Cato the Elder, convinced of the threat to Rome, ended every speech in the Senate with the words Delenda est Carthago (Carthage must be destroyed). Since focus groups were yet to be invented in ancient Rome we have no way of knowing whether his banging on about it actually helped to destroy Carthage, but you can be sure that his spin doctors claimed it was so.
Up here the threat of Carthage is not great, but other mighty powers have risen to take its place. The cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, soon to be linked by two more electric railways, will continue to suck in resources, much as London has, and will also continue to do. The method of allocating limited resources will always be tilted towards the Benthamite precept of the greatest good for the greatest number. In other words - more bums on seats. (Up here our bums are fewer in number, although the ever-growing length of time during which they are parked on seats surely requires a greater degree of comfort.) This will always militate against spending where fewer will feel the benefit. This is why our campaign to get the Lentran Loop has been rather noisier, and less gentlemanly, that might otherwise be the case.
Network Rail's Scotland Route Study plans for it on its long list of things to do. What we must now do is persuade those who will get it on the short list - Scottish Ministers, advised by officials at Transport Scotland - that even though fewer folk (and all of them a couple of hundred miles away) will benefit it is still worth the comparatively small cost of building it. Many of you have written to your MSPs urging on them the importance of the Lentran Loop; many MSPs have in turn written to Humza Yousaf, the Rail Minister, or to Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary whose brief includes connectivity (and thus infrastructure like new bits of railway). Fergus is the Inverness MSP, which cannot altogether be a bad thing. At least he's not 200 miles away.
As I have already announced, I shall be demitting office as Convener at the AGM next year; you will therefore have to endure only two more HEADCODES in which I conclude by saying (albeit not in Latin)...
THE LENTRAN LOOP MUST BE BUILT
Following the AGM the Conference featured presentations from Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus; Ian Prosser, Chief Inspector of Railways and David Lister (Safety Director of Abellio, standing in for Phil Verster at short notice). Around 50 Members and guests heard about Transport Focus's work, and their distilling the views of thousands of passengers into a clear set of priorities for action to improve things. Our needs of the FNL differ vastly from those of commuters into large cities, but the railway has to satisfy all its passengers: Transport Focus does what it says on the tin - bringing focus to concentrate the minds of railway bosses.
The one area where all can agree is that safety on the GB railway is at a high level - higher than that of any other EU state. Ian Prosser said that the whole industry should take pride in this, but cautioned against complacency. The dispute about who opens and closes the doors on new trains was not about safety, as a good proportion of Scotland's trains have operated safely this way for many years.
We heard from Abellio about future plans for Inverness and these were also addressed by Frank Roach. Despite a late start (something wonky about the catering trolley?) there was enough time for several members to ask questions, the answers to which were often illuminating.
The Convener had a bit of a rant at Abellio for the dire late-running and cancellation statistics on the FNL. There is much in this issue of FNE about how this might - no, must - be eliminated. By the time of the 2017 AGM and Conference in June the Scottish Government's spending plans for the railway from 2019 will be imminent. We are living in interesting times.