Douglas Ross hints he could lobby the UK Government for A9 and A96 funding
Over the weekend Mr Ross spoke to Conservative members at the UK party conference in Manchester, and said his party was committed to fully dualling the two roads in the Highlands “as soon as possible”.
Plans to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness are woefully behind schedule – and work to dual the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen has yet to begin.
The Scottish Government has been heavily criticised for these delays even from within the SNP, most notably from rebel backbencher Fergus Ewing, who last week was suspended from the party for consistently speaking out against the government.
Former finance secretary Kate Forbes has also criticised the Government on this issue, saying ministers are ignorant of the needs of those in the Highlands.
Mr Ross said the promise to dual these roads would form a key part of his party’s manifesto for next year’s general election.
When asked if he would lobby Westminster for funding for these infrastructure projects, he told the BBC: “Yeah, look, transport is a devolved issue and the SNP promised to dual the route by 2030 – now they are not going to do that.
“The A96 is up in the air, and if the Greens get their way it will not be fully dualled. In contrast the SNP manifesto, line one, page one, will be demanding we separate from the UK with independence, but the Scottish Conservatives will have infrastructure at the heart of our election campaign.
“We will back anything we can to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen.”
Mr Ross said the UK Government was already investing heavily in transport north of the border despite the area being devolved to Holyrood.
He was then asked if the UK Government could potentially step in on this matter, and said: “I will always make representations that this road is fully dualled.
“I want to show a contrast in our two manifestos – Humza Yousaf will be speaking about independence, and I will be speaking about connecting Scotland and standing up for so many in the Highlands, the north-east and the whole country.”
He also criticised the SNP Government’s calls for a progressive tax system, saying the fact Scotland was the highest-taxed part of the UK was “one of the biggest barriers to investment”.
“There was a huge intervention from the government during the Covid pandemic and that money has to be clawed back,” he said. “But if you come to Scotland, it is the highest-taxed part of the UK and it is only going to get worse, because Humza Yousaf wants to tax people more during the cost-of-living crisis.”
Mr Ross said he was “confident” the Scottish Conservatives could hold onto their seats and even make some gains in Scotland at the next general election.
A spokesman for Transport Scotland said the First Minister was “very clear” on his commitment to dualling both the A9 and the A96 during his programme for government speech last month.
They added: “The First Minister confirmed the formal commencement of a new procurement for the dualling of the route between Tomatin and Moy, and we expect to update parliament on a renewed programme for the remaining sections of the A9 this autumn.”
They added the current plan is to “fully dual” the A96 and said there was “significant interest” in the initial consultation on this which generated 11,000 different options on how to improve the road.
The spokesman added: “Transport Scotland is pushing forward a robust appraisal of the 16 retained options alongside a climate compatibility assessment, with outcomes expected to be ready in the coming months for final public consultation, before a final decision can be reached.”
Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop added: “People in the north of Scotland may remember that back in 2007 the Conservatives’ priority for transport spending was money for the Edinburgh trams.
"Right now, the UK Government has an obligation to make good the loss of EU structural funding for infrastructure in the Highlands, but there is little sign of that.”
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