Road Infrastructure

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2021.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-02838, in the name of Graham Simpson, on delivering promised road infrastructure across Scotland. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Tom Arthur is a likeable chap. As a back bencher, he was affable and straight talking. However, during questions on the draft national planning framework last week, he showed that he has quickly learned the art of being a Scottish National Party minister, because Fergus Ewing—also a straight talker—asked the minister whether he could

“provide reassurance to me and my constituents in Inverness and Nairn that his statement does not and will not, in any way, manner or means, delay, detract, diminish or dilute the absolute commitment of the Scottish Government to dual the remaining sections of the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the section of the A96 from Inverness to Auldearn, and to do so as swiftly as possible?”—[Official Report, 10 November 2021; c 28.], which was a great question. Unfortunately, Mr Arthur did not give a straight answer, so we were left none the wiser. Jamie Halcro Johnston had a go as well and did not fare any better.

Today’s debate is an opportunity for the Scottish National Party to drop the prevarication and tell us straight: will the A96 and A9 be dualled in their entirety—yes or no? I will happily take an intervention if the minister can tell us that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could we have less chat between one member who is seated and one who is standing? If no intervention is taken, there is no intervention.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

The minister does not wish to intervene, and the reason is that, although the SNP might agree with us that those roads and others need to be upgraded, they have become ensnared by the extremist Greens. Maggie Chapman has already declared that she is confident that the A96 project will not be viable for environmental reasons. Anyone who is hoping that Ms Chapman will be overruled will have to wait for the results of what is being described as a transparent, evidence-based review that will not report until the end of next year. The Government is kicking the can down the road to keep happy a party that would take us back to the horse and cart era.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Speaking as a rural motorist, I find that the real cost to me is the cost of fixing my suspension or something else in my car after I have run over loads of potholes. Does Mr Simpson not agree that the focus needs to be on maintaining our roads rather than sinking billions of pounds into new trunk roads.? Is that not what people in rural communities really want? They want road maintenance rather than white elephant trunk road building schemes like his.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Investing in roads is what this is all about, and if we invested more in roads, Mr Ruskell would not have his car broken by potholes.

The SNP might have been taken hostage by the kaftan crusaders opposite, but that does not mean that the people of the north-east and elsewhere should suffer as a result. Those of us who live in the real world know that Scotland needs to keep moving, that our connectivity needs to be improved and that, if we do that, we can, in the words of the Minister for Transport, Graeme Dey:

“improve road safety, journey times, and journey reliability”.

Long, slow-moving lines of traffic, stuck on roads that are not fit for purpose, and belching out fumes for longer than is necessary, do not help climate change and they do not help the economy. By improving existing roads, we can help to tackle climate change. We can build in electric vehicle charging points, hydrogen refuelling stations, and cycle and walking lanes. Mr Ruskell would be delighted by that.

We are way behind where we need to be with the charging infrastructure. The Scottish Government has a target of 30,000 chargers by 2030, but at the current pace it will take until 2066. I wish all members long and happy lives, but I do not think that many of us will be around to see that. If we are serious about climate change and getting people such as me and most other members to ditch our petrol or diesel motors, it is no good just banning the sale of new ones, because there will be plenty of old ones on the road for a good while yet. We need to provide the infrastructure to persuade people that electric vehicles are a viable option.

So far, I have mentioned only the A96. That is seriously unfair, so I will rectify it. Let me move on to the A9—although I would rather not. It is shameful that the main artery from Perth to Inverness is not a dual carriageway. Fergus Ewing knows that. It is not just unfair to people who need to travel to and from Inverness and beyond, it is unfair to businesses that are trading from and with the north. It is often the peripheries that suffer—the north-east, the north-west, the south-east and the south-west—but they are every bit as important as the central belt, and it is not perfect, by any means.

Donald Cameron will talk about the A82 and A83. We have debated them previously to little effect in the way of outcomes. Brian Whittle will talk about the A77, which is the vital link to and from Ayrshire. He will also talk about the A75, which is the seriously lacking artery that links Gretna to Stranraer. It is essential to our connectivity with Ireland and to the economy of the south-west that that road be dualled.

The A74 and M74 are much improved—it is possible to travel north from England up the west quite easily, as long as you do not want to veer off to the left. However, on the other side of the country, the experience on the A1 is not so great. Why are we so petty that we do not even allow Transport Scotland to engage in the union connectivity review, when it could result in money flowing to Scotland to improve roads such as the A1 or the A75? It is quite pathetic.

All Scotland needs to be connected. Some members of the Scottish National Party understand that, and all Conservative members understand that. We need ministers to stand up to the Greens, because better roads can also mean a better environment.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that driving in most parts of Scotland is a necessity; believes that the Cooperation Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party Parliamentary Group should not prevent or delay the delivery of any future road projects, and calls upon the Scottish Government to reaffirm its commitment to dualling the A9 and A96 and commit to upgrading the A1, A75, A77, A82, A83 and A90.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Graham Simpson’s speech was amusing and entertaining, but let us deal in facts. Just last week, Glasgow hosted the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—at which nations sought to reach agreement on the greatest threat that our planet faces. In Scotland, the transport sector is our largest emitter. If we are to meet the challenging targets that were set by the Scottish Parliament—which, I seem to remember, the Conservatives voted for—we need to do all that we can to decarbonise transport.

Our “Update to the Climate Change Plan 2018-2032: Securing a Green Recovery on a Path to Net Zero”, which was published last December, includes a national commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030. We have adopted a sustainable investment hierarchy that focuses investment on reducing the need to travel and making best use of what we have before considering adding to existing—or building new—infrastructure. Members will be aware that the Scottish Government’s transport strategy and investment priorities have pointed that way for several years but, importantly, in a balanced way, to ensure that the road and other transport infrastructure that is required for the country to operate successfully continues to be fit for purpose.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

At the Finance and Public Administration Committee’s meeting on 31 August, when I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy about the Government’s commitment to the A96 and the A9 and whether there had been any problem with that, given that the Greens and the SNP had entered a coalition, she said categorically that the Greens and the SNP being together in the Government would not affect either of those projects. Is that correct?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I will come to those projects later in my contribution.

The Scottish Government is fully committed to meeting our ambitious climate targets, but that does not mean that there will be no investment in our strategic road network. The trunk road network is one of our largest and most visible community assets. It carries 35 per cent of all traffic and 60 per cent of heavy goods traffic. Ensuring that it is safe, operates effectively and is maintained to a good standard is fundamental to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Scotland. We need to balance the extensive changes that are required to meet our net zero ambitions with our duty to ensure that Scotland has that infrastructure. In 2020-21, we invested £470 million in managing, maintaining and operating the Scottish trunk road and motorway network, and this year’s budget provides £529 million for that.

