Key Transport Proposals in Scottish Manifestos

With the publication of the Labour manifesto, the main political parties have all set out their stalls for the 5 May election. STSG had sent the think piece “STR58 – Towards a Democratic mandate for Transport Reform” to all of the main parties so we wanted to check whether the manifestos had made the big commitments we are looking for.

There are certainly some big commitments so as a quick guide to which parties are shaping up for the future of transport a few of the most relevant commitments are presented below. Not surprisingly complex changes affecting the future of transport are couched in fairly general terms, but there is much to welcome.

We highlighted 10 key commitments that seemed to be missing from the transport debate so below we set out what response the parties have made in their manifestos.

Reform 1 – Ensure greater equity in the way that transport investment is made, to ensure that transport investment is not used as a hidden subsidy to the richest in society.

Labour, the Libdems and the Greens all support land value taxation which is one of the most efficient ways to ensure that public spending on transport is applied equitably across the economy.

The Libdems have proposed the island proofing of all policies, and Labour have proposed an Island’s Bill to ensure that Islands are treated equitably, including transport investment.

Verdict – Land value taxation in locations affected by transport changes and published audits of changes in access to opportunity as a result of transport spending continue to be two of the best ways to ensure equity in public spending. Neither of these are yet undertaken systematically in Scotland but the recommendations of Scottish Parliament committee reports seem to be being taken up in manifestos, if not government policy.

Reform 2 – Invest in transport for place making so that transport as a demand largely derived from the desire to reach places will be integrated into urban and rural communities across Scotland.

There are few specific proposals about place making. The manifestos mention the City Deals as ways of managing collaborative investment in Scotland’s cities. There is also recognition of the important role of communities in building places from the bottom up.

Labour propose new strategies for towns and the SNP have committed to continue Scotland’s towns partnership. The Conservatives propose a new round of Town Centre Regeneration Funding of £30million annually.

Active travel to local shops is mentioned in most manifestos. The Greens suggest that 10% of the transport budget should be spent on walking and cycling routes and want a higher profile for road maintenance.

Verdict – Whilst regeneration, partnership and more active travel (footfall) are all important ingredients of success in place making there remains no clear programme for funding the streetscape improvements, including maintenance of roads and footpaths, that are badly needed in so many of Scotland’s places.


Reform 3 – Integration of transport with wider investment so that all new development from new hospitals to new homes are consistent with better transport

There are positive statements about ensuring new development pays for its transport costs in the Conservative but no detail on the mechanisms.

The Greens support greater community involvement to ensure local needs are protected when land is developed but again the details of how they will do this is not clear.

Verdict – There is no clear national framework proposed to protect investment in passenger and freight transport when land is developed. Local authorities will therefore continue to find themselves competing for development by underfunding transport consequences of development.

Reform 4 – Taxation of fuel duty should recognise Scotland’s leadership role in the UK on transport and energy reform so there is a need to work with the UK Government and the EU to bring forward relevant policies to replace outdated fuel, vehicle excise duty and vehicle taxes.

Reform 5 – Introduce pay as you go pricing to create incentives for more efficient road use that save travellers money and reduce the need for expensive transport capacity improvements

The SNP highlight the limited taxation powers of the Scottish Government and UKIP highlight their concerns about the growing role of the EU in supporting transport policies like road pricing. There are no other commitments in the other manifestos.

Verdict – There are no signs that the Holyrood Parliament seeks to lead fuel taxation reform or road pricing. This means that Scotland will probably end up following the transport reforms led by the private sector and other tiers of government during the period of the next Scottish Parliament, following the trends of recent years and weakening Scotland’s competitive position in the future of transport.

Reform 6 – Replace regressive transport taxes which favour the wealthiest with progressive approaches to paying for transport to spread the burden of transport taxes more equitably.

The SNP propose to cut Air Passenger Duty by 50% which will have positive distributional benefits for more isolated parts of the country who rely more on air travel, but nationally will favour wealthy and middle income earners who take the greatest number of flights. All other parties will retain APD at the current level and to maintain the Air Discount Scheme to reduce travel costs from remote areas. There are no new progressive taxation or charging policies proposed.

The SNP say that “We have based all our decisions on tax around the principles first set out by Adam Smith – taxes should be proportionate to ability to pay; they should give certainty to taxpayers; they should allow for convenient payment; and they should be efficient in their operation.”  However they do not explain why transport taxes do not appear to follow these principles.

Verdict – Transport taxation will continue to be one of the most unfair and unsustainable elements of the tax system. Opportunities to reform bus service operators grant, VAT and other taxes to align them with transport policy have been missed. Scotland cannot hope to develop a low carbon transport economy if maintenance and reuse are taxed more heavily than new construction and if improvements for the highest carbon modes of travel are not balanced with investment in low carbon travel.

Reform 7 – New approaches to transport partnerships, contracts and franchises are needed. The combination of complexity with inflexibility means the current rail and ferry franchising process is unable to meet fast changing needs and partnerships to manage public and private stakes in transport are weak and ineffective.

Labour and UKIP have suggested halting the tendering process for the west coast ferry services.

