STSG was set up in 1984 by transport operators, academics and consultants working in Scottish transport who were concerned that the transport debate lacked clarity and consensus. At that time, as today, there was concern that the available evidence lacked the focus needed to enable complex goals to be delivered.
Transport continues to be excessively influenced by lobbying for particular interests. In other policy areas good practice is clearer. Nobody would expect politicians to fudge health policy decisions on particular patient interventions to fit in with lobbying from drug companies or special interest groups, yet that is precisely what happens in transport. The transport industry is divided by sector, mode, and ideology. Faced with such division politicians at both local and national levels politicians need more help. Evidence by STSG makes the delivery of good transport more consistent with political survival.
For 33 years, the published papers and events from STSG have engaged with controversial topics that would otherwise not have be discussed. Radical ideas in the past have included challenging received wisdom about the role of railways, with a progressive debate about both opening and closing rail lines. Our challenging ideas about achieving more collaborative transport delivery from think pieces 20 years ago are now broadly accepted. Our current ideas about new ways of paying for transport, or new ways of managing rights and responsibilities, are not yet widely popular so there is more work to do.
STSG’s constitution is to “Promote the Role of Transport for the Economy and Society of Scotland” and has a particular interest in ensuring (government) policy is made well. The specifics of any particular policy are always secondary, so people who see the world from a particular perspective may sometimes find support from STSG evidence and sometimes opposition. STSG engagement with any issue seeks to be refreshing and open and the Committee support the publication of views that would not otherwise be heard even when they are controversial. Many people dislike transparency and over the 33 years of STSG there have been many attempts to silence or marginalise the think tank. Referencing STSG as ‘unreliable’ is code for ‘cannot be relied upon to agree with us’, ‘ill-conceived’ is code for ‘a different perspective’, and so on. The knowledge which STSG seeks to crystallise lasts longer than any short term objections, so we have recently been republishing STSG papers which were published prior to the digital age which might otherwise have been lost. History has a habit of repeating itself.
Our promotion of social and economic goals focuses the vision. If rights are constructed socially, and responsibilities allocated appropriately, transport can function effectively. Our recent reviews show that there is currently a misallocation of rights and responsibilities leading to inefficiency and dissension affecting all aspects of Scottish transport. To help overcome these problems, STSG has been concentrating on debates about collaboration in transport delivery and how to pay for better transport. People and businesses put their money behind things that make their lives better. New approaches must help to refocus transport investment on the delivery of better transport rather than only patching problems for the benefit of the most articulate lobbyists who are often the wealthiest in society.
The case for STSG to continue to promote better transport has never been stronger. In the post-truth era the challenges to STSG’s activities have never been greater. Sign up for newsletters, or contact us to see how you can contribute. All STSG activities are undertaken by volunteers, but the rewards for those that contribute come from the the clarity and consensus associated with all successful transport delivery.