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EMMA RODDICK: The A9 isn’t about roads over rail, green versus polluting

By Emma Roddick

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MSP Emma Roddick.
MSP Emma Roddick.

I put some time aside this week in parliament to prepare for a debate I was leading on Thursday on UK income inequality, following Financial Times analysis that laid bare what we already know: we live in a very inequal country. By Wednesday, all that time had been eaten up instead by urgent matters: most serious of all, the delay to the Tomatin-Moy section of the A9.

I don’t think most people were surprised to hear this. The Highlands is used to delays. But it was still extremely disappointing, especially as we head out of a winter which sadly saw further lives lost on the road.

I have been working hard in the parliament to make the point that this project isn’t about roads over rail, or green versus polluting. The A9 is still relied upon heavily and will be for a long time to come, and the planned electric charging points as part of the dualling work will allow more people to consider the possibility of going electric.

I’m a huge proponent of improving rail infrastructure, too: I have been pressing hard for a doubling of the Highland Main Line to be included in the new transport projects, and I was delighted to attend the opening of the new train station at Dalcross recently.

However, there must be some recognition that driving is still a necessity for many in the Highlands, and making rail attractive and reliable enough for the freight that the A9 sees every day is still a while away. Meanwhile, we have been waiting and asking for these improvements for decades – it’s been a hot topic since before I can even remember. The hard fact is that the A9 dualling should have been completed long ago, and then we wouldn’t be talking about it being a choice of one or the other. Many places in Scotland already have both safe roads and electric rail that’s well ahead of what I experience every week travelling up and down to Edinburgh.

These improvements are not about encouraging more cars onto the road, they’re about acknowledging that many people have no other option but to drive on roads which are not currently as safe as they should be.

It’s an argument that’s maybe not getting through as strongly as it should, but most Highland MSPs are united on this issue, and I hope that our combined pressure sees some movement. It’s so important that those from outwith the area hear the real reasons this project is desperately needed.

I try very hard to keep my region at the front of my mind however busy the political “bubble” is in Holyrood on any given week. No matter how many surgeries and visits I pack into recess, coming home to the Highlands and Islands always recharges my mind. I couldn’t imagine even considering representing anywhere else. But I do sometimes wonder how much of an easier life it is to argue for a Central Belt constituency every week.

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