Pedal on Parliament would like to congratulate Nicola Sturgeon on becoming Scotland’s first female First Minister. We recognise that she has a lot on her plate – not least the continuing fallout from the referendum and future negotiations with Westminster. But we also know that there are things she can do now – things that will fulfil her own stated priorities of giving every child the best opportunity in life, in supporting the NHS, empowering communities, helping small businesses and tackling injustices in our society.
You, and Nicola, may think these issues – vital as they are – have nothing to do with a campaign about cycling, but you would be wrong. Enabling cycling, that is, enabling everyone to cycle should they wish to and making the bike the easiest, fastest, and most direct form of transport for short journeys has everything to do with making a better society in Scotland. Look at Denmark, where cycling is particularly important for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and where bikes give the very poorest the means to get to work on cycling infrastructure that anyone would envy. Look at Finland, a country which once held the world record for heart disease but which has transformed its fortunes through the encouragement of physical activity, including building cycle paths – and which shows harsh winters are no impediment to year-round cycling. Look at the contribution bikes make to the economy right across Europe, with people who cycle spending more in local shops and on local goods. And look at the evidence that active travel to school creates kids who concentrate better, who are fitter and more independent, regardless of their start in life.
Bikes are not toys, and they’re not just a piece of sporting equipment. They’re not even just a means of transport. They’re the secret weapon that could help transform Scotland into the distinctive society that both sides of the debate in September told us they wanted our nation to be. It sounds like a big claim – but the evidence just keeps piling up. And Ms Sturgeon doesn’t have to wait until Westminster grants her more powers in order to put that evidence to the test. We have complete control of our transport budget, and all the legal tools we need to transform Scotlands towns, cities and rural areas into places where people rather than the motor car reign supreme – and where everyone, from eight to eighty, can cycle freely and independently, making themselves fitter, wealthier, healthier and happier as they go.
But it will take leadership. We would like to challenge Nicola to show that leadership, and start to make that transformation. And she can start by joining us on April 25th at Holyrood, to tell us how she’ll take up the challenge to make Scotland a better place, and a cycle-friendly nation.