TRANSPORT is one of those quiet but emotive subjects in politics. Nothing much is said when it runs smoothly but all hell breaks loose when it doesn’t.
The opening of the impressive Queensferry Crossing has understandably dominated the headlines in recent weeks when it comes to issues of connectivity. It is a marvel; I do not deny it. Yet whilst Scottish Ministers may be busy giving themselves pats on the back for its formal unveiling, notwithstanding the predictable congestion teething problems we’re seeing, it would be foolish of them to think their job is done.
As well as attending the opening of the new structure by Her Majesty the Queen, Nicola Sturgeon also unveiled her Programme for Government for the years ahead. This was an opportunity for the SNP to set out its plans for transport projects across the country; initiatives that provide value for money for the taxpayer, improve the daily challenges for commuters, and enable better access for those who find it difficult to travel, either for mobility or financial reasons. It is a near wholly devolved area to the Scottish Government – and as such presented a true opportunity to show vision for Scotland’s future infrastructure needs.
Instead, we got tokenistic soundbites and headlines which haven’t been thought through, and will almost certainly have to be revisited or scrapped altogether in future. It was a lacklustre yet headline-grabbing damp squib of a plan.
So let me address some of its tokenism:
There’s no question that “the West” is moving away from cars powered by petrol or diesel. Rightfully so, I say. The industry is heading that way as it seeks to future-proof a carbon free future for cars, and both the UK and French governments outlined their intentions to ban these vehicles by 2040.
This is where the SNP government could have consulted with industry and government counterparts to see where Scotland could play a role in driving this forward. That would have been a sensible, pragmatic and inclusive approach of course. Instead, the Nationalists have picked a random date of 2032, for no other reason than, well, to be different, to try and trump the UK government for political point-scoring purposes. How many people reading this are comfortable with the notion that you will not be allowed to drive a petrol or diesel car in just 15 years time?
The Programme for Government also presented an opportunity on Low Emissions Zones. But instead of devising a detailed and imaginative approach on this, the First Minister merely said a pilot scheme would take place at some point, in an unspecified location, and that drivers would be punished heavily for breaching this new diktat. Yes, we have to address pollution in our cities, I have called for that in the past, but this cannot be an excuse to bulldoze through ideological top-down directives with no comprehensive consultation on the practical implementation. Motorists get a tough deal as it is – surely we should not be seeking to penalise them for going about their business?
Commuters also want to see more action on smart ticketing, something Scotland could be leading the way on if the SNP got its house in order. It seems bonkers than in a modern country like Scotland there is not a proper joined up approach to ticketing across travel modes.
That the big projects grab the headlines there is no doubt, but it is the everyday that matters to folk.
People feel less safe on trains than they did last year. Edinburgh seems to be in permanent gridlock. The shiny part of the new M8 is wonderful, beyond that you are sitting in endless traffic on the Kingston Bridge. Duelling the A9 is laudable, if it ever reaches completion. Where is the A737 Dalry by-pass? Still waiting. Why does it still take longer to get to Inverness from Edinburgh than it does to from Edinburgh to London?
Transport minister Humza Yousaf had an opportunity in this fully devolved brief to be bold and forward-thinking, solving problems for a modern country with growing transport and infrastructure needs.
Merely posing for selfies at the Queensferry Crossing doesn’t even scratch the surface of the complex long term problems that Transport Scotland faces. If Yousaf isn’t up for the task in hand I know someone who is.