Thoughts on the latest cycle fatalities

A cyclist killed after being struck by a lorry was a member of an athletics club rocked by a similar tragedy just weeks ago.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of both men who have died doing something that they clearly both loved. Although both tragedies took place in very different places, the common theme is that both were victims of a transport system which treats cyclists as second-class citizens.

The Scottish Government has admitted much needs to be done to reduce cycle fatalities and injuries on our roads but I fear very little will change unless we see serious funding put in place. Proper investment in better infrastructure will save lives and reduce pressures on our health service. It’s time for a once-in-a-generation fund to bring our roads up to European standards.

I also remain disappointed that the Transport Minister has refused to discuss the idea of strict liability. We need to rebalance the relationship between motor vehicles and cyclists. Perhaps in light of the latest tragedies he will reconsider and engage in a discussion.

At the moment the Scottish Government spends a minuscule 0.7 per cent of its transport budget on cycling and walking infrastructure. If we are remotely serious about hitting the target of having ten per cent of all journeys made by bike by 2020 – the current rate is just one per cent – we need a substantial shift in funding.

I have already suggested to ministers they create a fund to encourage the development of an exemplar project so that local authorities can see how good cycle infrastructure works. I think the call from the Pedal on Parliament campaign for five per cent of the transport budget to be spent on cycling is perfectly reasonable and would help us towards the ten per cent journey target.

The overall Scottish transport budget for 2013-14 is £2billion. Five per cent would be £100million or £20 per head. By contrast the Netherlands is already spending around £25 per head. The money’s there; it just needs the political will to reprioritise it.

Let’s get cracking right now by expanding the use of 20 mph zones in residential and shopping streets. In a Green debate in parliament last year all parties agreed the government should work with local authorities on this.

We should be ploughing tens of millions into a comprehensive maintenance programme to repair potholes, repaint road markings and redesign risky junctions. We should be offering every child in Scotland the chance of on-road cycle training, and we should be ensuring every time a road is dug up or refurbished we are looking for an opportunity to make it safer for cyclists.


Involving staff and students in the governance of higher education

The Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance has been published today.

Involving staff and students in the governance of a higher education institution should be the norm, and I hope Scotland’s universities comply with this new code as quickly as possible.

Making the membership of governing bodies more representative of society is to be welcomed, as is the transparency around senior salaries.

I have longstanding concerns that senior university figures receive excessive pay compared to frontline staff and I remain concerned at the use of zero-hours contracts in our universities.

I hope we start to see governing bodies debating these sorts of important issues.



15 July 2013

Research by Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, shows none of the chicken being served in schools in the region is Scottish, with much of it coming from Holland and Thailand.


Using FoI (Freedom of Information) requests the Green MSP asked East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian and Edinburgh City about the sourcing of chicken for school meals, after the Scottish Government said it did not keep track of such information.


All the Lothian councils use chicken from elsewhere in the UK, along with a product from Thailand.


All of them, except East Lothian, use a product from Holland, and Edinburgh also uses chicken from Brazil and Poland.


None of the UK chicken sourced by these councils is free range; it is all indoor reared.


By contrast councils such as Stirling source 90 per cent of their chicken from Scotland. Stirling is involved in the Soil Association’s Food for Life scheme, which sets standards for sourcing food locally.


Green MSPs are looking at opportunities in the forthcoming Procurement Reform Bill to increase the incentives for buying Scottish produce.


Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and food spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said:


“There shouldn’t be so much of a divide between the pioneer councils and the food laggards when it comes to something as important as our children’s meals. I have longstanding concerns about imported meat and there’s got to be a better way than flying chicken nuggets from Thailand.


“I commend the Food for Life scheme and in light of the horsemeat scandal I feel it is the sort of scheme all public bodies should be adopting with some urgency. We must aim for local, high quality food on our children’s plates as the norm. The Government’s Procurement Bill should be a chance to set some new standards to achieve that aim.


“Councils are under pressure to award contracts on cost rather than make choices that would have positive impacts for the local economy and animal welfare. The Scottish Government’s food policy is too focused on exporting whisky and salmon and needs to do more to get local food used in meals bought with public money.”