We are working hard to bring the benefits of the A9 dualling programme to the people of Scotland. That work has benefited from in-depth and innovative engagement along the route—Liz Smith knows that, as she represents part of the route—which has involved the whole local community. That process has ensured that a correct balance has been struck between improving a vital transport link, minimising the impact on the outstanding natural environment and taking the local community with us. In part, that has caused a degree of delay.

Work is continuing along the route, with dualling already in place between Kincraig and Dalraddy and Luncarty and the Pass of Birnam. Design work for the rest of the programme is progressing, and the statutory process is well under way for seven or the remaining eight sections. That is our commitment.

Meanwhile, procurement of design work is progressing on other trunk road projects around the country. On the A83, we are committed to ensuring continuity of access to Argyll and Bute by finding a long-term solution to the problem at the Rest and Be Thankful. While that long-term solution is developed, we are progressing work to develop a medium-term resilient route through Glen Croe. We will bring forward proposals on that next year.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

No—I need to make progress.

The Scottish Government is also committed to delivering improvements for the north and the east of Scotland, along the A96 corridor. We will take forward an enhancements programme that improves connectivity between surrounding towns, tackles congestion and addresses safety and environmental issues.

Alongside that, we will carry out a transparent evidence-based review of the A96 corridor, which will report by the end of 2020. That is sensible good governance for major investment of that level. I remind Mr Kerr, if I may, that his party endorsed that approach back in 2019 in supporting an amendment to the bill.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The minister’s party promised to dual the A96. Will he?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

The situation is very clear. The commitment remains to address those issues, and the dualling aspect is subject to the review.

We remain committed to making much-needed improvements on the A96. Development work has already been undertaken that will not go to waste. We also remain committed to improving the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan, and we are progressing a range of infrastructure projects that are related to the city and growth deals.

Our approach to the on-going improvements that I have mentioned aligns with the approach to assessing the need for infrastructure improvements in the future, as set out in the national transport strategy. We are clear that we will not build infrastructure to cater for unconstrained increases in traffic volumes. That was set out in the NTS and taken forward in the strategic transport projects review, which is on-going, and it will be published for consultation this winter.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I want to make progress.

STPR2 will include recommendations for future investment in the Scottish road network over the next 20 years. Although the commitments to improve the A9, the A96 and the A83 and the other projects are progressing separate to the review, the need for improvements to trunk roads across the rest of the country, including, for example, on the A75, the A77, the A90 and the A1, is being appraised and robustly assessed within the review.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The minister is in his final minute.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

If it is very brief and you wind up in your allotted time.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

Does the minister agree that the Scottish Government needs to put aside its petty and divisive position and work with the UK Government, particularly if the Hendy report recommends major investment in the A75 for the good of the whole nation, and given that my constituents do not really care what purse the money comes from?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That was not a brief intervention. I think that the minister has the gist. The minister should be brief.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

The UK Government needs to show some respect for the devolution settlement.

We will, of course, also continue to progress our maintenance programme to ensure the continued effectiveness and resilience of the roads.

We have adopted a focused and rigorously assessed approach to investing in our road network that balances the needs of our people with our climate ambitions, and we will continue to do so.

I move amendment S6M-02138.2, to leave out from “driving” to end and insert:

“, in the face of the climate emergency and the imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as a nation, there is a need to encourage more people to use more sustainable travel options and reduce their car use; acknowledges the need to shift away from spending money on new road projects that encourage more people to drive, and instead focus resource on maintaining roads and improving safety; agrees that people need a realistic and affordable alternative in public transport and active travel, and notes that the Scottish Government will set out its plans for future investment in Scotland's transport network in the second Strategic Transport Projects Review.”

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

Scottish Labour believes that key routes in Scotland must be upgraded to improve road safety, reduce journey times and support local and regional economies. In many parts of Scotland, there is no practical alternative to the car, so the routes that we are debating are essential.

How we prioritise investment in transport generally is crucial. We must take full account of road safety, economic and community development, and our climate change ambitions. It is disappointing that the Conservative motion, which comes just days after COP26, makes no mention of climate change at all.

One of the reasons why so many people in Scotland have to rely on private fossil-fuel-burning cars is that the alternatives are not good enough or simply do not exist. I recognise that Mr Simpson mentioned that in his speech, but that is a serious omission from the Conservative motion. We should be united in challenging the Scottish Government to do more than just provide better road infrastructure; we should be challenging it to reverse the decline in public transport and address car dependency.

The reality is that public transport under the SNP Government is a joke. Bus passenger numbers are at record lows, and ScotRail is proposing to cut 300 services a day. Labour says let us make the road network better and safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, but let us also use this debate to call for practical alternatives to the car.

There is no question but that road maintenance suffered badly during the years of austerity. We have already heard that. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities says that its capital funding from Scottish Government budgets, supported by the Greens, has been cut by 6 per cent in real terms since 2013-14. For many councils, capital grants are not enough to meet existing spending requirements, let alone support the transition to net zero. The chronic underfunding of Scotland’s councils has to be challenged and reversed.

The roads that are identified in the motion and in our amendment are part of the trunk road network. They are the direct responsibility of the Scottish Government. It is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure that vital infrastructure is upgraded appropriately; to prevent impossible detours at the Rest and Be Thankful; to make good on its promises to the action group and ferry firms in the south-west of Scotland that are served by the A75 and the A77; and to tackle potholes on the network, the number of which is up from just under 4,000 in 2007 to 21,000 now.

I say to the Scottish Government that creating a more resilient transport network is about more than roads. The total number of bus passenger journeys in Scotland is down by 121 million under this SNP Government—a record low. A country that is serious about tackling climate change is not a country with record low levels of bus patronage.

It has been the policy of this SNP Government to preserve a broken bus market. Even now, with new rules secured by my colleague Colin Smyth that make public control of buses possible, there is no strategy to remake local bus services. When it comes to bus services, the preferred option of the SNP is, and always has been, the status quo.

Well, the status quo is not good enough. Bus services should be run for passengers before profit. If democratic alternatives to a broken bus market are good enough for Lothian, London and now Manchester, they are good enough for Glasgow, the west of Scotland and the rest of Scotland. The Government should be prepared to support councils choosing to bring bus networks under public control, and it should do so with investment.

