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The Scottish Region Annual Political Event: Helen McArdle, Transport correspondent of The Herald - Edinburgh meeting of 26 January 2016

Helen McArdle, Transport correspondent of The Herald.d

Helen McArdle, Transport correspondent of The Herald.

© John Yellowlees 2015

Graduating from St. Andrews in 2006, Helen spent a year in Spain before attending the Scottish Centre for Journalism Studies and joining The Sunday Herald in 2008, becoming The Herald's transport correspondent five years later in succession to Damien Henderson. However such are the demands on the paper's team that half her time must be given to general reporting.

The Herald was founded in 1783, which makes it the longest running national newspaper and the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. An early scoop for the paper was official news of the Treaties of Versailles, which reached the founder via the Lord Provost of Glasgow just as the first edition was being compiled: it was, however, only carried on the back page. Today The Herald and its sister titles The Sunday Herald, the Evening Times and since 2014 The National are owned by Newsquest Ltd. Staff come from all over the UK, and there is no "Murdoch effect" of proprietorial influence, but Twitter comments accusing it of being both pro-Unionist and pro-Nationalist suggest it must be getting something right!

The Glasgow Airport Rail Link divided The Herald's audience, notably after cancellation when Labour claimed that sale of the last area of land no longer needed to a supporter of independence gave him a profit of £10k. However this backfired on then leader Johann Lamont when it transpired that others too had profited, and the paper carried a follow-up audit story.

The viability of Prestwick Airport is a lightning rod that divides opinion between those who think its purchase by the Scottish Government saved jobs and others who see it as a Nationalist vanity project. £100k was spent on a report by Roman Pye, but this never reached the public domain. How would prospects for it becoming a spaceport be affected by Scottish independence?

Cycle lanes generate extraordinary venom, with a death threat to East Dunbartonshire Council staff over the proposed Bear Way and even cyclists sometimes objecting to their design. Likewise enforcement of bus lanes generates much passion, with fines for motorists driving in them being seen as a cash cow for hard-pressed local authorities. Human interest was provided in a row over signage of the Nelson Mandela Street one in central Glasgow where a couple refusing to pay the fine claimed that the resultant loss of their car would prevent them from being able to bring their autistic son home for Christmas.

The tram-train proposed as a successor to GARL reflects Glasgow Airport's fear of losing out on airport rail links now that Edinburgh has its tram but also the Scottish Government's concern at being left with egg on its face. When Helen made a Freedom of Information request for sight of a study that found a tram-train to be no quicker than the airport bus, the Government responded by putting the report out to everyone. With a tram-train trial now proceeding at Rotherham, the story shows every sign of reviving all the hassles of GARL, and Helen is attracted to the notion of a personal bubble-car direct from her home in Partick!

Quangos are the "gifts that keep on giving", and while SPT's elected members now have to make a declaration of interest following past controversy over their foreign travel, it seems that they were not entitled to know that a bus operator given a contract employed the son of its operations director. The protocol whereby expenses are published on SPT's website can be got round by making purchases on its company credit card.

Journalists now have to write for online as well a hard-copy consumption, so political coverage becomes clickbait and a story about Banff and Buchan having Scotland's worst road deaths and serious injuries was headlined by it being Alex Salmond's former constituency - while coverage of buses has highlighted McGills being directors of Rangers. The Herald has a subbing hub in Wales, and stories must be pitched at human-interest angles or else the editor won't carry them.

The Borders Railway quickly became a victim of its own success, with passengers crowded into trains of just two carriages. An FoI request enabled Helen to spend three hours poring over rolling-stock numbers which showed that the last decade's 35% rise in passenger numbers had been accompanied by only a 10% rise in seating capacity. However this was not all ScotRail's fault since the taxpayer might object to the extra cost of hiring in more carriages.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.


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