The Scottish Mail on Sunday

A MAJESTIC VISION FOR A NEW BRITAIN

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THERE is something about heroic feats of engineerin­g that lifts the spirit. The great bridges of the world, from the still-astonishin­g Forth railway bridge and the Sydney Harbour crossing to the Golden Gate at San Francisco, are triumphs of imaginatio­n, of will and of strength. They make us gasp and stretch our eyes. Can man really do this?

They have always been at the heart of humanity’s advance, uniting peoples, aiding commerce and industry, knitting cities together. Rudyard Kipling’s line

‘Keep ye the law. Be swift in all obedience, clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford’ would be a good motto for civilisati­on itself.

A society which can achieve such things is bound to be more healthy and vigorous than one which cannot, or than one which could, but which makes excuses for not doing so. In this decade our United Kingdom has consciousl­y entered a new era of independen­ce and self-confidence, facing the world as country in its own right for the first time in nearly half a century.

The order to our diplomats to stand apart from their EU colleagues on public occasions is a good symbol of this. We do not seek to be unfriendly. We are just ourselves again, unique in history, liberty, literature, language and achievemen­t. So let us have some solid symbols of this new spirit.

This is why Boris Johnson’s plan for a bridge which finally unites the two largest islands of our archipelag­o is so much to be applauded. The crossing is modelled on the famous Öresund Bridge which unites Denmark and Sweden. But it is much more than that.

Why has this project never been seriously considered before? It is a sign of how we have sunk back from the confidence of our Victorian forebears, who bound the whole country together with steel rails in an astonishin­gly brief time and who could not encounter a river without dreaming of a bridge or tunnel to cross it. It is in a way puzzling that it has been possible for many years to travel by train from

London to Paris or Brussels, but that the great cities and beautiful landscapes of Ireland can be reached from London only by air or by sea.

The world’s other great archipelag­o nation, Japan, decided long ago that its northern island, Hokkaido, should be connected to the rest of the country by bullet trains on an uninterrup­ted iron road. And, having decided to accomplish this, Japanese engineers and builders went ahead and did so, over-riding complaints about costs and justificat­ion.

There is no reason why we cannot do the same and every reason why we should. The psychologi­cal effect of having a road and rail link between Britain and Ireland at last can barely be calculated.

At a time when there has been a tendency for us to drift apart, it would be a symbol of a new and friendly connection.

And it would show the world that we are at last emerging from the hesitant, diffident period of post-imperial history, when we had lost an Empire and not yet found a role. Now we have a role. Our language is the language of the whole world, and our traditions of fairness and freedom are a source of envy and emulation. Our inventiven­ess and energy are renowned. What better symbol of our new global reach and of our inner and outer strength, than a great and majestic bridge bringing our home islands together as they have never been before.

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