The Scottish Government once described the Abellio deal to run our railways as “world leading”—but not any more. ScotRail will become a publicly run operator again after the Scottish Government was forced to bring it back into public ownership. However, under current plans, it will inherit a diminished timetable. We cannot shift travel from Scotland’s roads to Scotland’s railways if the rail network is being cut and the ambitions of COP26 are not being realised.

To drive modal shift, it is time that the Scottish Government finally delivered easier, more affordable travel. The COP26 summit showed that smart, integrated ticketing is possible, but it was restricted to COP26 delegates. Integrated ticketing makes travel easier. It should not be just for the select few at COP26; there must be integrated smart ticketing for all, all year round. Dublin has just announced an affordable 90-minute fare with free transfer across bus services. If Dublin can do it, why can we not? If there is to be a legacy from COP26 for the people of Scotland, let it be seamless, integrated ticketing on our public transport network.

Let us make travel more affordable for all. As a minimum, Parliament should endorse calls to extend free bus travel to the under-25s. To tackle the climate crisis and make transport more resilient, the Scottish Government must invest wisely and show the leadership that has been lacking for far too long. That is what our amendment calls on it to do.

I move amendment S6M-02138.1, to leave out from “recognises” to end and insert:

“regrets that car dependency remains the norm in Scotland, partly due to Scotland’s inadequate public transport system; calls upon the Scottish Government to upgrade key routes, such as the A9 and A96, A1, A737, A75, A77, A82, A83, A90 and other vital road links, to deliver improved road safety, journey times and reliability; considers that decisions about investment in transport infrastructure, including roads, must have due regard to road safety, economic and community development and climate impact; further considers that local government requires a fair funding settlement to allow councils and communities to improve local roads and cycle routes, to bring local transport under democratic public control and invest in better local transport and green infrastructure; believes that all parts of Scotland would benefit from enhanced public transport, and calls upon the Scottish Government to support integrated ticketing on public transport, action to reverse the decline in local bus services, the extension of free bus travel to under-25s, the dedication of 10% of the transport budget to active travel, and the restoration of rail services to pre-pandemic levels.”

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

I want to make three points on the importance of core connectivity between communities and the rest of Scotland; the safety of our roads and the need to maintain our public assets; and the balance between road transport and the environment.

Road building or upgrading should not be done for the sake of it. Scottish Liberal Democrats recognise that communities deserve an equitable standard of core connectivity to the rest of Scotland. Our rural, remote and island communities rely heavily on roads. Durness, in north-west Sutherland, which is more than two hours away from Thurso train station, is a community that is utterly reliant on road—and not just road, but single-track road. At home in Shetland, there is not a train or tram in sight. The Rest and Be Thankful, on the A83, is subject to landslides and closures, and communities are forced to take a 59-mile route diversion. The A9 is well known as one of the most dangerous roads to travel on in Scotland. It is dangerous to overtake on it, and multiple changes from single carriageway to dual carriageway and back again are a hazard.

We must not neglect infrastructure because of dogma, inadvertently allow accidents and deaths or overlook the importance of core connections for communities.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I recognise the safety issues on the A9. Why, then, did Liberal Democrat MPs oppose the introduction of safety cameras on the A9?

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Repairs and other improvements fall in line with the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, which suggested that greater emphasis be given to maintaining public assets.

Scottish Liberal Democrats understand that there is a balance to be struck between the climate emergency and delivery of road projects, but, as I have said, road building or upgrading should not be done for the sake of it. Additional roads can increase traffic and carbon emissions, and they can impact on our environment and biodiversity, so we need to be decarbonising, protecting our environment and reversing biodiversity decline. All sectors need to reduce carbon emissions if we are to reach our net zero targets, and transport is lagging behind.

As Labour members said, the job of providing core connections must go hand in hand with work to establish a climate-friendly transport system. Scottish Liberal Democrats would give local communities control over bus routes and timetables, to ensure that buses go where people need them to go and not where they make the bus company the most profit. That would ensure that gaps and issues could be addressed, thereby bringing down car miles and addressing the steep decline in bus journeys under the SNP.

We want to establish new rail connections and reopen rail lines, and we want to get more freight on to railways, to reduce congestion and pollution. We want to accelerate journey times to the north and the north-east, which are basic connections.

However, those measures simply cannot take every car off the road. As I illustrated, in some parts of the country car travel is the only viable transport. Scotland needs to go electric, and quickly. The electric A9 website says:

“Scotland’s longest EV-ready route will stand as a beacon to those at home and abroad.”

We need such electric-vehicle-ready routes to pop up across the country. Scottish Liberal Democrats want more electric rapid-charging points to be installed—and to be working and ready to use. That is essential road infrastructure. If we can give people the confidence to buy an electric car, we can move older vehicles off our roads sooner.

We can jump-start that change by requiring new public sector vehicles to be electric, by spreading the costs through longer, Government-backed interest-free loans and by having a Government-funded scheme to enable everyone to try out an electric car for a weekend.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate. I advise members that there is no time in hand. If you take an intervention, it must be absorbed within your allotted time.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in the debate.

The dire need to invest in the south-west’s transport infrastructure is a topic that I and my colleagues have long championed in this chamber. We have talked about the goat tracks that are the A77, the A75, the A76, the A70 and the A71 and about the ridiculous situation at the Bellfield interchange at Kilmarnock.

Given that Graeme Dey is so interested in facts, let us get some out. From Alex Salmond in 2010, when he opened the new Cairnryan terminal, after a £250 million investment from the ferry companies, to transport ministers including Alex Neil, Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government has continually made promises and has continually broken them.

My colleagues and I have tried to encourage and persuade the Scottish Government to pay attention to the routes to and from the busiest port in Scotland—and the third busiest in Britain. We have said that the routes are not fit for purpose and that their state holds back the economic potential of the region. There was even, belatedly, support from the Government’s back benchers, once they realised that they would need to support the upgrading of that infrastructure if they were to get public votes.

However, all of that was to no avail. Let us call it what it is. The Scottish Government has had more than a decade to go beyond platitudes and procrastination and to show that the south-west is as important a part of Scotland as any other place, but it has invested 0.04 per cent of the transport budget in the region. By any standards, that is a Government that is abandoning any notion of investing in the south-west and that is finding any and every excuse to kick the can down the road.

The Scottish Government’s answer is to have another consultation and listening exercise, to go with all the other consultations and listening exercises—anything to avoid the significant commitment that would bring the infrastructure up to the basic requirements for such busy routes. Members should remember that 45 per cent of the goods that go to and from Northern Ireland go through Cairnryan.

