Political roadshow: MSPs' journey to work
Planes, trains and automobiles – Holyrood asked five MSPs how they get to work.
SNP MSP, Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Since becoming MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar back in 2007, long journeys to and from parliament is part of the job I have grown very used to. To get to Holyrood in time for the afternoon’s Chamber business, I leave my home in the Isle of Lewis at about 7am to drive to Stornoway Airport for a 7.30am check-in. While there are flights between Stornoway and Edinburgh, flights to Glasgow are more frequent. Loganair are one of the only airlines to still offer complimentary snacks on their flights, so I take full advantage!
On landing, I’ll travel by bus to Glasgow City Centre, and then from Queen Street by train to Waverley when I’ll catch up on the morning’s emails, followed by a brisk 10-minute walk down the Royal Mile to the parliament.
I often try to incorporate visits to the other islands in my constituency on my way home for the weekend. For example, if I fly from Glasgow to Barra on a Friday morning, I’ll have the afternoon and evening to meet with constituents there. Fun fact – Barra Airport is the only place in the world where planes land on the local beach. Many tourists like to take a daytrip to Barra purely to experience the famous beach landing (though the impact of seats on the plane being used in this way is not insignificant for local people – but perhaps a discussion for another day!). I’ll spend my Saturday making the journey back up home – a 40-minute ferry from Barra to Eriskay, then 90 minutes by hire cars up through the Uists to Berneray (helped by the network of causeways built using EU funding). The ferry crossing to Harris is about an hour long, followed by an hour and 45 minutes of driving to finally reach my front door.
Conservative MSP, Highlands and Islands
I need to be in parliament early on Tuesday morning to convene the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee. While I would like to commute from the Highlands to Edinburgh via train (as I used to), the current timetables make it unworkable as the earliest I can arrive is around 10am – far too late for committee. The other option is to travel down the day before but that would mean leaving at 4.30pm, which would cut short my time to meet with constituents and organisations in the region I represent. This train takes five hours and forty eight minutes and I would not get in until 10.38pm, making it totally unsuitable.
Returning to the Highlands via train on Thursday evening is just as unworkable. Slow voting in the Chamber means I can never make the 5.30pm train. That just leaves the 7.31pm train, which means I do not arrive back at home until quarter to midnight – and that’s only if there’s no delays on the journey! If previous trains have been cancelled during the day, then the 7.31pm departure is often standing room only.
Sadly, driving to and from Edinburgh is the best and most reasonable use of my time. It allows me a full schedule of meetings and visits on Mondays and Fridays across the Highlands.
SNP MSP, East Kilbride
I travel from East Kilbride to Edinburgh in my car which can take up to 1.5 hours travel time. I leave on a Tuesday, setting off at 9.30am, and return back on a Thursday evening, usually around 7.30pm when I get a lovely welcome home from my dog, Sadie.
When I was first elected, I was completely dreading the journey as I wasn’t used to driving in the city of Edinburgh. However, it has become somewhat of a routine now and I do enjoy it. I tend to listen to my favourite playlists or make some calls during the journey.
One journey stands out for me and this was during COP26 when I got caught up in President Biden’s entourage coming back from Glasgow on the M8. There were armed police on each bridge, a helicopter flying overhead, security cars weaving in and out of lanes. It was a pretty spectacular set up!
Once I arrive in Edinburgh, I walk back and forth to parliament which allows me time to blow the cobwebs off.
I tend to use my car more in the constituency for visits as East Kilbride is a fairly big town and getting around it can be quite challenging. The biggest issue is parking as it was not designed to have as many car owners, and it is a persistent complaint I receive from constituents.
Scottish Green Party MSP, Mid Scotland and Fife
Our family moved to the Trossachs earlier this year so my commute to parliament has changed a bit. Gone, unfortunately, is the 45-minute cycle through rain and shine to get to Stirling railway station, as I’m now over 30 miles away. I do miss it, although local bike trails are great for the weekends.
These days it’s a 45-minute drive to Stirling where I leave the car, walk to the station and hop onto my usual train to get to Waverley. There is no bus service that could connect up with Stirling station at that time in the morning. The drive is pleasant enough – occasionally there is a passenger or just BBC Radio 6 Music for company. As a family we have got better at combining car trips since moving up country, while the teenagers also use their free bus passes to get a bit more independence. Having a family EV has slashed fuel bills and helps keep a grip on the carbon.
The 50-minute train journey is precious time to finish reading up on committee papers, so it’s head down with a travel mug full of coffee and then a brisk walk down the Canongate to hit the week’s first committee meeting.
Scottish Labour transport spokesman and MSP for West Scotland
As someone who doesn’t drive, I am at the mercy of public transport as I make my way from Renfrewshire to Holyrood.
Helping get my children ready for school and out the house in time to catch the number 9 or 38 bus into Glasgow on a Tuesday morning is the most challenging part of the week, as I am sure other parents will understand.
As Labour’s business manager, I have plenty of emails and messages waiting to be dealt with while travelling but thankfully there is often a constituent available to distract me. The bus is a good source of local intel and casework.
It is frustrating that a town the size of Paisley does not have a direct service to the capital city, but I certainly have no complaints about the workers delivering the service. Special thanks to Louise for finding the bag I left on my bus a few weeks ago!
The second leg of my journey is by train, from Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley. This busy service used to be every 15 minutes throughout the whole day but has been cut back to half an hour outside peak times. If I get my timings wrong, it can seem like a long wait.
By the time I get on the train, the morning calls have started and I am now an expert in holding virtual meetings in transit, learning the art of not mentioning names and discussing business in code. A lot of SNP and Tory colleagues get the same train, and I don’t want to give our game away!
I am glad as a transport spokesperson I can experience the everyday reality of public transport, which colleagues in ministerial cars are far removed from. I have yet to bump into Nicola Sturgeon on the train or the bus but maybe she should try it!
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