Scotland prides itself on being a socially progressive country, interested in social justice, fairness and openness to the rest of the world. In the last decade, the Scottish government has announced many polices that have gained widespread admiration – from education, to climate change (setting itself one of the toughest targets for cutting emissions in the world) to facing up to the problems of obesity and ill health that have long dogged us as a nation.
Even the government’s cycling policy – while short on delivery – is far more forward thinking than the Westminster government, which has declined to set any target for increasing cycling. Indeed senior politicians from across the political spectrum have told us that they recognise the benefits of investing in cycling and pledged to do more of it. As well they might: we know how cycling benefits local economies, it is good for people’s health (even those who don’t cycle benefit as cycling is a zero emissions form of transport), it can help achieve a wide range of policy goals. In particular, for anyone interested in social justice, enabling all households in Scotland, not just those with access to a car, the ability to get about safely, cheaply and healthily, must surely be high on the SNP and the Scottish government’s agenda.
We know that modern politics can sometimes make for strange bedfellows, but even so we were startled to find local Scottish politicians apparently getting into bed with the Daily Mail, the voice of a narrow, inward looking ‘little England’ outlook at odds with modern day Scotland, over its campaign to rid Britain of the ‘scourge’ of cycle lanes. Yet that is what is happening, with local councillors voting in opposition to their own parties’ policies: rejecting the extension of the Bearsway cycle route, voting to rip out Ayrshire’s Holmston Road protected cycle track, and trying to block Edinburgh’s flagship East-West cycle route (see more here).
We’re confused. What ever happened to social justice? What ever happened to Scotland being a socially progressive “Nordic” style country? Why don’t these elected community leaders want to show leadership? Why aren’t they willing to take an evidence based rather than ill informed opinion? What ever happened to building a better world for all? After all, British Cycling’s survey early this year found that that over 70% of people wanted protected cycle tracks on main roads. It’s time for these local politicians to start listening to the needs of all their constituents, and not just a noisy few.
Fortunately, in May, the time will come when they have to listen, for it will be the local authority elections. We need to make sure that walking and cycling are on the agenda. We need to make sure that the quiet supporters of safe space for cycling are heard. We need to bring the voice of PoP to every corner of the country and stand up to this backlash. Because we can’t afford to go backwards. Scotland’s future as the liberal, progressive open country it wants to be depends upon it.
If you feel that you can’t wait until May, with the political party conference season upon us, now is a good time to write to you elected representatives and tell them that you would like to see support for investment in active travel and safe, protected cycle infrastructure for all. Finally, don’t forget to sign the petition in support of the Bearsway project and ask everyone you know to do the same.