I will turn to the motion. Let us bury the myth that road building is always bad for the environment. That is simplistic nonsense. What is important is what is on the road. Investment in the south-west infrastructure could generate a whole new green economy. What an opportunity that would be. The creation of electric and hydrogen superhighways would take the trundling, stop-start heavy goods vehicle convoys from the ferries out of towns and villages, thereby hugely reducing carbon emissions. A west coast cycle route down that beautiful coastline would give us another new economy.

It is poor connectivity that is smothering the economy of the south-west. I challenge the Scottish Government to grasp the opportunity to show its green intentions post-COP26. I challenge it to prove that it has not abandoned the south-west and to develop the south-west infrastructure to the benefit of the green economy and the safety of people on the roads. I challenge it to allow the south-west to breathe.

Finally, I suggest that the target of a 20 per cent reduction in car miles is predominantly going to involve a reduction in shorter, more urban journeys and that how we connect up our rural communities in a more environmentally friendly way is going to require investment in new technologies.

The driving force behind purchasing an electric vehicle—if members will pardon the pun—is not always saving the planet. For many people, it is more about the cost savings that an electric vehicle can bring. We are past worrying about the range; it is more about the number of charging points, and the Scottish Government is way behind the target for those, as Graham Simpson said.

The time to invest in the green superhighway network in the south-west and the rest of Scotland is now. We should create infrastructure that encourages the behavioural shift that we are all striving for. There can be no more excuses and no more talk. We need action. I recognise that that is not the Scottish Government’s strong suit, but we can all live in hope.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

First, as someone who grew up in Orkney, where my family had no car until I was near the end of my primary school years, I want to say that I know how necessary cars are in remote, rural and island communities. Indeed, communities across Scotland need infrastructure projects to be delivered in order to improve safety, cut pollution and improve productivity, so that our communities and our economy are well served.

For instance, in my area, I am looking forward to the delivery of the East Airdrie link road, which will link the M80 at Cumbernauld with the M8 at Newhouse and will, crucially, serve the new Monklands hospital in the coming years. I was incredibly proud to have played my part, alongside Alex Neil, in ensuring that that hospital would remain in Airdrie.

The new road will provide a crucial route for my constituents, as well as patients from across Lanarkshire, to access the site. It will also divert significant traffic from the congested roads in and around Airdrie. Parts of Chapelhall are among the most polluted in the country because of slow-moving traffic, particularly HGVs, travelling between the M8 and M80. I have confidence that the new link road would pass an environmental impact assessment because it will relieve the current congestion that is being generated along the bottleneck junctions of Carlisle road, which serves traffic going north and south between the motorways, and will cut pollution.

It is on that point that I find the Tory motion to be politically tone deaf. Although we all acknowledge the merit of the projects that are listed, there is zero acknowledgment in the motion of the need to decarbonise our nation, to carry out environmental impact assessments on our road infrastructure projects or to move away from using petrol and diesel cars and towards more sustainable modes of transport. It is as if the Tories have completely forgotten that the world was literally at our door for COP26 in Glasgow just last week. However, we can forgive them for forgetting, given that Boris Johnson himself forgot what city the conference was being held in, perhaps because he spent so little time there fighting for the deal that was needed.

I acknowledge how important all the projects that are mentioned in the motion are to the communities that they will serve, and that many of them involve safety considerations and congestion issues. Those projects have not been stopped, but the partnership agreement rightly says that we should be getting the balance right. I think that most reasonable people who are willing to acknowledge that we need to decarbonise are also willing—and understand the need to do so—to subject new road-building projects to environmental impact assessments as well as to invest in public transport, active travel and electric vehicle infrastructure. That is why I find the Tory motion startling.

When it was suggested last week that the subject for debate today would be in the net zero brief, I reckoned that the motion could mention COP26, transmission charges for our renewables sector, carbon capture and storage—perhaps how the north-east has now been let down twice on promised investment by the UK Government—or the incredible work that is being done with wave and tidal power in Scotland, in which we are leading the world. There are any number of other areas that could have been built on through COP26 and which could have continued to project the leadership that was shown by Scotland in hosting the conference, and continued to find cross-party consensus.

However, we got the motion that we are debating, which undermines our progress. It also smacks of a complete lack of self-awareness, given that the Scottish Government’s ability to deliver on infrastructure projects such as those that are mentioned in the motion today are hindered by the UK Government’s having taken a wrecking ball to the Scottish Government’s capital budget and having short-changed Scotland in replacements for EU structural funds.

Instead of trying to bypass Holyrood and undermine devolution, instead of trying to claim that we can burn all the fossil fuels that we want and still live up to our net zero goals, and instead of suggesting that we can continue to live with ever-increasing numbers of cars causing pollution in our communities, the Tories need to start getting serious and to join the rest of the world in finding ways to tackle the existential issue that is climate change.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

Only the Tories would lodge a motion in the wake of COP26 that focuses solely on road building without any reference to public transport or active travel. Domestic transport continues to be the largest source of net emissions. Cars account for almost 40 per cent of those emissions and car dependency is increasing at unsustainable levels, with the proportion of single-occupant journeys reaching 66 per cent.

However, there is an alternative. A double-decker bus can replace 75 single-occupant cars, but to get people out of cars and on to buses requires public investment, democratic ownership and socialist ambition—things that we cannot rely on the SNP or the Tories to deliver. By all means, let us debate road infrastructure, but let us speak about connecting our communities with accessible and affordable public transport, making our pavements and cycleways safer for everyone and restoring biodiversity through a network of green corridors.

Road infrastructure must focus on delivering accessible and affordable public transport and creating an integrated transport network that seamlessly links communities and promotes active travel. It must also focus on making such a network environmentally sustainable, but the reality is that private control of our public transport is a barrier to achieving that. Tory-driven deregulation in the 1980s led us to the broken transport system that we have today—it is expensive, disjointed and fragmented.

Bus operators extract profit from the most commercial routes while failing to invest in the wider network, despite receiving more than 40 per cent of their income from public subsidies. They continue to hike up fares, which have risen by more than 10 per cent above inflation over the past decade. All that has led to a decline in bus journeys, so it is no wonder that the Tories do not mention public transport in their motion, given their toxic legacy of deregulation, which they continue to champion.

However, the Scottish Government’s amendment is no better. It acknowledges

“a need to encourage more people to use more sustainable travel options and reduce their car use” but offers no practical steps to make that a reality. The Government has a target of reducing car kilometres travelled by 20 per cent by 2030, but has yet to outline what steps will be taken to achieve that.

