Ministers have been challenged to legislate to bring in free bus travel for young Scots if a scheme that has already been agreed cannot be introduced in the first few months of next year.
Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said that despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, he was “confident” the initiative – which was included in the most recent budget deal between his party and the Scottish Government – could be introduced in 2021.
But he said if cannot happen in the early part of the year, legislation should be introduced to ensure the commitment is not only met but exceeded.
The Green MSP issued the challenge as he addressed his party’s conference, which is taking place online as a result of coronavirus.
He hailed the move to introduce free bus travel for under-19s as a “massive step to a fairer and greener Scotland”.
While the policy was originally supposed to come in from January, Mr Harvie said: “We understand that the challenges public transport is facing due to the pandemic have had to take priority.”
But he added: “I am still confident this policy can and still will be delivered in 2021.
“I will go further by challenging the Scottish Government to accept if it can’t be done in the first few months of next year due to Covid, then we must legislate before the election to place a duty on ministers not only to meet but exceed what they have already agreed to, by extending free bus travel up to the age of 25.
“Make no mistake, free bus travel for young people is a massive step to a fairer and greener Scotland – it means students will save hundreds of pounds in travelling to their college course, it means families living in poverty can plan a day trip. It means a whole generation can grow up seeing public transport as their option of choice.”
Harvie told the conference the free bus travel was one of a range of policies brought in as a result of pressure from the Greens – also highlighting Scotland’s “fairer” income tax system.
He told the audience: “We’ve pushed the SNP beyond their comfort zone and we’ve shown Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems how constructive opposition is done.
“While other parties seem content with shallow point-scoring it is the Scottish Greens who have got on with the job of winning real change to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”
He vowed that approach would continue during the pandemic.
Harvie said: “Many people trust that Scotland is in a better place than the UK in its response to the extraordinary and traumatic challenges that Covid has brought.
“And to be fair, we’re not having to fight a rearguard action against a government that wants to withhold food from hungry children or restart asylum evictions in the middle of a pandemic.
“For the most part the Scottish Government is at least capable of speaking in complete sentences.
“But being better than Boris Johnson is simply not a high bar to reach, and in truth the SNP have had to be kept under constant pressure.”
When Holyrood debates Scotland’s proposed new five-tier system of restrictions next week he said Greens would be “pushing for more action, like support that people need to self-isolate”.
He said: “For too many people this means risking losing their jobs and their income. People need to know they are going to be protected if we are asking everyone to stick to the rules to keep one another safe.”