Gridlock in Basford, Nottinghamshire. Credit: Alan Murray-Rust, published under creative commons
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A traffic survey has claimed South Nottinghamshire is more congested than New York

It’s probably wrong. 

Until now, Nottinghamshire’s greatest claim to fame was Robin Hood. This week, however, the East Midlands county swept to world renown, when a large chunk of it was revealed to be the twelfth most congested area in Europe or North America.

The survey, conducted by INRIX, a traffic information service, placed South Nottinghamshire above New York, Rome, Boston and Birmingham in its ranking of most car-clogged metropolitan areas. (No, we wouldn’t call it a metropolitan area either. We’ll get to that in a second.) Here’s the top 15:

The Nottinghamshire press were understandably nonplussed by the news, especially since the area was placed 33rd in 2011-12, and 27th in 2012-13. The Nottingham Post reported that the results have been “questioned by transport figureheads”, namely the chairman of a taxi association. It also quoted Councillor Jane Urquhart, who pointed out that major works on the M1 and A453, which together form the main route into Nottingham, have slowed down traffic a lot in the past year.

There could be other explanations for the anomaly. INRIX only considers traffic on “major motorways and arterials”. The only motorway in South Nottinghamshire is the aforementioned M1, which skirts the edge of the county for about five minutes: those road works will therefore have had a disproportionate effect on the survey.

Another explanation is that INRIX used Eurostat’s UK metropolitan boundaries, which lumps pretty much the whole county into one “metropolitan area”. The Office of National Statistics, on the other hand, uses something called “urban areas” which stop once a minimum population density is reached. It consequently defines Nottingham’s urban area as Nottingham, plus a few suburbs: this seems like a better point of comparison with NYC than the entire southern part of the county, which is mostly grass.

Nottinghamshire, as seen from space. Credit: Google Earth

The reason this is a problem is because INRIXs’ ranking is based on the difference in traffic speeds between rush hours and “free-flow” periods – and true metro areas have very different traffic patterns from more rural ones. In New York City, for example, the roads are so busy that peak time traffic is often not that much worse than general traffic. In smaller cities, peak time makes a big difference.  All the index really shows is how much more congested an area gets at commuter time. If traffic is terrible all day, then the answer may be “not much”.

Happily for Nottingham, then, its leap into the big-time seems to be a fluke. Works on those major roads will carry on until 2015 though, so the locals may be stuck in that traffic jam a little longer yet.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.