policy, we will see that the SNP is committed to a programme that is considerably smaller than the spending programme in the Labour manifesto for the May 2007 election.

There is also the shadow of big Eck. If John Swinney is the prime minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond is certainly the president. He has some doctrinaire views on how to deliver projects. He is not interested in innovative funding. However, if it turns out that this nation has to find funding for a new Forth crossing, and if we insist on considering only one funding option, there may be a requirement to find £3 billion. That project could be like the upas tree, and none of the projects that we are debating today would necessarily survive in its shade.

I have mentioned SNP spin, but the big story is its sheer lack of vision. We can only speculate on the hypocrisy of the Tories: in March, and again in June, they voted for EARL and yet, today, they have done a two-and-a-half somersault, with tuck. On this side of the chamber, our best guess is that the Tories are probably gearing up for the inevitable drubbing that we will give them whenever there is a UK general election.

I will be fair to the Greens—not very often, but today is the day. They have been true to their agenda, which is why Patrick Harvie's contribution came over so smugly. It is not so much that he wants to hug the trees, but that he is against certain types of jobs. He is against jobs in one of our country's main industries, the tourism industry. The Government's proposals are bad news for aviation, and therefore bad news for thousands of jobs dependent on tourism. Given Stewart Stevenson's continuing silence on a replacement for the successful air route development fund, I continue to have concerns about jobs in the tourism industry. In Glasgow, more people work in that industry than ever worked in the shipyards.

I turn to the operational issues that an old railwayman like me finds fascinating. EARL has links to 62 stations; the new proposal has links to zero stations. Whether someone goes to Edinburgh Park or the new station at Gogar, they will need tae get aff with their heavy luggage and then get on a tram. Son of EARL is a nonsense.

I support the investment in a Glasgow to Edinburgh line and in the line via Shotts. In 2003, Kenny MacAskill said:

"A tramline as a shuttle from the city centre to the airport is no substitute for a proper rail connection."

How true.

There was also bad news today for Glasgow crossrail. If someone aspires to travel by train from Stranraer and Ayrshire, directly to Edinburgh, it is never going to happen. They will have to change at Glasgow Central and get only a slightly faster journey on the line to Edinburgh via Shotts. I say to the SNP, even if it wins the vote tonight, its lack of vision has lost it the argument.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 4:48, 27 September 2007

First, I will deal with some of the points that Derek Brownlee, Margaret Smith and Iain Smith raised on how we have addressed the governance issues. I personally met representatives of Network Rail, BAA and—to counter what Margaret Smith said—TIE to consider the governance issues. Of course, those are the significant issues that the Auditor General highlighted and which the Government could not have failed to address. We could only bring them to light properly and fully through the report that I invited the Auditor General to prepare and which the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties resisted vigorously. It is now clear why they put up such resistance: they knew full well the totally inappropriate and unacceptable condition of the project that we inherited from the previous Administration.

The governance issues had to be addressed. Why are they important? They are important because of some of the other parts of the legacy that we inherited. I refer in particular to the rail link between Stirling, Alloa and Kincardine.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I am happy to accept what the cabinet secretary has said, which runs counter to the inquiries that I had made about his meetings with representatives of TIE. I had been told that the point of the meetings was not to address governance. Will he please tell us about, or at least give one or two examples of, the governance issues that he discovered as a result of that work and the conversations with those people? What kind of governance issues made him think that the project could in no way be turned round? We are still waiting for answers to those questions.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

That is exactly the issue to which I am coming.

From the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway project, we have discovered that, when there is a lack of clarity about the governance of a project—the lack of clarity in the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine project has been ample—and, frankly, when there are too many cooks spoiling the broth, that project is not under proper and effective control and will be unable to come in within the expected budget.

On the Edinburgh airport rail link, Network Rail made it clear to us that it is prepared to do the rail links but not to project manage or construct the tunnel. To confirm a point that Margaret Smith made, BAA has said to us that it is prepared to support the tunnel development but, equally, it is prepared to support and work with us on alternatives. However, BAA has made it clear that it is not prepared to project manage or undertake the construction of the tunnel.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I will come to Mr Gordon in one second, but let me make the point.

What that means is that another level of governance would have to be introduced for the management of the tunnel project, in addition to the management of the rail project. Forgive me for considering that that suggests a possibility of disconnect in the governance, similar to that which we have experienced in the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine project, the consequence of which has been significant cost increases. I will not tolerate such increases in the airport project.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

Will the cabinet secretary accept some genuinely expert advice from me, which is not to take no as an answer from Network Rail? The First Minister has the legal right to issue instructions to Network Rail.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I appreciate and will always take Mr Gordon's helpful advice, as he is a charming contributor of such advice at all times.

The Government has explored the governance issues and I am not convinced that they can be addressed, which is why we have introduced the alternative that we have set out today.

Mr Brownlee asked about liability. It is clear that the EARL project would involve an unlimited liability, which would have to be carried by the taxpayer. There is a question of risk—the Government must consider whether that is an appropriate risk for us to take. In my opinion, it is not a risk that is worth taking. Margo MacDonald

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I was just about to talk about Margo MacDonald and she pops up.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The cabinet secretary can talk about me later. He and Christine Grahame have referred to the question of risk. Who picked up the insurance tab for the Heathrow job?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Margo MacDonald will forgive me for not knowing intimately about all the issues with Heathrow airport. I tend to concentrate on the issues that will benefit the future of Scotland, which is why I agree with her that having an oil fund in Scotland to reap the rewards of our oil wealth over the years would be a sensible source of resources to invest in our long-term prosperity—that is an opportunity that our predecessors have squandered.

The Government has introduced what I consider to be a strong alternative proposal that will deliver a rail link to Edinburgh airport. It is churlish to criticise the Government for introducing a solution that will integrate the transport connections of the rail network and the trams, for which we are paying £500 million. The Government has accepted that that resource will be spent and we have introduced an integrated solution. It is strange that Labour and Liberal Democrat members are prepared to make such an issue about EARL when the Government has simply introduced a proposal that takes us away from an unsustainable project and from investing vast sums of money in a scheme that is redolent of risk and towards a credible alternative at a lower cost that will bring greater investment and benefits. I would have thought that that was something to be celebrated—we are bringing together transport connections and demonstrating vision for the future, which is what the Administration does at all times.