Summary of the active transport debate on 07 January 2015

A quickly hacked together summary of the things said during today’s active transport debate. It ain’t proofread, edited, elegant or short. Be warned.

Last night I wrote about our current transport minister Derek Mackay giving lashings of praise to outgoing minister Keith Brown in Motion S4M-11980 (I’m sure you’ve got it memorised, but just in case yesterday’s post is here).

Derek wanted parliament to “recognise the success of active travel programmes”, particularly in making more people active, boosting investment, and making a healthier and happier nation. A couple of MSPs rapidly filed addendums to the motion highlighted that words are all very nice, but nothing has been achieved at all and investment this year is less than last year.

The motion was debated today. You can read the full transcript here, or watch it here. It wasn’t particularly well attended…

Very few people in parliament

What follows is a summary of the written transcript. Just what was said; I’m not going to try and dig into any of the statements. Much as I’ll try, I may be unable to keep a straight face when paraphrasing some people, but I’m sure you’ll cope. Italics are my summary, bullets are quotes.

[Note from the future: I singularly fail to remain factual throughout this. Sorry.]

Final excuse: it’s late. This is unlikely to be elegant prose. Maybe grab a glass of wine first…

Deputy presiding office, John Scott. Introduces the motion, and tells everyone to be snappy as they’re tight for time. Nice to know ScotParl takes time to ensure this stuff is done right…

Minister for transport and islands, Derek Mackay. Nothing unexpected, just an expansion on the motion wording. Accepts the labour amendment (so a tacit acknowledgement that nothing has been achieved), but very carefully refers to the Caps 10% by 2020 target as a vision. Same old transport minister.

  • The purpose of the motion is to celebrate and share the success of active travel projects in Scotland since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, and to take stock and consider further actions … I say that I intend to accept the Labour amendment as a reasonable contribution to the debate.
  • We now have the “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland 2013”—the second such plan—which outlines 19 actions that will help us to achieve our shared vision of 10 per cent of everyday journeys being made by bike by 2020
  • This year sees the largest-ever Scottish Government investment—almost £40 million—in cycling and walking

Bruce Crawford (Stirling). Asks whether the £214m of additional cycling investment in England was from Barnett consequentials money. Slightly odd question—this is Scotland we’re talking about.

Derek Mackay. Rambling response, but comments that are promising if you believe them. He does say that he has provided written details of the budget to Spokes, so hopefully they’ll be releasing that shortly.

  • That is one of the reasons why I will accept the Labour amendment, to give further clarity to spending on active travel, which is the right thing to do. New funding announcements have been additional money allocated to the tasks.
  • On an additional £10 million, there is an issue around financial transactions, which is not the first place we would want to go for £5 million to fund capital improvements, but we have—do we not?—to be creative, with Westminster making such drastic reductions to our capital budget

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland). Asks what plans there are to increase on-road cycling by primary school pupils.

Derek Mackay. Agrees important. Talks a lot about existing bike training schemes, and investment in grassroots projects. Talks about 20mph zones and strict liability, but no indication of preference (and misses the point of strict liability completely). My cynical mind suggests he deliberately used the time constraint to avoid having to justify the final bullet point.

  • Nearly £500,000 has been awarded to 66 grassroots community groups through the cycle friendly and sustainable communities fund, which was set up during the last spending review.
  • We cannot talk about active travel without talking about road safety. As ministers have said many times, one death on Scotland’s roads is one too many. We will do all that we can do to reduce road casualty figures
  • if there is evidence that the introduction of some form of strict liability will make active travel safer, we will of course look at it
  • In conclusion, the language in the Labour amendment is not right—there has not been stagnation in participation in active travel [My note: yes there has, see yesterday’s post]

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands). Good stuff from David, working up from a wide spread of stats and quotes to justify his amendment (final bullet below). Take note, Derek… Confirms Labour’s support to active transport.