The Greens propose new regulation of bus services to include a minimum level of service guarantee; requirements to invest in more accessible energy efficient vehicles; and a renovation programme for bus stations. Labour propose greater democratic control and municipal ownership of bus services.

The SNP propose a Bill within the first year of the new parliament which amongst other things will improve bus services, including new seatbelt laws, but the general aim of the Bill is not clear, being at least party based on a transport strategy refresh which has been promised.

Labour and the Greens both propose taking the Scotrail franchise into public ownership and the SNP hint at bringing forward proposals which may cover this in their proposed transport Bill.

Verdict –  The manifestos all recognise that substantial change is needed giving all parties a mandate for reform. However the lack of clarity about the direction of that reform will make the consensus building process between those involved in securing good transport services more difficult. Local people, community groups, transport operators, local authorities, Scottish Government, UK Government, and EU Government all have important stakes in the future of these services which need to be reflected in future plans. The relationship between the Scottish Government stake and the roles of others in not is not defined in any of the manifestos.

Reform 8 – Develop transport systems to improve their performance in delivering stated transport policy outcomes for better journey times and connections, better access to opportunity and cleaner heathier travel

The Greens would extend the free bus pass to unpaid carers on benefits, and Labour would extend free bus travel to apprentices and former service personnel.

The upgrading of the A9 and A96 are mentioned in most manifestos and various rail schemes are proposed for Fife, Clackmannanshire and the Borders. Various commitments are also made to spend money on infrastructure but are not linked to planned outcomes.

Verdict – There are few new policy commitments for better journey times and costs between homes, businesses and key opportunities such as workplaces, hospitals and schools and there remains little clarity about what level of performance is expected from transport systems. This will continue to make it difficult for businesses and residents to plan their lives around the big changes in the transport systems which will occur over the period of the next Scottish Parliament. Government also needs to provide some clarity about what performance is sought from Scotland’s ports.

Reform 9 – Modernise consumer protection for travellers to reflect emerging needs across all modes of travel

The Libdems have promised to stop the creation of the Scottish Government’s ID and replace it with data that belongs to the citizen and where people have the right to know who has accessed their information. They have also promised to take steps to safeguard people from the misuse of their data including CCTV images or biometric information.

Verdict – Many Scottish people are not yet aware of how their personal data tracking their travel from their phones and GPS systems and through CCTV is being used, so most manifestos have missed this vitally important issue. Consumer protection of this data will be an increasingly important topic during the course of the next Scottish Parliament but only the Libdems would have a democratic mandate for action to challenge strong commercial interests in this.

Reform 10 – Clarify rights and responsibilities within the transport systems to reflect the rapid changes towards increasingly smart modes of transport and smart infrastructure

The Greens have proposed presumed liability for road casualties to give new protections to vulnerable road users.

Verdict – Greater automation of vehicles, drones and other emerging transport technologies will be accompanied by increasing legal costs to resolve rights and responsibilities. Case law in Scotland provides good flexibility to enable these changes but the burden of high legal costs for vulnerable travellers unable to pay high legal costs to defend themselves is a growing problem that only the Greens appear to recognise.


  • The Fight for Edinburgh Central Hangs on a Cycle Track Petition

    There are now over 3,300 signatories to the petition against the West Coates cycle track in favour of NCR1, the existing cycle route from Roseburn into the heart of Edinburgh. Edinburgh Central is a key marginal – every vote will count and the candidates know that.

    40 residents and traders have written to the Holyrood hopefuls in the strongest terms, seeking to convince them that they should sign the petition, should they wish to secure their vote. Whilst Holyrood would usually regard cycle tracks as a local matter, candidates now know that 50% of the cost of the track will come from the Government, via Sustrans. As such, if they come to office, they would have a part to play in trying to convince the Transport Minister (if it continues to be Derek Mckay, or another SNP politician) that there is no need to blow scarce resources on a track that nobody but Lesley Hinds wants.

    The candidates will now know that Sustrans have their offices on the route of the track, and that they pulled out of a long-awaited meeting with traders and residents at the last minute last Tuesday, when they became aware of the calibre of the experts ranged against them for the meeting, arguing that “it would now be best to wait for the Council consultation report”. They will now know that Sustrans did this because they were fearful of being proven wrong in their obvious enthusiasm for the scheme- and had nothing to offer in terms of alternatives. The candidates will now appreciate that Sustrans, being funded by the Government, suffer little public scrutiny of their activities, so can throw cash at their own pointless pet projects in the knowledge they will never be challenged over giving the public value for money.

    The candidates will know too that Sustrans already have a cycle track from Roseburn to Haymarket at their back door, the National Cycle Route 1- and now want a second track at their front door, along Haymarket Terrace. The candidates now know that one cycle track should suffice any cycling quango, as Sustrans fundamentally are, but to have TWO tracks is really just plain greedy- and does not reflect a wise use of public funding in these times of austerity.

    Candidates now know that £1M could go a long way to filling in potholes and improving black spots for cyclists all over the city. They also know that the campaigners plan their OWN consultation report and plan, that will cost a fraction of the £1M the Council seeks to spend, but will achieve the same end, by making the case for improvements to NCR1.

