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Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:59 pm on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 4:59 pm, 5th February 2020

I absolutely agree, but I am hardly surprised by the response to my hon. Friend’s written question. It is not unusual for this Government to double- count money and re-announce the same figures.

I do welcome the new openings, if they occur. My concern is that they simply do not go far enough in creating an integrated network of the type that Beeching was happy to destroy. In 20 years of devolution, successive Scottish Governments—both SNP and Labour-led, to be fair—have understood the importance of bold action to reverse the cuts made in a previous era. Airdrie to Bathgate, Larkhall, the Borders railway, Stirling to Alloa and the extension of the Maryhill line are all reinstatements of Beeching closures. We have the biggest programme of electrification and decarbonisation of the rail network in 40 years, with all services between our two biggest cities running under the wires, as well as Stirling, Alloa, Falkirk, Paisley Canal and Whifflet, with much more in the pipeline as part of the rolling programme of electrification. The result of all this—and much more—will be a carbon-free rail system that helps Scotland to achieve net zero. I hope that the UK Transport Secretary will visit the Cabinet Secretary for Transport in Edinburgh during his tenure to hear how it is done, and see the real investment going into Scotland’s railways day in, day out. These are not magic fixes or changes beyond our economic capacity. They are realistic, achievable solutions to the challenges that we all face.

Many of our roads are at—or, in some cases, over—capacity, which brings increased congestion and the resultant increased emissions. There are those who say we should stop building roads altogether. I say, tell that to the residents of Aberdeenshire, who have seen their travel transformed by the western peripheral route, or those crossing the Forth on the replacement crossing, which has seen not one day of closure due to high winds—a bridge built in the face of opposition from many who are now curiously quiet about their lack of support. Tell it to the residents of Dalry, who, thanks to the newly opened bypass, which was completed seven months ahead of schedule, have seen traffic and pollution in their town plummet.

Targeted investments in our road network, combined with the massive expansion in electric charge points and projects such as the electric highway along the A9 are all part of the mix in reducing emissions. Private transport must be available to as wide a cohort of society as possible. That is why Scottish households can now access grant funding that will, on average, pay for 80% of the cost of installing a home charge point—30% more than the rest of the UK. There are more public charging points per head in Scotland than anywhere else outside London. We are rolling out support for e-bikes, social landlords who want to develop zero-emissions infrastructure and car clubs. The low carbon transport loan means that more households than ever are in a position to make the switch now, rather than later. With used electric cars now becoming eligible, the choice available is getting wider all the time.

Scotland is doing well, but Norway is soaring ahead in electric car deployment. By the end of 2020, half of all new cars sold there will be electric—the result of bold policies and a determination by Government to tackle a societal and environmental challenge. Those bold policies are only possible because Norway has the resources and the power of an independent state to make those changes. If the UK does not want to use the powers it has to make those changes, it should ensure that Scotland does.

Scotland has shown global leadership by being the first country to include international aviation and shipping emissions in its statutory climate targets. Aviation is undoubtedly the most difficult sector to decarbonise, although I welcome the industry’s recently announced commitment to do so by 2050. The SNP has already committed to decarbonise flights within Scotland by 2040 and aims to have the world’s first zero-emission aviation region, in partnership with Highlands and Islands Airports.

Too often, transport policy appears to be a contradiction in terms. In the short time since taking up my position as the SNP’s transport spokesperson, I have been genuinely surprised at the lack of joined-up thinking that pervades so much of what is sketched out for the future. Putting the zero-emission society at the heart of transport planning and wider Government policy means joining up some of that thinking towards a common goal and a common strategy. That is exactly what the Scottish Government have been doing and continue to do, and it is what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance will be doing tomorrow when he unveils the Scottish budget. It is what the Cabinet Secretary for Transport did earlier this afternoon at Holyrood, and I hope it is what the UK Transport Secretary will begin to do as he reflects on this debate in the weeks and months ahead.