Scottish Election 2021: Radical Green transport policies could become a reality if SNP fails to win majority – Alastair Dalton
If the SNP fails to win a majority in next month’s Holyrood election and has to rely on the Scottish Greens to get its Budget passed, all eyes will be on the latter’s manifesto for what might come next.
The Greens made their influence on transport felt in the last Parliament, winning a further increase in spending on “active travel” (walking, cycling and wheeling) to £115 million a year – albeit still only three per cent of the transport budget – and free bus travel being extended to the under-22s.
In contrast to the headline transport pledge in the SNP’s manifesto – free bikes for school children – the Greens’ far more radical agenda includes tripling active travel spending, then raising it to 20 per cent of the transport budget within five years.
They would also halt major road building and further extend free bus travel to the under-26s, then do the same for rail along with making ferry travel free for young people.
The Greens also want cross-Border rail fares cut using revenue from a new tax on frequent flyers, and new diesel and petrol car sales banned in 2026 – four years ahead of the SNP phasing out the “need” for them.
As for the SNP’s pledges, its specific commitments are largely a case of more of the same of what it has done in government – boosting zero-emission transport, more money for buses and new railway lines, and active travel spending increasing to 10 per cent of the transport capital budget.
The SNP’s manifesto promises a “transport revolution” – despite the party being in power for 14 years – but in some areas it would more accurately be described as a revolution in the party’s thinking.
For instance, there’s a line that would have been anathema a decade ago after the SNP had failed to scrap Edinburgh’s tram project: “We are supportive of Edinburgh’s decision to extend the city’s trams.”
However, the SNP seems equivocal about what degree of priority to give environmental factors.
For all the party’s talk of cutting emissions, it remains committed to completing the dualling of the A9 and A96 – significantly, with no completion dates attached – and said it would also progress a “wide range of proposed road building projects… in line with our climate change and financial constraints”.
In addition, while pouring scorn on the UK government’s planned bridge/tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland, the SNP has proposed one of its own – between Gourock and Dunoon, which was strangely absent from its recently published major transport project priorities while in government.
For other main parties, there is broad consensus among the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats over boosting electric vehicles, and increasing active travel spending to between six and 10 per cent of the transport budget.
But significantly, only Labour and the SNP mentioned women’s travel needs.
Labour referred to “a gendered approach to transport infrastructure, ensuring women’s safety, convenience and affordability are properly addressed”.
The SNP said the improvements to the design of communities would be explored, such as through “space safety” audits.
Finally, a Liberal Democrat pledge caught my eye, since public scrutiny of road safety appears to remain a blind spot: fatal accident inquiries into every pedestrian death and remedial action taken.