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 allows for publicly run bus services, but it is not backed by sufficient resources for local authorities, and the Government’s proposed bus service improvement partnerships will leave control of fares, routes and timetables at the whim of private companies. Instead of capitulating to private interests, the Scottish Government should take innovative action, such as providing start-up capital through the Scottish National Investment Bank to enable the development of publicly run local bus services. Public ownership is key, because it means that profits that are generated can be reinvested to support non-commercial routes, deliver affordable fares and improve workers’ pay and conditions.

To conclude, I contrast the empty rhetoric of the SNP Government and the lack of ambition from the Tories with the action that is being taken in Wales. The Welsh Labour Government has announced that it will suspend all future road-building projects, and the money that is saved by not building new roads will be used to improve existing ones, including creating new bus and cycle lanes and infrastructure for sustainable transport.

That is the kind of ambition that Labour in Government has, and is the kind of ambition that we need in the Scottish Parliament if we are to meet our climate change targets.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

All members want to see improvements to our rail and bus services and public transport. We all want more active travel, whether by bicycle or Shanks’s pony, although this particular and somewhat ageing pony treks no more.

My first point has been made by other members—it is a trite point, but it is absolutely crucial to the debate. In rural Scotland—98 per cent of our country’s land mass is rural—a car, van or tractor is a necessity, not a luxury. It will never be anything else; that will remain the case in perpetuity. For the majority of people in rural Scotland the car will, as far as we can see, continue to be the only method of transport.

In just a couple of decades—I hope that I will see it in my lifetime—petrol and diesel vehicles will be replaced by low-emissions vehicles. I hope that they will be powered by hydrogen rather than by electricity, but I am not an expert on that. My point is, however, that once that shift happens, we will still need roads. The last time I looked, the buses that colleagues in other parties so frequently, and quite fairly, talk about still needed to be driven on roads. [Applause.]

I am slightly embarrassed by the applause from the Conservative side of the chamber. Keep quiet, please. [Laughter.]

The point is this. We should not be anti-road; we should be anti-emissions. I address that reflection in particular to those who have, today, been dubbed our kaftan-clad colleagues.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Briefly. It must be absorbed in the member’s time.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Does the member agree that there is an opportunity to create a road network for electric and hydrogen vehicles?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

To be fair, I think that the transport secretary will confirm that SNP members are committed to upgrading roads throughout rural Scotland, in particular on the ground of safety, although I cannot speak for the Government.

We should not forget that dualled links reduce massively the risk of head-on collisions. Some years ago, a friend of mine lost his wife on the A9 on the way to an SNP conference. All of us will know people who have been similarly affected—if they have not lost a loved one, they will have a family member who has received debilitating injuries that have ruined their life and the lives of their family for ever. The safety case for dualled links is paramount; I passionately believe that.

I turn to my constituency. The A9 is the major link to the central belt and beyond. It is vital for people, businesses and families—it is a link between families and friends throughout the country. It is vital for tourism, which is, in many ways, the driver of the Highland economy, and it is the road to the islands, as well. The A96 is the major link between the north-east and the Highlands; it, too, is essential. I am therefore delighted that the SNP has, since 2009, been committed to dualling both roads.

I welcome the progress that has been made, to which the minister referred earlier. That includes the section that has been completed from Luncarty to the Pass of Birnam, the Tomatin to Moy section that is going ahead and the design work. However, I ask the minister to confirm today, in his closing speech, that we will deliver on our promises on the A9 and the A96. I am talking specifically about the revised promise, if you like: that the dualling of the stretch of the A96 from Inverness to Auldearn, including in particular the Nairn bypass, will go ahead and will not be subjected to the environmental test. That last point is a fine distinction, but an important one, and I will finish—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Ewing, can you bring your remarks to a close, please?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I will finish on this. The project should go ahead, as it has already gone through the public local inquiry process. That, for me, is a matter of honour.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

As other members have expressed today, our roads are far more than just a means of travelling from one place to another—they are, in fact, vital routes for everyone, every day of every year. They are vital for businesses and economic growth; for tourism and the hospitality sector, which has been so heavily impacted during the pandemic; and for people who need to work or visit friends and relatives.

Once upon a time, the SNP was whole-heartedly committed to investment in our road infrastructure. It would be wrong not to acknowledge some of the major projects that have been undertaken in recent years. The dualling of the A9, which Fergus Ewing spoke about so powerfully just now and which has taken place over the past few years or even decades, has made my way home easier, faster and safer. However, the dualling project has been piecemeal and its future is now uncertain.

When the SNP went into coalition with the Scottish Greens, it was effectively announcing the death knell of future investment in our road network beyond the handful of projects that are mentioned in the co-operation agreement. Even then, as Graham Simpson said, there is doubt as to whether those projects will be delivered in full and within a reasonable timescale.

In the brief time that I have, I will focus on one road—it will not surprise the transport minister to find out which one that is. I make no apology for that, and I will go on mentioning this road again and again until the Scottish Government finally takes action to sort it out once and for all. I have spoken before about the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful pass. The road suffers from landslides and is frequently closed, cutting off Argyll and causing massive disruption and anxiety to locals. Interestingly, the road is affected by weather. There has long been a problem there, but it has got worse in recent years, which is quite possibly due to climate change and increasingly severe wet weather. However, is the solution to make no effort to improve and upgrade the road? Of course not. There is no alternative for residents and businesses.

In 2020, when Transport Scotland committed to replacing the route with a new permanent route, many people, myself included, welcomed that. The SNP manifesto had a pledge to

“deliver the short, medium and long term solutions required at The Rest and Be Thankful”, although I note that that is not mentioned in the co-operation agreement. We have had consultation processes to determine the corridor for the replacement route, and we have an on-going process to determine an option within that corridor. However, Transport Scotland has said that the process of delivering a new route could take up to 10 years.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I am sure that the member did not mean to mislead, but I want to draw a distinction there. The period of up to 10 years is for the conclusion of the long-term proposal. At the moment, we are talking about the medium-term proposal, which is being worked through.

Photo of Donald Cameron Donald Cameron Conservative

I thank the minister for that clarification. Yes, the period of 10 years is for the permanent solution.

I realise that it is not a quick-fix project and that it is important that any solution is durable, but communities across Argyll cannot wait 10 years for a permanent solution. Many people have spoken about the need to deliver a medium-term route, which the minister just mentioned, by using the nearby forestry road, which they believe could be made available within weeks. However, Transport Scotland has said that it could take years to deliver even that. It is no wonder that so many people across Argyll and Bute feel left behind.

Graham Simpson referred to the A82, which continues to cause significant dismay to people in Lochaber. Many promises to upgrade that route have been made, but the Government has dragged its heels when it comes to taking meaningful action.

