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Winter Resilience

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

Thank you for that, Presiding Officer.

I have to make a declaration of interest. I own a company—my son runs it now—that deals with the motor trade, and my contribution will be about transport matters.

The only predictable thing about the Scottish weather is the fact that it is unpredictable, unlike in other countries where the weather has seasons and patterns that can generally be anticipated and planned for. Such countries can put in place a strategy along with the necessary resources to implement it. Scotland and the other countries in these islands face an almost impossible task in anticipating the weather conditions, because of the gulf stream.

With my passion for skiing and snowboarding, I have first-hand experience of the ways in which other countries deal with adverse weather conditions. Travelling in and around Lake Tahoe on the border between California and Nevada on a good number of visits, I have driven on roads where the snow has been at least 10ft deep on each side of the road. I do not mean snow drifts; I am talking about snow that goes on for miles and miles. Depending on the severity of the conditions, the measures taken by the authorities include restricting access to roads to vehicles that have snow tyres or insisting on snow chains, or simply deciding to close the road. However, the road is closed before the hostile weather sets in, so that vehicles seldom become stranded.

The authorities can take such measures only because the weather pattern is predictable, and they can make weather forecasts that are accurate, almost to the hour and within a 10-mile radius. They also have long-term weather patterns that repeat themselves year after year, and their weather conditions can stay the same for periods of three months or more. That allows the authorities to gear up and enables them to invest in equipment that has been made for the job and which can be used year after year.

The scenario is the same in the Alps and Scandinavia, as well as in other places across the world in which the weather patterns are predictable and can be forecast. The authorities have a great deal of certainty about the equipment that they need to invest in so that they can tackle the weather conditions. Such predictable weather patterns also allow the general public to gear up for bad weather by using snow chains and snow tyres.

The picture is very different in Scotland. Members might not be aware of it but my business, which my son now runs, started selling tyres in 1974. To date we have sold and fitted almost half a million tyres, but we have not sold a single solitary set of snow chains. In other countries, the public certainly take their responsibilities seriously. Our problem in Scotland is that we can and do get weather similar to that in Lake Tahoe, the Alps and Scandinavia, but it can all come and go within a 24-hour period.

Last year’s extended period of bad weather will not be the last, but our forecasters cannot tell us definitively when it is likely to return. Being a snowboarding buff, I well remember 10 years ago when all the pundits told us that we had seen the last of winter ski resorts in Scotland because of global warming. That was some forecast, eh?

I very much agree with how the Scottish Government is dealing with our very unpredictable weather, particularly in using the winter week initiative to alert and inform the public in advance of winter itself, and I certainly hope that the public respond accordingly.

Unless we are prepared to spend even more millions of pounds, over and above the millions that are already being spent on the current strategy, on equipment that is used in countries such as America—