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Fergus Ewing: ‘Expelling me from the SNP won’t stop me fighting for A9 dualling’

The SNP MSP said his party has "gone down the wrong route" in the last two years.

Fergus Ewing at his home in the Highlands. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Fergus Ewing at his home in the Highlands. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Fergus Ewing has said the SNP has lost its way and will forfeit the trust of the north of Scotland forever if it doesn’t get its act together on the A9 dualling project.

The veteran MSP lifted the lid on the “highly charged” atmosphere within his party during an interview with the Press and Journal at his Highland home.

Reports surfaced that he was on the brink of being booted out of the SNP after voting against the government in June.

Rumours swirled once again last week after he called on First Minister Humza Yousaf to either fulfil the commitment to dual the A9 between Inverness and Perth or resign.

Speaking this week, Fergus said: “Anyone who thinks that rapping me on the knuckles or expelling me from the group will make the slightest bit of difference does not know me.

“You’ve got to think in life about where your loyalties first lie.

“My loyalty to the SNP is strong. But it is far outweighed by the duty I have to do what I think is right.”

SNP is letting ‘green tail wag the dog’

The party is in Fergus’s blood.

The son of Winnie Ewing – a legendary figure within the independence movement who put the SNP on the map with a historic by-election win in 1967 – it was never going to be any other way.

Fergus’s own involvement in the party started 50 years ago, when he leafleted for former SNP leader Gordon Wilson as a 15-year-old in 1973.

Fergus Ewing on the A9, close to the Grainish junction north of Aviemore. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

He said he has always felt that the party did a great job standing up for the people of Scotland.

But in the last two years, things have changed.

“For those first 48 years, we put Scotland first,” Fergus said. “For the last two years, and I think the influence of the Greens is at the root of it, we have moved away from our raison d’être.

“Instead of being a national party that stands up for everyone. Instead of focusing on people’s priorities, we seem to be focused on their pet projects.

“We’re going down the wrong route and the green tail is wagging the dog.”

A9 commitment failure has fuelled Highland anger

Then transport minister Jenny Gilruth announced in February that completing the A9 dualling project by 2025 was “simply no longer achievable”.

In many ways, it wasn’t a surprise.

Anyone who has driven on the A9 lately can see for themselves just how far behind schedule it has fallen.

But the official acknowledgement created a focal point for a lot of anger in the Highlands.

A flavour of that was seen during a crisis summit on the project, hosted by the Inverness Courier last week.

There remains 80 miles of single carriageway on the A9 to be dualled. Image: Steve MacDougall /DC Thomson.

The failure of both Transport Scotland and new transport secretary Mairi McAllan to announce a new plan seems to have further inflamed the situation.

According to Fergus, the situation is still salvageable for his party.

But only if Humza Yousaf – who he still reserves warm words for, calling him “very charming” – steps up.

Fergus said: “Humza needs to make sure that these roads – the A9 and the A96 – are the priority for the capital budget. They have to be ahead of other things and he needs to say that.

“If he does and produces a detailed plan – with a timetable and a completion date for each of the remaining nine sections – I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Many other people would too. Some have already lost faith forever.

“But if he gives unequivocal detailed assurances, this can be recovered and restored.”

‘I’m still waiting to be toasted’

Alongside the anger about the delay, there have been many questions about what caused it in the first place.

It’s still not entirely clear.

There are obvious mitigating factors.

Jenny Gilruth cited the pandemic, Brexit and Ukraine as all having an effect.

But many people do not accept those as valid reasons for only managing to dual 11 out of 80 miles, 12 years after promising to do the whole thing by 2025.

Fergus believes Transport Scotland have more explaining to do. But he also said he witnessed a change in tack when the SNP leadership changed in 2014.

He said: “I think after Alex Salmond left, the impetus and desire to do right by the Highlands seemed to go with him.

Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon.

“There was a different emphasis under Nicola Sturgeon and that was her choice. But I think the focus shifted to the central belt.”

An update on the A9 dualling project is coming – but it won’t be until after parliament returns from summer recess on September 3.

Plenty of commentators have speculated that Fergus will not be a member of the SNP by the time that information is finally made public.

Fergus said: “The atmosphere in the group is not particularly happy.

“I’ve read in the papers that they want to inflict pain on me.

“Another source said ‘Fergus Ewing is toast’.

“Well, I’m still waiting to be toasted.”