Much uncertainty remains about whether the SNP-Green coalition is committed to any new road projects, let alone the projects to which the Government has long been committed. In the Highlands and Islands, we rely heavily on robust roads, yet all we have seen is dither and delay. As Brian Whittle and Fergus Ewing said, in terms of climate change, it is not roads that matter, it is what drives on them. Therefore, I ask the Government not to cave in to the anti-road agenda of others but instead to work with us and deliver a road network that is fit for the future.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Here we are, with the ink barely dry on the Glasgow climate pact, and Opposition parties have come to the chamber falling over themselves to support new trunk road expansion across Scotland. Thousands of climate protesters at COP26 shouted out the question, “What do we want?” Now we have an answer from the Tories and Labour: “More roads! More roads!”

The Tories are back to full extremist mode. In this Parliament, they marked the start of COP26 with a debate in which they demanded that every last drop of oil be drained from the Cambo oilfield. They have now marked the end of COP26 with a list of trunk road projects as long as your arm.

As for Labour, this was its first big test to provide a credible green Opposition. To be honest, it has failed at the first hurdle. The Labour amendment is a transport wish list that is based on having more of everything, and particularly more roads. It is an unlimited and contradictory list of demands at a time when public funds are tight and coherent transport choices need to be made.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

Will the member give way?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Let me quote for Mr Bibby the excellent report from Scotland’s rail unions—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member does not appear to be taking interventions.

Please continue, Mr Ruskell.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Mr Bibby might want to listen to Scotland’s rail unions, as I do all the time. In their document “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways”, those unions say:

“Transport is the biggest emitter of CO2 and 68% of transport emissions come from cars or vans and only 6% from trains. A fundamental requirement for Scotland to meet its environmental obligations is to change people’s behaviour and shift them from road to rail.”

How can we make that shift if the spending priorities are weighted towards road projects that will lock in car dependency?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I will give way to Mr Kerr.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

If the minister is successful such that we all drive zero-emission cars, how does increasing traffic on roads add to emissions?

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Mr Kerr should look at the challenge that we have in tackling climate change. I drive an electric vehicle. That will not tackle climate change; it will increase our energy demand. We need modal shift. It has been shown since the 1960s that new and expanded trunk roads generate new traffic and higher levels of emissions. They destroy our communities as well, and they create congestion, which affects the economy.

Members have spoken about the safety case for projects. There will be valid improvements that benefit road safety. I think back to the second session of the Parliament and the strong cross-party campaign, of which I was part, to improve the Ballinluig junction on the A9. However, just as Transport Scotland never accepted a safety case for dualling the entire length of the A9, so there is no credible safety case for dualling the entire A96.

Let us consider what has worked on the A9 to reduce accidents: average speed cameras. We should introduce those first on the A96, alongside a range of targeted improvements to roads and public transport infrastructure that reduce congestion and improve safety and connectivity between towns along the corridor.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green


Many of those measures are highlighted in the co-operation agreement between the Greens and the SNP.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Bibby, do not comment from a secondary position, please.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Labour did not take an intervention from me, so why should I take one from Mr Bibby?

Can I make some progress, Presiding Officer? I am being interrupted quite a lot.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Yes. I am trying to deal with that, Mr Ruskell. Please proceed, but you have to conclude. You have up to four minutes.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

In January 2020, the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland called for

“a presumption in favour of investment to future proof existing road infrastructure and to make it safer, resilient and more reliable rather than increase road capacity.”

I am confident that that will be the starting point for the forthcoming strategic transport projects review. There will be cases for urgent road projects such as the A83, but, as the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport said earlier this year, the days of big road development projects are coming to an end. I think—I hope, for the sake of the climate—that he is right.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

None of the roads that is mentioned in the motion directly affects my constituency, but I recognise the importance of road infrastructure development. The fact that roads such as the Aberdeen western peripheral route—procrastinated on by Labour and the Tories alike but delivered by the SNP—are being or have been developed suggests to me and many others that there was a complete lack of road infrastructure investment in the country. It also provides yet another example of why the union does not work for Scotland.

The routes that are mentioned in the motion will have gone through and be going through consultation and development strategically; they were not pulled together and designed at the last minute. That is quite right. Every project should be scrutinised as it is developed and delivered. That happened in the Parliament with the AWPR and the Queensferry crossing, to name just two examples. Opposition politicians would be criticised if that were not happening.

I always enjoyed the drive to Inverness when the SNP used to hold its conferences at Eden Court theatre until the party got so big that it could not go there anymore. However, the road—the A9—was crying out for investment to make it safer. I remember the campaign in the second session of the Parliament. Mr Swinney had a couple of members’ business debates on the issue, in which Murdo Fraser spoke as well. There were also campaigns regarding the Ballinluig junction and the Bankfoot junction. Mr Swinney demanded additional investment for parts of the route in his constituency. That was investment not for the sake of it but as a safety measure, particularly as tourist fatalities had occurred on the A9. Thankfully, that investment happened.

The landscape on road infrastructure investment is changing. It is imperative that we balance the extensive changes that are required to meet a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions with our duty to ensure that Scotland has a high-quality infrastructure that meets the needs of all our residents, businesses and visitors. That is why the Scottish Government continues to work on the programme of trunk road improvement schemes, improving resilience and safety and delivering sustainable, inclusive growth for the people of Scotland.

Scotland’s national transport strategy—NTS2—sets out future investment in Scotland’s transport network. Those actions reinforce the commitment to sustainable travel and investment in the right places.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I am sorry—I only have up to four minutes.

The Scottish Government is also setting out proposals for future investment in the Scottish road network through the forthcoming recommendations from the strategic transport projects review. The Scottish Government will also continue to progress its programme of trunk road improvements in order to improve resilience.

The Parliament needs to remember that transport is devolved to Holyrood, and the Tories should respect that. If they want to be helpful, they should join us in calling for the UK Government to deliver the funding that is needed to determine our spending priorities.

The Scottish Government has always sought to engage constructively with the UK Government—for example, on cross-border rail and a shared desire for high speed 2 to serve Scotland.

The Tories might not be happy to hear it, but the so-called union connectivity review is more like an echo chamber. That UK Government initiative was established with no discussion or meaningful engagement with Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. It is more akin to daein as we are telt by London.

Quite rightly, the Scottish Government will engage with the UK Government in Scotland’s best interests, but it will not be complicit in Tory attempts at a power grab on the Scottish Parliament or a bid to encourage a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and environmental standards.

