RUSSIAN President Vladimir has been getting a pretty bad rap recently – given he’s now pretty much the international bogeyman following his invasion of Ukraine.

The conflict has caused international supply chains to be totally skewed with oil and gas prices skyrocketing – leaving us all with horrendous domestic energy bills in the process.

Other vital commodities such as sunflower oil and grain have also been scarce and sent prices of food in general through the roof. But it appears his invasion of Ukraine has also had a direct effect on the Highlands after transport minister Jenny Gilruth blamed it for the government missing its target for dualling the A9.

With a straight face, Ms Gilruth told MSPs the aim of dualling the road between Perth and Inverness by 2025 had become “simply unachievable”.

Inevitably, she blamed delays caused by Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine for the failure of the most recent procurement exercise.

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She said: “This procurement process coincided with external factors including the pandemic, disruption caused by Brexit and the war in Ukraine, with the inflationary impacts of those all affecting significantly the construction market”.

Quite how the invasion caused the delays is not really clear but maybe Transport Scotland had ordered dozens of Russian tanks to help with the earthworks on the section around Blair Atholl.

Unfortunately, of course, the tanks would almost certainly have become stuck in a convoy north of Pitlochry behind two supermarket lorries, 14 campervans, a horsebox and a few charity fundraisers walking to John O’Groats in their underwear.

Anyone who uses the A9 will understand the frustrations this can cause and they are a daily occurrence on the road, which is known as the spine of Scotland.

The latest delays have been roundly condemned by beleaguered road users as being a “betrayal” of the Highlands and it is hard to argue against that.

The Scottish Government committed to widening around 80 miles of single carriageway in 11 sections along the road in 2011, when it was estimated to cost £3 billion.

However, only 11 miles in two sections have been dualled since, leaving around 70 miles in nine places yet to be finished.

After three years of single deaths, 13 people died in eight accidents in 2022, with driver confusion when the road switches between single and dual carriageway seen as a factor.

The Scottish Government has described the A9 plan as one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country’s history.

Before the excavators can move in there is a huge amount of planning, public consultation – in some cases negotiations on the purchase of land – and statutory process to be worked through.

But other countries don’t seem to face these ongoing problems, with motorways built across much of Europe apparently in one go and in half the time for longer roads.

For many people, it is hard to understand why it has to be built in sections with one part completed before the next bit has even been approved.

Surely it should all have been agreed before the first spade was sunk in the ground rather than construct it in stages rather like a large Scalextric track?

The A9 is undoubtedly an engineering masterpiece, but in the 50 or so years since it first opened the technical road building difficulties should now be a lot easier to overcome rather than harder, given the far superior equipment that now exists.

There is no question either that if the A9 linked Glasgow and Edinburgh rather than Perth and Inverness then all the difficulties would have been overcome by now and the road would be fully open.

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Given Transport Scotland’s seeming disregard for the transport network north of the central belt, no wonder Highlanders feel aggrieved – and rightly so. It is a very busy road and one that is getting busier and so should be treated as a priority.

But, like the ongoing ferry fiasco, it is hard not to feel there is a degree of complacency within the department as to what the needs of remote Scots actually are.

Once the Forth Road Bridge began to creak, a replacement was built pretty sharpish – and in a much shorter timeframe than the A9 dualling pledge.

Maybe some civil servants forget there is a huge part of the country further north than the Forth estuary. Just because you can’t see it from your office window doesn’t mean that it doesn’t actually exist.