  • The Scottish Government included active travel as one of the means by which to reach our 2020 target on lower emissions. Substituting short carbon-polluting car journeys with walking or cycling is a relatively easy early gain.
  • Many people without cars rely on active travel methods to get to work or school, but they are faced with unnecessary obstacles and dangers such as badly lit walkways and cycle paths.
  • The Scottish Government vision for 2030 has an ambitious plan to increase active travel by 20 per cent and a target of 10 per cent for all journeys to be made by bike by the year 2020. We share that ambition. Is the minister confident that those targets can be met? What obstacles need to be overcome? [Tell us Derek, do.]
  • [The Labour amendment] “acknowledges that the number of people participating in active travel has remained relatively stagnant and more needs to be done to increase the number of people cycling and walking as a normal means of transport through improving infrastructure, promotion activities and road safety, and calls on the Scottish Government to set out how the active travel budget for 2015-16 will be spent, in particular the proportion that will be allocated to cycling and walking infrastructure”

Alison Johnstone (Lothian). Cracking speech from Alison. Nothing new, nothing glamorous; just really solid points made well. Someone make her transport minister, please.

  • A Government that is serious about spending money wisely on outcomes such as vastly improving national health and wellbeing, not to mention boosting the economy, should invest properly in walking and cycling.
  • [Søren Rasmussen’s] slides of cycling Copenhagen style were inspirational, with 40 per cent of folk cycling to work, school, university and college, and no Lycra or hi-vis gear in sigh—it is not needed, because a critical mass of cyclists is highly visible.
  • For now, such numbers remain a vision for Scotland, but it is essential that we have a really clear commitment to a target of 10 per cent of all journeys being made by bike by 2020. We should keep the language clear: if 10 per cent is a target, we should call it a target.
  • As yet, no Scottish Government…has made walking and cycling a priority. The level of investment says it all: it is 1 and a bit per cent of the transport budget—a budget that has increased massively in the past four years. The new transport minister could be the person to change that.
  • Spokes has rightly questioned the clarity of the financial transactions that are involved in investing in cycling and walking infrastructure. … Why is it so complicated? I ask the Government to make it as transparent as possible and to be really proud of the investment. It can have a single budget line or two for “Walking infrastructure” and “Cycling infrastructure”. …at the end of the line can be a figure that is 10 per cent of the transport budget.
  • [The Green amendment, which Derek didn’t accept] “reaffirms the Scottish Government’s target of 10% of journeys to be made by bike by 2020; notes the estimate by Spokes that active travel funding in the 2015-16 draft budget is lower than in the previous year; calls on the Scottish Government to reverse this cut and substantially increase funding for active travel; notes the ongoing debate and research into the introduction of presumed liability in relation to road accidents, and urges local authorities to meet growing demand for high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure, extend 20mph speed limits in built-up areas and provide walking and cycling training opportunities to every child in Scotland”

Nanette Milne (North East Scotland). More good stuff, and again the data that exposes the lack of progress in active transport is highlighted. Derek responds with a bit of irrelevant political sniping.

  • …statistics show that seven deaths occur every day in Scotland due to inactivity.
  • Given that obesity is currently estimated to cost the national health service more than £300 million a year, we can judge the significant financial benefits to be gained from improving our national health by increasing our physical activity.
  • The Government’s national performance indicator on increasing the proportion of journeys to work that are made by public or active transport has decreased from 31.2 to 30.7 per cent. In 2013, only 23 per cent of such journeys were made on foot, even though half of all of them were of less than 3km.
  • The number of children walking to school is stuck at about 50 per cent, with 20 per cent of morning peak traffic still taking children to school, although most primary school children live less than 1.5 miles from their school
  • Sadly, commuter cycling rates remain very low. The rate in Aberdeen, for example, has increased by only 1 per cent since 1999 to 3 per cent last year, which is nowhere near the Government’s 10 per cent cycle share target for 2020.

Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern). Jim, Alison Johnstone and Sarah Boyack are the political heroes of active transport in Scotland (despite being SNP, Green, and Labour respectively). Mentions Pedal on Parliament (this year’s will be on the 25 April). Calls for cash from the Barnett Consequentials in a particularly charming moment. Neatly dovetailed with other speeches; it’s almost like they speak to each other…

  • [Pedal on Parliament 2012 was] a mass movement—people of all ages and from all backgrounds came together to make their voice heard and to demand that our roads be made safer and more accessible for cyclists. They set up their own campaign group, they wrote a manifesto, they used social media and they called for action so that Scotland could become a cycle-friendly nation.
  • In Edinburgh, we have one of the highest rates of cycling in the country and we have a council that is providing leadership. Edinburgh has responded to the demand from local people for more investment by committing 7 per cent of its transport budget to projects that are designed for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Many more people would cycle if the roads were safer—there are many people who want to cycle but feel that the roads are not yet safe enough.
  • There are thousands of cyclists in Scotland—men, women and children—and they are looking to this Parliament for leadership.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian). From the opening of her speech: “I want to focus on three things: our overall approach; the distinctive roles that central Government and local government can play; and the money, which Jim Eadie has just said that we should focus on.” She did. Cue wild applause from the crowd. Also takes a nice shot at Derek at the end.

  • There is clear cross-party support for doing more on … active travel; the bit that we are not so good at is joining up the dots between walking and cycling, between walking and buses, between walking and trains and between cycling and trains. I would add to that list other types of transport, as well. The trunk road network [the responsibility of Derek…] must be linked into our cycling ambitions … although local authorities are crucial, if we are to have an overall approach to active travel, every level of government must be signed up to it.
  • The policy is absolutely crucial, there is cross-party support and work needs to be done at both central and local levels with both levels of government playing their part. However, at the end of the day, the political will must translate into money.
  • At the final First Minister’s question time before the recess, the First Minister accused Opposition parties of not being supportive enough on climate change when controversial issues are raised. Do walking and cycling have to be seen as controversial? They involve the investment of relatively small amounts of money, they are incredibly local and they provide very good public health benefits. They are also good for the economy. We do not say enough about the fact that the promotion of cycling and walking is also good for the economy.
  • We need sustained investment, and we need a higher level of investment. … The next time that the minister holds a debate on active travel, I hope that the motion will be less self-congratulatory and will offer a bit more on what we can all do to meet the challenge.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast). Now I read the transcript, I can see what he was doing. He’s heard a lot said about cycling, and wanted to ensure walking also got a mention. Right behind you Stewart; we need champions across the board of active transport. You were funny (and this transcript needed some wit), you touched important issues, and you rightly point out that shiny infrastructure projects are popular with politicians because they make for good photos. But don’t then pick cycle lanes as your example of sexy infrastructure! Have you not seen the extra Forth bridge, the dual carriageways, Glasgow’s motorways? Demand investment in walking, absolutely; but demand extra money, not a reallocation of the meagre funds cycling is scraping along with.

I’m quoting a lot of what he said, because you need to read full paragraphs to finally ease out the sensible meaning…

  • The Greens seem to be a bit obsessed about this strange cycling thing—their amendment contains five references to cycling and only one to walking. I am here to redress the balance a little, because I am not the committed cyclist that some other members are.
  • At the risk of being characterised as a grumpy old man, I suggest that much of the debate has focused on entirely the wrong thing—investment in infrastructure. That is nothing to do with the subject under discussion. Ministers love investment in infrastructure—they will go off and spend every £1 that we can give them on infrastructure, because they love to go and open things or be photographed beside a new bit of cycle track, at a new bike hire station or putting a new name on a train—but the reality is that we have to change what goes on in people’s minds.
  • £1 that is spent on walking buys a heck of a lot more than £1 that is spent on almost anything else in the area of active travel, and I would like to see us do something about that.
  • Perhaps we should equip people not just with walking shoes, but with roller skates, because roller-skating is a good, healthy form of exercise, too. I have heard no mention of the provision of roller skates for the population of Scotland.
  • In such debates, we must challenge the norms. As members, let us look in the mirror. How many of us came to the Parliament in a taxi?
  • I have genuinely looked at cycling; I was on the point of going ahead with it until my wife saw what I was looking at on the internet. I was looking at monocycles because they are quite easy to carry around, they are quite cheap and they are easy to maintain. I thought that it would scare the heck out of people at the Parliament if they saw me on my monocycle.
  • We have a clear choice about where to spend money. I genuinely say to the minister that yes, we have to invest in infrastructure and we should continue to do that but we really have to invest in changing the hearts and minds of the people of Scotland. Almost everybody has the equipment to engage in walking and they have it right now. It will be raining heavily when Parliament finishes its day’s business, but I still want to see all the members here walking to Waverley if that is where they are going.

