Alastair Dalton: Insight into parties’ thinking is useful

Air Passenger Duty will be opposed if the SNP is re-elected. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Air Passenger Duty will be opposed if the SNP is re-elected. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Which party wants the Forth Road Bridge kept open to traffic when the Queensferry Crossing opens? Which one wants free bus travel extended to more veterans, and which one wants more time to cross at the green man?

Manifestos may no longer be at the heart of election campaigns – Labour’s was published only on Wednesday – but the current crop provide some useful insight into the parties’ latest thinking on Scottish transport.

There’s predictable consensus on cutting emissions, expanding smartcards and increasing spending on cycling and walking.

Cross-party support largely extends to road building - other than the Greens - with the SNP already committed to spending £6 billion on dualling the A9 and A96 alone.

Even the Liberal Democrats back “strategic investments” on major roads, arguing that “even with the best will in the world, Scotland will not be able to have low-carbon transport everywhere straightaway”.

On cycling, the SNP said it was “determined to meet our vision” of 10 per cent of everyday journeys by bike by 2020. But with only about three-and-a-half years to go and the current rate around 3 per cent, some pretty huge changes will be needed to realise that.

All the main parties want to protect free bus travel, even with its £200 million plus annual price tag. But there are also calls for it to be widened, with Labour the ones who also want it for “former Service personnel who would benefit most”. Disabled veterans already qualify.

The Conservatives would like community transport included, while Greens want unpaid carers on benefits to be eligible.

There is less agreement on one of the most contentious Smith Commission proposals - now in the Scotland Act - for the Scottish Government to take over the British Transport Police (BTP), which patrols Scotland’s railways.

I’m assured by the SNP that there’s no significance at the lack of any mention in its manifesto of what it plans to do with BTP, and that changes haven’t been shelved - but time will tell.

The Lib Dems want the BTP’s expertise “ring-fenced”, while the Conservatives have “serious concerns” about BTP being merged with Police Scotland, which it opposes. Ukip is also against the move.

However, another Smith Commission proposal is likely to meet the greatest opposition at Holyrood, should the SNP be re-elected - the halving of air passenger duty (APD).

The five main parties are all opposed to the tax being cut. Labour’s manifesto says the cut is “socially unjust and environmentally reckless” and the Conservatives said there was a “lack of independent evidence that would support the government’s assertions that APD at current levels inhibits personal and business travel”.

The Greens said a reduction would “damage public services and increase climate emissions” and the Lib Dems want it retained because of the “climate change risks of unlimited expansion in aviation”.

It’s probably no surprise that it is also the Greens who want longer pedestrian crossing times - a serious issue, which some councils like Glasgow are still failing to address.

And who wants the Forth Road Bridge kept open to more than just buses and taxis? Even though it was raised by Ukip, which may not win a single seat, cross-Forth congestion after the new crossing opens could become a major issue if it generates more traffic because it will offer no extra capacity.