Why we wrote to Scotland’s first minister this week

Cycling UK chief executive Sarah Mitchell (left) and members of the our Scotland team outside the Scottish Parliament
Later this autumn the Scottish Government’s budget for the next financial year will be a key moment when government can ramp up its support for cycling. Jim Densham, Cycling UK’s campaigns and policy manager for Scotland, explains why we have written to the first minister about the importance of funding and political will in making Scotland a cycle-friendly nation

This week we penned a letter to Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, on behalf of Cycling UK to thank him for his recent recommitment to provide a huge funding boost to enable people to cycle in Scotland. Funding is tremendously important but so is political will and the need for government to steadfastly promote its positive actions for the climate and people.

Displays of both strong political will and political backsliding have been seen this past week on policies which affect road users and the environment.

I listened on the BBC Today programme to Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford calmly and authoritatively defend his government’s introduction of a default 20mph speed limit in Wales for built-up and residential roads. In contrast, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rolled back his government’s commitments on carbon action policies – while still claiming to be committed to the 2050 net zero target.

In Scotland, decisions made in the coming weeks mean that we could be at a pivotal point for climate action and for cycling, but political will must stay firm.

In November the Scottish Government will publish its new climate change plan and not long after that its draft budget for next financial year.

A turning point for Scotland

We may be able to look back on the next couple of months as the point where Scotland took a landmark step to make the country a low-carbon and high-cycling nation, and a better place to live.

A giant leap for cycling will be realised if government makes good on its commitment to spend 10% of the transport budget on active travel, or at least £320m, in the forthcoming 2024/25 budget. The 10% proportion of funding is one that Cycling UK and many other organisations have campaigned for over many years and which first became a government commitment after the 2021 election.

We may be able to look back on the next couple of months as the point where Scotland took a landmark step to make the country a low-carbon and high-cycling nation, and a better place to live

Jim Densham, Cycling UK

First Minister Humza Yousaf recommitted to the £320m figure in the recent Programme for Government. To be fair, government has never shied away from this promise made in partnership with the Scottish Greens when they agreed to cooperate after the Holyrood election.

However, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics, so two months is more like an aeon – anything can happen in that time and political will can change.

That’s why we wrote to the first minister this week, to thank him for his recommitment to 10% and remind him that this green investment is excellent value for money and will have numerous benefits for the people of Scotland.

In the letter we also highlighted that we recognise these are difficult times financially in Scotland and therefore we commend the Scottish Government for leading the way in the UK on commitment for cycling.

We asked Mr Yousaf to maintain his political will on climate action, and cycling as a low-carbon activity that many people in Scotland can take as part of their everyday lives.

Showing commitment

Our final line in the letter was to invite Mr Yousaf to visit one of our projects to see the work we do and to meet some of the people who’ve experienced life-changing benefits from being supported to ride a bike.

Pictures in the newspaper of the first minister riding a bike or e-bike would really show the nation that he’s serious about support for cycling and sustainable transport, and show his leadership on climate action.