This debate will continue, and the chamber will hear more about transport projects. Delivering any transport project strategically, with safety being of paramount importance, as well as delivering for the climate emergency and making communities more sustainable, can be done only through a mechanism such as STPR2.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to closing speeches. I call Colin Smyth to wind up the debate for the Labour Party.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

This debate is an opportunity to shine a light on the Government’s record on transport, and we can see why it rarely debates the issue in Government time. Route by route, the SNP is slowly dismantling our bus network. Passenger journeys have continued to fall by 120 million under this Government, as Neil Bibby highlighted, yet bus fares rise and rise—they have risen by nearly 50 per cent over the past 10 years. Two years ago, I proposed amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill to give councils the power to run their own buses but, two years on, the Government is yet to pass on those powers, never mind the funding to establish municipal bus services to put passengers, not profits, first.

In 2014, when it handed the keys of Scotland’s trains to Dutch firm Abellio, the SNP promised that our rail system would be world leading. We certainly do lead the world when it comes to the cost of a rail ticket, with fares rising above wages and a failed franchise that was plagued by delays, cancellations and overcrowding. Passengers stood on platforms, not knowing whether their train would stop, trains ran late before they were even built, and the franchise was prevented from defaulting only when the targets were fiddled. Yet time and again, SNP and Tory MSPs together voted down Labour motions to bring our railways under public ownership. Even today, Green MSPs prop up a coalition that continues to support privatisation through the Serco franchise of the Caledonian sleeper and they vote against Labour motions to stop the axing of 300 trains a day. Yesterday, the First Minister came off the fence on Cambo. When will Green MSPs come off the fence and actually oppose the cuts to our rail services that their Government supports?

On active travel, the Government set a target to increase to 10 per cent the share of everyday journeys being made by bike by 2020, but pre-pandemic, in 2019, the share barely reached 1.5 per cent. It is little wonder, as Mercedes Villalba highlighted, that transport emissions are Scotland’s largest source of greenhouse gases—at 37 per cent in 2019, of which 70 per cent comes from car travel—and that traffic volumes are 9 per cent higher under this Government. We will not tackle that or get people out of their cars and on to public transport by taking away those trains and buses.

I recognise that, as Fergus Ewing rightly highlighted, in many areas—particularly rural areas—car travel is not a luxury; it is a necessity. The Government plans to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, so Beatrice Wishart was absolutely right to highlight the fact that we need to break down the barriers to ultra-low-emissions vehicles. For example, we need better access to rapid charging points. For too many people, buying an electric car is not about the big business agenda, as the co-leader of the Scottish Greens claimed; it is the only choice that they will have in order to make journeys. Therefore, when those necessary journeys are being made, we need to make sure that our roads are fit for purpose, not plagued by potholes that are the result of the cuts to council budgets that were supported by Green MSPs, such as Mark Ruskell, over the past few years. Too often, those roads, including our trunk roads, are not fit for purpose.

I will highlight two examples that were mentioned by Neil Bibby: the A75 and the A77. At a time when the Government is still committed to investing £3 billion to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness—a proposal that was supported by the Greens when they backed the budget—there is real anger in the south-west of Scotland that, of the £10.5 billion of investment in road infrastructure from the Scottish Government between 2008 and 2020, just 0.4 per cent went to the A75 and the A77, which are key trunk routes. When asked about the upgrading of the A75 and the A77 in Parliament just 12 months ago, the current Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport said that

“the financial constraints within which the Scottish Government must operate limit our options when it comes to major capital investment”.—[Official Report, 20 August 2020; c 39.]

However, as Graham Simpson highlighted, the Scottish Government’s petty attitude, sadly shown again by the minister, meant that it failed to engage in the UK Government’s connectivity review, even if that includes the offer of investment in those key roads.

I appeal to the minister: if the Scottish Government is not prepared to fully upgrade the A75 and A77 as part of the strategic transport projects review, will it engage with the UK Government and support the investment? My constituents do not care where the money comes from to upgrade those roads; they just want to see the investment going in to sustain crucial trunk routes for the area.

For far too long, the south-west of Scotland’s infrastructure has been neglected. For the safety of roads users, and to support the local economy, that has to end.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Smyth, you must bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

It is time to recognise that the upgrading of the A75 and the A77 is a strategic priority for the whole of Scotland.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Like others, I find the timing of the motion, in the week after COP26, to be truly extraordinary. To closely follow such a positive event, which refocused the cross-party support for Scotland’s climate change targets, with a motion that is designed to criticise the Government for lack of investment in road building, demonstrates a remarkable lack of awareness. That is the politest description that I can think of.

Language such as “kaftan crusaders” and “goat tracks” really does not fit with the seriousness of the matters at hand. It is also a fact—

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

No. I have a lot of things to which I want to respond.

It is also a fact that this Government has a strong track record of balancing vital investment, maintenance and improvement of the trunk road network with an on-going commitment to meeting climate change targets and protecting the natural environment.

What Scotland needs now is an infrastructure-led economic recovery to deliver new jobs and speed up the transition to net zero. Our infrastructure investment plan, which was published in February, sets out more than £26 billion of investments to stimulate a green recovery.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

No. I want to respond to a lot of points.

Since 2007, this Government has invested approximately £9.5 billion in managing, maintaining and improving the trunk road and motorway network. In that period, we have delivered improvements across the country to meet the needs of all our population, including the Queensferry crossing, the Aberdeen western peripheral route, the M8, M73 and M74, the Dalry bypass and the A9 dualling programme.

Among other things, we are investing in buses, with £500 million committed to improve bus priority on Scotland’s roads, including the trunk road network, and the extension of free bus travel to under-22s. We have delivered the Borders railway, and will reopen the line to Levenmouth to passengers and freight as part of the decarbonisation agenda for rail. [Interruption.]

I hear a member ask about East Kilbride. We are decarbonising East Kilbride.

Transport infrastructure investment should focus on projects that improve lives, boost our economy, support communities and work towards net zero. The move towards 20 per cent car kilometres reduction is a fundamental pillar in the approach to achieving that, but I agree with Brian Whittle and Fergus Ewing that we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to that issue. We must recognise that it is easier for those who live in urban settings to make that change than it is for those who live in remote rural areas. That will be reflected in the plan when it is published.

Robust research and evidence underpin and inform all our workstreams and policy aims. The important work that is being undertaken through the strategic transport projects review is the method by which the Government is planning for future investment. In that regard, we consider transport in the round.

