Scottish infrastructure 'plans with a Purpose'

The Purpose of the Scottish government - with a pronounced capital "P" - is, lest we forget, to build sustainable economic growth.

Image caption Scottish ministers say high-speed rail needs UK government cooperation

That differs from their lower-case purpose, shared with all governments. That is to stay in office.

One aspect of the Purpose was to match Scottish economic growth against a range of comparators. Said element has been made grimly easier by the fact that growth in those comparators is negligible.

Scotland, of course, is not immune from the factors which have throttled growth across large segments of the globe.

Hence today's announcement which attaches capital investment to that capital P Purpose.

The long-term capital programme reads like a wish-list - which, of course, it is.

If a week is a long time in politics, then anything beyond the next election is unfeasibly remote - and the sundry dates scattered throughout this document seem temporally intergalactic.

Next generation broadband for all by 2020? Dualling the A9 by 2025? A "step change" in energy efficient housing by 2030?

It is easy to scoff. And I must confess to a quiet titter at the Labour gag that it would take less time to despatch a space probe to Mars and back than to complete the A9.

Not, of course, that the Scottish government would be sending a probe anywhere. Space and time are reserved to Westminster.

But there is substance behind today's announcement. It is sufficiently detailed as to content, ambition and, above all, funding proposals to merit scrutiny rather than satire.

For example, the A9 proposal, disclosed here last week, is designed to provide a consistent, rolling programme of work - and hence employment - to the road-building sector: an effort to add a degree of certainty to a decidedly uncertain economic environment.

Further, it appears to be increasingly, if sometimes grudgingly, accepted that the Scottish government with its Futures Trust has been rather fleeter of foot in adopting innovative funding mechanisms in order to extract the maximum capital investment from shrinking budgets.

Will it impress the voters? At this stage, probably not, or, at least, not entirely. That is not until the promises are matched by partial delivery en route to those distant dates.

Couple of other points.

Alongside innovative funding, today's programme is at least partly predicated upon capital borrowing powers - presently denied to devolved Scotland but featured within the package of changes in the Scotland Bill.

Now, Scottish ministers continue to complain the measures in the bill are inadequate and possibly even hazardous to Scotland's long-term financial health.

They complain, in particular, that the borrowing powers are too limited.

However, it would appear to be a further incentive for Scottish ministers to put up with the bill - instead of seeking to apply a veto when MSPs are asked once more to give their legislative consent.

And finally the business of a high speed rail link.

This would appear to have the status of a bargaining chip.

Scottish ministers say they would contemplate such a link from central Scotland to the Border - but only if UK ministers match that with an advance promise that the English version will arrive at the other side of the border.

Makes sense, I suppose.

Otherwise you could be whisked at top speed from London to Birmingham and you could zoom from the Border to Edinburgh and/or Glasgow.

And in between? "A bus service will today replace the service from from . . ."