KATE Forbes has pledged to dual the A9 “as quickly as possible” if she becomes first minister. 

The Finance Secretary - who represents the Highland seat of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch - said it was a “matter of life and death” that work was carried out.

She also warned that without a shake-up at Transport Scotland it could take until 2050 for the road to be dualled. 

Her commitment to a revised timetable for the work on the treacherous road came as Fergus Ewing threw his weight behind her campaign for leader. 

The ex-minister compared Ms Forbes to his mother, SNP legend Winnie Ewing.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes warns A9 dualling could take until 2050 unless SNP members voter for her

The Scottish Government committed to widening around 80 miles of single carriageway in 11 sections along the road in 2011.

However, only 11 miles in two sections have been dualled in the last 12 years. 

Last month, Transport minister Jenny Gilruth told parliament that the ambition of dualling the road between Perth and Inverness by 2025 had become “simply unachievable”. 

She was unable to give a new target date, saying her officials would not be ready to tell her until the autumn.

Last year 13 people lost their lives on the A9, of those 12 were on single-carriageway sections.

Unveiling the pledge on Friday, Ms Forbes said she would instruct Transport Scotland to review its procurement policies and publish a revised timetable by June.

The Herald: Is dualling the A9 really essential to reduce the number of  accidents there?

Ms Forbes said: “Industry tells me that they want the A9 to be dualled from Perth to Inverness by the end of this decade, but only provided the way the work is procured changes radically. 

“They say that unless this happens it may take till 2050 or even beyond to finish the job. That is unacceptable and unthinkable.

“Not only because a car is a necessity for most Highland people, not some kind of luxury item, but also because, as we have seen so tragically last year, it is a matter of life and death.”

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Ms Forbes pointed to evidence that fatalities are three times as likely to occur on single carriageways than dual ones and 10 times more than on motorways. 

“Roads themselves do not cause incidents. But single carriageways with difficult junctions, swift change between single and dual, and many foreign drivers unfamiliar with the road or driving on the left, are unforgiving of driver error,” she said.

The Finance Secretary added: “In my first week in office I will instruct Transport Scotland to consider whether it can deliver a plan to do this work by the end of the decade. A timetable must be published by June at the very latest and certainly not in the autumn.  

“Transport Scotland have had nearly two years since the election to do this, and since Covid we have all known that the 2025 target would not be met.

"I want Transport Scotland to work collaboratively with the civil engineering industry to devise means, whether by framework agreement or otherwise, to accelerate the progress.

"Risk sharing should be practised as I believe it is in England and some local authorities. 

“Promises matter. Where we make them, we must keep them. It’s about honesty and trust, and that shall be my approach if I am elected First Minister.”

READ MORE: AGENDA: A9 backtrack is a betrayal of the Highlands

Mr Ewing has long been a critic of the government over their failure to dual the A9. Like, Ms Forbes he has also been critical of the gender reforms and the deposit return scheme.

He said: “Over three decades in Scottish politics, I have rarely, if ever, come across a person who has the qualities Kate possesses, which so well equip her for the top job in Scotland.

“Honesty, bravery, integrity, endless hard work, total commitment to eradication of poverty in Scotland, whilst at the same time working to promote and grow the economy in order to fund our valued public services.

“These are all qualities that people in Scotland will appreciate and come to value. Already her talents and qualities have shone through. I predict that will continue during the campaign.”

He added: “Kate reminds me of my mother Winnie Ewing, when she, as a young mother, first won the Hamilton by-election in 1967. Her slogan then was: ‘Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.’

“Huge progress has been made since then by the party and the wider independence movement.

“However, there is further to go.

“Gentle, well-evidenced, rational arguments and patient persuasion is required.

“That means further establishing pubic trust and private confidence. I have no doubts whatsoever that Kate has the qualities that are required to do just that.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has so far won the support of the majority of the party’s MSPs, with a small handful backing Ms Forbes but none saying they intend to back former community safety minister Ash Regan.