The SNP – I’ve been a member since the 80s – are the brave party (not Bravehearts, that’s a nonsense slur opponents without a clue throw our way), prepared to make bold political decisions in order to force change for the better.
Last weekend I attended my first party conference. I was buoyed by the bold and positive talk — Scotland can and will be changed for the better. We just have to work hard to make it happen.
Then came the debate on cycling:
Conference recognises the dangers inherent in cycling on busy roads…and supports the Roadshare campaign for stricter liability as a means of building mutual respect between road users.
Duncan Ross, chairman of Glasgow Kelvin, the SNP’s biggest branch, was the proposer. His speech got a good response with decent applause. How dangerous it can be to cycle on the roads, protected only by lycra, high-vis clothing and a helmet. Why should the victims of accidents — cyclists and pedestrians — be the ones who have to prove they weren’t at fault? Why shouldn’t the onus (duty of care and legal liability) be on the people driving the (potentially, often) deadly weapons? My fellow party members applauded and appeared to agree.
Then came those speaking against and the brave, bold party started to sound like dull-as-ditch-water Daily Mail readers.
Cyclists run red lights. Cyclists ride on the pavements. Cyclists would need to be insured. Cyclists would need to take proficiency tests. Car insurance premiums would go up. Poor, poor, unprotected drivers and their unquestionable right to the road.
I wasn’t a delegate, wasn’t scheduled to speak, but I wanted to stand and shout: This isn’t about what’s good for drivers, it’s about making cycling safer and more accessible. Drivers have had it their own way for decades, and look where it’s got us.
Almost every day I cycle to work — and it’s a short 4-mile ride each way — some idiot driver puts my life at risk, and it’s only my preventative measures, or sheer good fortune, that saves me from injury. They cut me up, pull out in front of me, drive onto the advance boxes at junctions, turn left into my path, etc, etc, etc. And those drivers are so blasé about it. They simply don’t care, about my health or any legal consequences. If they did, then surely they would act more carefully, right? Would they be so blasé if they knew that in the event of any accident they were likely to be considered liable, that the onus would be on them to prove that the cyclist they had injured, or perhaps killed, wasn’t to blame? I doubt it.
I passed my driving test less than ten years ago. During my lessons my instructor would often ask why driving in busy traffic made me so nervous. He knew that I cycled in the city — an act he thought bordered on the reckless, like an extreme sport — thought it odd that I would be concerned whilst protected by a car’s metal box, crumple zones and air bags. I tried to explain that, when cycling, if I made a mistake I was only likely to injure myself; a driving error could seriously injure or even kill someone else. My nerves came from the sense of responsibility (how altruistic, I hear you cry!).
To my fellow SNP members who were against the motion, please remember that this is about protecting the vulnerable, the cyclists and pedestrians. That’s middle-aged men in lycra like me, but it’s also kids riding to school, women choosing two wheels rather than four for their commute, old folk tootling to the corner shop, families keeping fit together at the weekend. It’s also about the people who would love to ditch four wheels for two but are petrified of riding on the road.
Stricter liability is about forcing societal change, as with the gender quotas on public boards that we voted for at the same conference: society hasn’t changed and women are still under-represented. We go for quotas in order to force the change. We are the party pushing forward minimum-unit-pricing for alcohol. Is it popular? Not really. Will it force societal change for everyone’s benefit? We definitely believe so, the evidence indicates. In despite of opposition from other parties and the alcohol lobby we stand firm.
So come on SNP, for the sake of cycling and society, lets not be a party of SMIDSYs, lets be brave.
More on the Roadshare campaign here.