I will pick up on a couple of points on charging infrastructure in particular. Graham Simpson claimed that Scotland is lagging behind. I will not mark our homework, and nor should he. Let us ask Edmund King of the AA, who, last week, participated in the EV tour of Scotland, and is waxing lyrical about what he found here, particularly in comparison with the situation in England, where, funnily enough, the Conservatives are in power.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

No, I want to make progress.

We do not rest on our laurels, and there is much left to do. A substantial piece of work is under way to ensure that what we deliver is not just numbers of chargers, important though that is, but the right infrastructure in the right places.

I want to be fair to Fergus Ewing, too, so I will pick up his points. The fact that we have made clear our commitment to dual the A9 and the A96, which run through his constituency, should offer the reassurance that he is looking for.

On the question when the funding will be confirmed, the answer is that that will happen as soon as we are in a position to confirm it. On Fergus Ewing’s ask in relation to the A96 stretch from Inverness to Aldearn, which includes the Nairn bypass, the project is already excluded from the environmental assessment process, because it has already gone through a formal process. I hope that that provides the clarity that is sought.

I turn to the Labour amendment. As is the case with European Union charging infrastructure, Scotland is leading the way in the UK on tree planting as part of our response to climate change. Unfortunately, “magic money tree” is not one of the tree species that are involved.

As ever, the Labour amendment is an anti-Scottish-Government rant, with a list of uncosted demands and no indication of which other parts of the Government budget it would see slashed. Perhaps we will get that from Labour as we go through the budget process, but I am not holding my breath.

Effectively striking the balance that I have referred to, between infrastructure investment and our climate ambitions, is a highly important and challenging commitment for the Government, but it is a challenge that we are determined to, and will, meet.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Our motion simply asks that the delivery of future road projects be reaffirmed, recommitted to and delivered. It is interesting that only the Greens disagree with it—the other parties think that the list of projects could be broadened.

There is a real concern throughout Scotland that, despite years of promises and warm words, committed-to upgrades and projects look like they will be abandoned.

We know from the previous statement on the circular economy and the comments made on the deposit return scheme that the Green Party has a rather flexible view of what a manifesto promise means. Surely, when, as Donald Cameron pointed out, the SNP states in its manifesto that it will

“deliver the short, medium and long term solutions required at The Rest and Be Thankful”, the electorate is entitled to expect it, and other promises, to happen. They must happen.

The minister was right when he said that the promised upgrades to the A9 would

“improve road safety, journey times and journey reliability”.

Accordingly, our motion refers to the A9. In 2018, the A9 was Scotland’s most dangerous road, with 25 accidents and 13 deaths.

However, we also cite the A96 in our motion. According to new information that I have obtained, in the past four years, that shocking road has seen 105 accidents, with nine fatalities in 2019 alone. In 1989, in response to it being the most dangerous road in Scotland, The Press and Journal launched its “End the Carnage—Spend the Cash” campaign. It is a disgrace that three decades have passed and still the A96 is not dualled. I say to Stuart McMillan that that is not diligence—it is negligence.

What makes it worse is that the SNP promised otherwise in 2011. I find the words of Neil Greig, the policy and research director at IAM Roadsmart, persuasive:

“Many of the crashes on the A96 … are head-on incidents.

“They remain the least survivable type of crash, even in a modern vehicle.

“The only long-term solution to such crashes is to dual the entire road as soon as possible”.

On the minister’s second point, Donald Cameron pointed out that our roads are

“vital for businesses and economic growth ... for tourism and the hospitality sector … and for people who need to work”.

Brian Whittle reminded us that, while the Scottish Government dithers and delays with yet another consultation on the A77, 45 per cent of goods going to and coming from Northern Ireland go through Cairnryan.

Dr Liz Cameron, who is the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said that upgrading the A9 and A96 is

“not a luxury but a necessity”.

Why? She says that that A9

“is not only about increasing much needed capacity, it is Scotland’s longest trunk road and gateway to the Highlands, and the A96, a key transport corridor essential for Scottish exports, must be taken forward to ensure the future of rural communities and their economies.”

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I will not, because I am very tight for time. [Interruption.] Okay, then—if you are quick, Mr Ewing. [Laughter.]

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The power of persuasion.

I very much agree with what has been said—the roads are really important to rural communities. However, I ask for clarification. Just before the Holyrood elections, the Conservatives pledged that they would add an extra lane to the motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I believe that the cost of that would be around £5 billon, which would use up the whole budget for some considerable time. Is that pledge extant, or have they dropped it?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

We absolutely stand by the manifesto but, as per my comments, the A9 and the A96 have to be the priority. We have rightly heard about the environment today. Graham Simpson persuasively pointed out that slow-moving stop-start lines of traffic stuck on not-fit-for-purpose A roads, belching fumes as they grind gears, do not help to tackle climate change. We can help to tackle climate change by building in EV charging points, hydrogen refuelling stations and cycling and walking lanes. Let us create the green superhighway networks that Brian Whittle spoke about.

Some members expressed the concern that if we build roads, car use increases. That is the concept of induced demand, sometimes known as Braess’s paradox, yet without those roads, car use has increased 8 per cent in Scotland, which rather reinforces Neil Bibby’s point about the attractiveness of public transport under the SNP. However, the paradox is clear: the issue is roads in the wrong locations. Neil Gray talked about the new link road in his constituency cutting congestion and pollution. I am grateful for that. The point is answered simply by following the science, understanding induced demand, modelling properly, and building and upgrading in the right locations.

Mark Ruskell suggested that upgrading roads leads to worse emissions, but Brian Whittle reminded the chamber that taking trundling stop-start HGV convoys out of towns and villages and allowing them to maintain constant speed in gears, hugely reduces emissions. Donald Cameron said:

“it is not roads that matter; it is what drives on them.”

If all the vehicles on the roads are zero emission, clearly the emissions argument is completely nullified.

I note that the minister has not acknowledged that point, which tells us three things. Either he does not believe that he will achieve the infrastructure upgrades necessary to achieve zero emission vehicles at scale, or he is ignorant of the science on how technology advances, or he is completely beholden to a Green Party that is not interested in practicality and simply wishes to pursue a reactionary vendetta against the private car driver.

Speakers in the debate have been clear. Safety, the economy, business, jobs, tourism and the environment need these upgrades and mandate further investment in roads. Last month, the transport minister said:

“Some people think road building is bad; I’m not in that space. We need a well-maintained road network.”

He is right. So, vote for our motion today. Follow the science, the needs of the economy and the safety of the people of Scotland, and consign the extreme policies of the Greens to the scrapyard.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate on delivering promised road infrastructure across Scotland. Before the next item of business, I will allow a moment for those who wish to move seats, to do so.