    Of course there will be widespread interest locally in exactly what the candidates are saying about the track- since none of them have responded to pressure to sign. Strangely, in a key marginal, most of them have not even bothered to reply to the campaigners. Only Ruth Davidson has taken the trouble to get back to each of the voters. She knows that every vote really counts, and she is not wasting any opportunity.

    In 2012 the SNP took the seat from Labour with only 237 votes. The favourite to win right now is Sarah Boyack, but Sarah, being Labour, is refusing to go against her colleague, Transport Convener and Edinburgh North & Leith contender, Cllr Lesley Hinds, who is 100% being the track.

    Her closest competitor, Alison Dickie of the SNP, has been sitting on the fence – and has been there since petitioner Pete Gregson first wrote to her on the 9th February, and Alison has had 3 months to mull over the issues. Yet still she refuses to take a stance, even though her colleague Cllr Frank Ross, Deputy Leader of the Council, was one of the first to sign the petition when it was launched at Xmas 2015. Sadly Alison does not see that supporting the campaign is the one thing that may yet win her the crown of Central Edinburgh.

    Coming up third in this race is Hannah Bettsworth. This seat is notionally a Lib Dem one and Hannah knows which side her bread is buttered on. She is the only one to come out against the cycle track in her campaign literature and has therefore immediately gained votes. In 2011 the LibDems suffered from the backlash over their marriage to the Tories in Westminster and polled 3,543 fewer than the SNP. Clearly Hannah has done her sums and sees that if those who oppose the track vote for her, she’ll have a good chance of success. Sadly, Hannah espouses local Cllr Paul Edie’s unsatisfactory and divisive scheme which sees the track bypassing Roseburn but still forces it along West Coates and Haymarket – and blows £1M in the process – so she may harvest little support.

    The candidate who stands to gain most by signing the petition is Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson, who showed up last week for a Roseburn Café fry-up and the above photo-op. She hugged traders and listened to their cycle track woes about the damage the track would do to their business but is unwilling to nail her colours to the mast.

    If only Ruth could show some of the mettle of her Conservative colleague Cllr Jeremy Balfour, who is 4th on the Tory list for Lothian- but should be, in truth- for his steadfast opposition to the track and profound commitment to social justice, number 1. Jeremy was the man who brought the impending disaster of the track to his constituents’ attention in early December (when the Council neglected to notify the residents of its plans) and was the first to sign the petition. For these actions alone, he is a local hero.

    So if Ruth really wants to be welcome at the Roseburn Café if she takes a seat there as the local MSP she needs to make a real commitment to the people of Central Edinburgh and show she cares. (And if the track goes ahead, there won’t be a café, so she better note that too.)

    There could be 3,300 votes in it for her if she does. Then rather than being 4th on the list, she might be 1st.

    It’s a 4-horse race. And the one who commits to stopping the track will be Queen of Edinburgh Central on Friday.

  • The airlines are making some carefully timed announcements about new routes and jobs if air passenger duty is cut or abolished in Scotland. This is entirely to be expected. In its current form the proposed APD reductions could lead to a windfall increases in profitability for some airlines.

    Below is the Chartered Insitute of Logistics and Transport’s response to the Scottish Government consultation highlighting that changes to APD will only be economically and socially beneficial to Scotland if they are planned.

    “The current proposal would need to be carefully designed, structured and targeted in order to achieve the intended aims. Positive effects are most likely for the aviation industry who have lobbied strongly for the change. The evidence is more mixed, and incomplete, for other sectors of the economy.

    In order to be able to answer the Scottish Government’s question about how the APD cut would achieve its objectives, there needs to be some independent analysis of Scotland’s actual or potential participation in global value chains, knowledge exchange, trade and investment including through tourism. That analysis should compare Scotland’s connectivity with the connectivity of other competing locations and consider what role changes to APD could make to improve Scotland’s competitive position.

    The interaction between economic activity and connections is complex and deserves more detailed consideration than has so far been undertaken. It is important to appreciate that reductions in APD could have both positive or negative impacts on Scotland’s economy. Cheaper air connections would be good for some businesses allowing them to thrive, but bad for others leading to job losses and decline.

    There is no guarantee that cheaper air fares would be passed on by the airlines to passengers. Particularly for routes where air serves inelastic travel demands at a price point that compares favourably with other travel options, on routes unable to support large scale competition, the greatest impact could be increased airline profitability.

    It should be possible to design a simple, manageable approach to APD that makes the most of the advantages and mitigates adverse effects. However, that is not what is being currently proposed, and the responses to this consultation should not be seen as an alternative to evidence based policy development.

    CILT is the largest professional body representing the interests of all modes of transport in the UK and our members include a wide range of interests. Our primary goals are to raise professional standards. Our concern about the planned APD changes is that they do not appear to have been planned, despite these changes being amongst the most critical transport proposals currently being brought forward. Objective evidence to ensure that proposals are consistent with public policy objectives is lacking.”

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