An aside from your humble editor. It’s late, so the rest will be summaries without quotes. This is unfair to everyone who follows, but I’m sure they’ll survive.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands). Calls the cycling lobby “about the most powerful lobby out there”, and says other nice things. Stuff about kids, projects in the Shetlands, and finishes with a stat that as 50% of all journeys in Scotland under 5km are driven, we still clearly have lots to do.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland). Netherlands, needing links between rural communities, against strict liability. Need to invest in infrastructure, but have to deal with overall reduced budget. Balks at the harsh truth: “Of course, we could reallocate money from the roads budget, but I think that we as politicians would have face up to the reality of such a move. How would our constituents react if we told them that we were going to stop filling in potholes and instead start building segregated cycle lanes?”. Final quote: “It might well take a brave politician to get on his or her bike and ensure that Scotland goes Dutch. Perhaps we have such a politician in front of us. I certainly hope so.”

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland). Global warming, rural cycling, training in schools. Added more support for walking. Seems to support strict liability, but doesn’t explicitly say so in the transcript.

Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands). I’ll treat myself to two quotes:

  • The second cycling action plan introduces a target of 10 per cent of everyday journeys being made by bicycle by 2020. It is a fact that is perhaps inconvenient for Opposition parties that this Government has a habit of delivering on its targets [Not in active transport it doesn’t]
  • There are some arguments that more should be spent on infrastructure and less on promotional initiatives. However, active travel is at least as much about changing our sedentary culture and attitudes as it is about providing infrastructure [That’ll be why the Niceway Code campaign had such a massive effect, eh?]

Alison challenged that statement, and Mike ignored it. Claims multifaceted approach is “paying off”.

Cara Hilton (Dunfermline). Nothing that hadn’t been said before, but all valid. Mentions Living Streets. Took some more sniping from Derek, who’s clearly going for attack to avoid defence.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston). Sensible stuff about walking and the need to be able to reach good public transport from the home. GoWell program mentioned. Safety of pedestrians through street lighting. Reduced wait for green man at crossings.

Alex Rowley (Cowdenbeath). Talks a lot about Dave’s Bike Shed, but says some other good bits (albeit without the same punch as some who went before). “The minister can jump up and down and ask what other parties would do, but it is the Scottish National Party that is in government. If we are to deliver through partnership, we will need further investment to make that work.”

Richard Lyle (Central Scotland). Legacy of sporting events, costs of chronic diseases on the NHS, calls for increased investment in active transport. Slightly more of a call for people to just start being more active rather than an acceptance that there might be problems blocking them doing so.

Closing speeches

Alison Johnstone.  Rides over attempted disruption from Mike MacKenzie and Stewart Stevenson to deliver a solid summary of much of what was said above.

Alex [sic] Johnstone (North East Scotland). Not good if you ride a bike; a definite smack of “us and them” to everything he said, eg: “It is important that we emphasise the need to educate cyclists and have them behave more responsibly”, and “It is important that we understand that there are [cyclists] out there who use the roads in such a way as to antagonise other road users”. Doesn’t support the Green amendment for more cash to go to active transport.

This is the chap that was against lowering the drink driving limit, by the way.

Mary Fee (West Scotland). Generally agrees with all the positive things above (singled out Jim Eadie), and calls for more money.

Derek Mackay. Delivered the final speech to the session, and spent most of that emphasising that he was only responsible for 6% of the roads in Scotland, that he wouldn’t provide firm direction in transport decisions for local authorities, and generally that we can expect more of the same from the position of Minister for Transport. If I were to hazard a guess at the future, he’s going to splurge on a single, small project; publicise it massively; say he’s providing inspiration and a solid example for everyone else; and then ensure that his replacement delivers a similarly self-congratulating motion when he finally moves to something else.

Bed time.



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Thanks for taking the time to do this. It is excellent for those too lazy to wade through the transcripts themselves. (like me!) And if you would like Alison Johnstone as transport minister then vote Green. It may just happen.

David Stewart, the man who wants to see drivers punished for going ‘too slowly ‘ on the A9. Not convinced I’d trust a word he says on the topic of transport.

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