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Edinburgh low-traffic neighbourhoods: Destruction of a surveillance camera is a reminder that laws..

...require public consent



Most reasonable people realise the need for some traffic controls but politicians should seek to build a consensus rather than impose Draconian restrictions from on high.

My latest column in the Scotsman, published 8 August 2023.


A snippet of local crime news caught my eye recently. A traffic surveillance camera, newly installed to monitor a low-traffic scheme in west Edinburgh had been cut down. Predictably, our elected transport chief, councillor Scott Arthur, was in high dudgeon, condemning the “unacceptable and reckless criminal behaviour”.


That’s as maybe, but given the leafy suburbs of Edinburgh are not usually hotbeds of anarchy, perhaps Councillor Arthur should take a second look. Since it’s unlikely a random vandal happened to be passing with an angle-grinder, this was probably a deliberate attack, born of anger and frustration.


The now-toppled camera was the latest in a long line of physical and technical obstructions imposed on our highways. We’re told this is for our own good, but the individual with the angle-grinder clearly did not think so and neither do a sizeable number of people. Many are frustrated by being prevented from using the cars they pay tax to drive on the roads they pay tax to build.


Most reasonable people recognise the benefits of some traffic restrictions but wise political leaders should build a consensus rather than impose a doctrine. Some crimes carry a message. This is one of them.


I feel some sympathy for Councillor Arthur. I cannot comment on his professional abilities, other than to hope they are better than some of his predecessors, for he has inherited a tangle of city-wide transport botches with a maze of road closures, dead ends, and a never-ending programme of uncoordinated road works. Add these to poor highway maintenance and it’s a trial by ordeal for anyone having the temerity to drive their car in their city. If the road works don’t get you, the potholes will.


It’s small comfort to know we’re not alone. Most towns and cities in Scotland have been visited by the same traffic management goblins. But we only have ourselves to blame. Poor turnout at local elections and the decline of independent councillors mean we generally get party hacks, prone to the lobbying of zealots, and with an authoritarian tendency.


‘Regulate and tax’ seems the preferred approach. Despite slender mandates, many politicians seem to have forgotten they exist to help us out, not catch us out. There’s a fundamental truth that laws which are seen as unfair or unenforceable will be disrespected and ignored. Our statute books are littered with such legislative corpses and there are more on the way.


It’s not just traffic regulation. The latest is the Scottish Government’s short-term letting licence, predictably tied up in a legal dispute, which essentially aims to regulate and tax anyone letting a room for a few weeks. Supposedly a measure against anti-social behaviour, the new plan conveniently ignores the fact there’s already legislation to regulate this, it’s just not enforced.


The new legislation is another thinly disguised ploy to regulate and tax. It’s also splendidly conflicted: one set of officials is trying to drive weekend landlords out, while another tries to encourage tourism, which depends on the self-same accommodation! Go figure.

The laws we live under rest on our general consent. They must be seen as reasonable, practical, and fair. If not, they will be disrespected and ignored. And some will reach for their angle-grinders!




My article can also be read on the Scotsman's website - just click here.



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