Fergus Ewing, LLB, MSP at the January 2005 meeting.
© John G. Fender 2011
The 3rd Annual Scottish Political event was addressed by Fergus Ewing, MSP, the SNP member for Inverness East Nairn and Lochaber, the second largest Scottish constituency. He is the Shadow Minister for Transport, Tourism & Telecommunications and is a member of the SNP's Cabinet.
He started his talk by pointing out that he is a politician, not an expert and that meant that he was able to look at various issued from a fresh viewpoint. The SNP would like to see various items implemented and was actively involved in Parliamentary matters, especially the Transport Bill that is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament.
This bill will introduce a National Transport Agency, a Road Works Commissioner, a single concessionary travel scheme and Regional Transport Partnerships amongst other measures. Mr. Ewing stated that the bill had been strongly attacked by SPT as it appears to create a new body with no powers or boundaries and it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to what is likely to be implemented.
Mr. Ewing pointed out that it does not make sense to have 32 different authorities taking strategic transport decisions or 16 different concessionary travel schemes across the country. Generally, there is a consensus between the various political parties regarding the general terms of policy. However, all parties have a desire for Scotland to go forward and any decision needs to be taken on the basis of national analysis. Freight has been overlooked and there is no air freight policy. For example, Prestwick airport is ideally situated to become the airfreight gateway for Scotland and indeed, the rest of the UK. This is, he said, a missed opportunity. Turning to the issue of congestion charging, Mr. Ewing said that the view of the SNP is that the current proposals are fundamentally flawed in that there will be substantial costs in running any scheme and limited revenue.
The Westminster government is proposing a lorry and road user charging scheme and the tax burden would be moved from road fuels to road usage. With the introduction of the lorry charging scheme, this will end the current situation where hauliers form other EU countries use the roads but do not pay for that use. However, the introduction of a road charging scheme should only be made when the technology is fully and properly developed and it must apply to all users equally. There are a number of major transport projects that are being implemented, including the M74 extension, a project that is estimated to require around 20% of the civil engineering capacity of Scotland.
The Glasgow Airport Rail Link is another major project under active consideration and the SNP supports the scheme in principle. However, some consultants have stated that it fails to meet the objectives but would benefit the South West of the country. The proposal for the rail link to Edinburgh Airport is a better proposal, although it is at a very early stage and there are many possible options to be considered. Mr. Ewing pointed out that the existing "Airlink" bus service offered excellent value for money and was an excellent service, something he could personally vouch for, having used it recently.
There are also proposals for the 3 tram routes in Edinburgh, two of which are now at the funding stage. Part of these proposals includes a link to the airport, so it would be possible to reach Edinburgh Airport by four modes of transport, and the various proposals need to be carefully thought out. Scottish Executive support is subject to costings. The forthcoming transfer of powers from the Strategic Rail Authority to the Scottish Executive, is giving some concern in that there is a question of how much money will be allocated to the Scottish network. If money is allocated on a similar basis to the current spending, there are fears that the amounts involved will fall short of what is required to bring Scotland's railways up to the necessary standard following a long period of underinvestment.
In December of last year, there was some controversy over the tendering of the CalMac ferry routes and the Scottish Executive was defeated in the Scottish Parliament over the proposals, due mainly to the rebellion of some Labour MSP's. European law requires the routes to be put out to tender, but the Scottish Parliament is not so sure about this, hence the rebellion of the Labour MSP's. CalMac's services rely on subsidy. At present Scotland does not have a transport system for the future and an effort needs to be made to achieve the improvements and the SNP has a vision for the future whereby Scotland has a transport system befitting it. Mr. Ewing pointed out that the process has started and hailed the improvements First Scotrail has already made to rail services since taking over the franchise last October as a prime example of what can be achieved.
Report by John Fender.
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