A fresh Budget deal between the Greens and SNP could be in doubt amid a dispute over multi-billion-pound work to dual the A9 and A96.
The two parties have reached an agreement at the last three Budgets but they are now poised to clash over the future of the long-awaited road upgrades.
In recent weeks, Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie has repeatedly raised the party’s opposition to continuing with the dualling of the A9 Inverness to Perth road, as well as a similar upgrade proposed for the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness route, and a revamp of the notorious Sheriffhall roundabout on Edinburgh’s bypass.
Setting out his demands in a December letter to former Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, he said that “funding could be freed” for various projects, including major investment in public transport, by “re-profiling or cancelling” those three schemes.
And in his response to the Budget speech on Thursday, Mr Harvie again questioned why there was no “shift away from the damaging traffic-inducing transport projects that the government has been supporting until now”.
It is not clear whether the Greens would make the cancellation of the A9 and A96 works “red lines” in future Budget deal talks, but it is understood that they would at least want them to be part of the discussion, particularly as they are worth £3 billion each.
The finance minister has said she has an open door, so hopefully she will listen to our proposals.”
However, we understand that SNP ministers would be highly unlikely to entertain such a move, aware of the potential political fall-out in the north and north-east.
The chances may have receded even further now that Highland MSP Kate Forbes is expected to lead the negotiations for the government, in the wake of the shock resignation of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay on Thursday.
The Greens’ demands and the public assurances given by the Scottish Government mean that one party would have to back down for a deal to be reached.
It has led some insiders to predict that an agreement between the SNP and either Labour or the Conservatives, to back the Budget or abstain, might be more likely than another pact with the Greens.
Scottish Greens transport spokesperson John Finnie, a Highlands and islands MSP, said: “It’s time we built the economy of the future in the Highlands, instead of repeating the mistakes of the past.
“The Scottish Government transport strategy and Budget as it currently stands is not a response to the climate emergency, it just proposes more of the same old failed policies.
“The finance minister has said she has an open door, so hopefully she will listen to our proposals.”
He added: “The Scottish Greens have proposed that instead of building road capacity, which we know increases traffic levels and congestion, money could be far better invested in improving public transport through the Highlands, linking our remote and marginalised communities and giving greater mobility to those who perhaps can’t afford a car.
“The lack of public transport in the Highlands currently gives people no option but to sit in traffic jams. That surely has to change.”
However, Scottish Council for Development and Industry regional director Fraser Grieve said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s long-held commitment to dualling the A9 and A96 and the recent reassurance given that they are progressing.
“We recognise the need to take steps to deliver net-zero and it’s vital that we look to deliver the infrastructure necessary to support that transition, but we need to be mindful of the benefits these road upgrades will bring to communities in the north of Scotland.
“It’s easy for some who have long since benefited from transport investment to simply call for a blanket end to road projects but these plans are about addressing routes that are not fit for purpose.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We need to balance the extensive changes required to meet a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions with our duty to ensure that Scotland has high-quality infrastructure to meet the needs of all our residents, businesses and visitors.
“We remain committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, underlining our commitment to connecting Scotland’s cities with a high quality transport system that will generate sustainable economic growth.”