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EXCLUSIVE: SNP figures urged ministers to ignore Greens on A9 and A96 dualling

Fergus Ewing and Drew Hendry lobbied colleagues on A9 and A96 dualling works.
Fergus Ewing and Drew Hendry lobbied colleagues on A9 and A96 dualling works.

Two senior SNP politicians privately warned ministers not to back down to the Scottish Greens on A9 and A96 dualling – just a few weeks before a power-sharing deal was struck between the parties.

Memos released under freedom of information laws show how Fergus Ewing and Drew Hendry told their ministerial colleagues in the Holyrood government they must deliver their long-standing manifesto commitments to complete the road upgrades.

They highlighted how the Scottish Greens were the only party opposed to the £6billion investment.

And they suggested the stance taken by Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater on the infrastructure schemes had been roundly rejected by voters at the ballot box.

Mr Ewing and Mr Hendry, who represent Inverness and Nairn for the SNP at Holyrood and Westminster respectively, were urging Scottish ministers to set out a clear timetable for “delivering our pledges” from 2009.

‘All but one party’

“We consider that the outcomes of the last Scottish election alongside the Westminster elections for the period since 2009 is proof of the very strong support for both projects, and to a greater or lesser extent such support is forthcoming from all but one party which attracted little support,” they said.

Mr Ewing and Mr Hendry were writing to SNP transport secretary Michael Matheson and transport minister Graeme Dey on June 17 last year, a few weeks after the Holyrood election.

Reacting to the newly surfaced memos, Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said the remark was “telling” given the “undue influence” the Greens have had on the SNP since then.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomes Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater at Bute House after they were handed ministerial jobs.

At the time, speculation had been growing that Nicola Sturgeon’s party could agree to a coalition agreement with the Scottish Greens.

A formal alliance was eventually announced in August, with the deal including a hugely controversial commitment to review plans to dual the A96 from Inverness to Aberdeen.

Mr Ewing has been an Inverness MSP since devolution and served as rural economy secretary in the last parliament.

He regularly pressed his colleagues to deliver the A9 and A96 upgrades since he left the Cabinet in May.

Ministerial memo

The newly-released documents show he almost immediately joined forces with Mr Hendry, the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, to try to ensure the SNP did not U-turn on their promises.

In the memo, they highlighted how Transport Scotland’s website showed the “various sections yet to be constructed” on the A9 dualling scheme between Inverness and Perth.

“We ask that a timetable be made on delivering our pledges made in our party manifesto at the last election with the proposed completion of the remaining sections of the A9 which are not yet dualled, and a timescale for completion of the said section of the A96 from Inverness to Auldearn, including the Nairn bypass,” they said.

“Secondly, we wish to seek a meeting to discuss these proposals and timescales
for both projects.

“We consider that there are a great many reasons why such an announcement would be sensible and beneficial.”

North-east MSP Liam Kerr.

Mr Kerr, who is a north-east MSP and Tory transport spokesman, said the SNP had made “promise after promise” to dual the A96 and A9 since gaining power in 2007.

“This is an issue of national safety with broad support among MSPs north of Edinburgh,” he said.

“But just days after the 2021 election, the Greens kicked these long-overdue projects into the long grass, once again.

“The fact the Greens ‘attracted little support’ but have such undue influence on the SNP is telling.

“Voters did not expect a gang of nationalists more focused on independence than on road safety, but that is the coalition they got after the Bute House agreement.”

Climate emergency

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens MSP for the north-east, said there was “widespread support” for measures to tackle and mitigate the climate emergency.

She added: “A poll has shown us that most people want more action from governments, with only a minority opposing this.

“Therefore, our cooperation agreement with the Scottish Government included a commitment to a climate impact assessment for these projects, as part of the action people demand.

“Some might want to delay action and deny facts, but Scottish Greens will get on with delivering for people and our planet.”

The A96 between Inverness and Nairn. Picture by Sandy McCook

On Thursday, Mr Ewing and Mr Hendry confirmed to us that they recently met new Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth to discuss the same projects.

They said she had confirmed previous assurances that the dualling of the A96 between Inverness and Nairn, including the Nairn bypass, would not be included in the wider review.

Nairn bypass

In a joint statement, they said: “This means the section from Inverness to Auldearn and the Nairn bypass can proceed and is not part of the process outlined in the cooperation agreement between the Scottish Government and the Green Party.

“This is for the very good reason that the environmental aspects have already been fully considered, and the preferred route recommended at the public local inquiry has been approved by Scottish ministers.”

They added: “We have long argued that the pressing need for the bypass of Nairn, and heavy traffic between Nairn and Inverness means that this section should be the first section of the A96 to be dualled, and that is precisely what is happening.

“Our case has been accepted and agreed and the legal processes completed.

“We have also invited the transport minister to Nairn to meet local stakeholders and hear for herself the strength of views for the need for the bypass, not least to improve safety and reduce the environmental impact of the heavy traffic which goes through Nairn, including just beside a local primary school.

“We hope that the minister will announce a visit to Nairn shortly.”

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