Government afraid of Scots public rail trial

17 August 2012

It is being reported today that the Scottish government recently asked Westminster to give them the power to be able to take Scottish rail services back into public ownership – and the response from Westminster was a rapid refusal. ‘It is only to be expected,’ says ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan. ‘The UK government must be terrified of a publicly-owned rail service on its doorstep. It would expose all the wastefulness, inefficiencies and sheer folly of its current franchising arrangements.’

Mick says support for a publicly-owned railway grows faster than Nick Clegg’s popularity drops. ‘The public sees the government colluding with rail companies to raise fares above inflation year after year; sees grubby deals done whereby companies pay to take over franchises and are then recompensed if they don’t hit targets; see companies spending £15 million on unnecessary franchise bids they know they will have to repay in higher fares: sees few improvements for one of the most expensive railways in Europe. No wonder Cameron is terrified of having a public railway operating in Scotland so much more efficiently than the business-friendly privatised model favoured by his party.’

ASLEF is not entirely convinced that the SNP Scottish government actually wants a publicly owned service – ‘They have never mentioned it to us as a proposal, and didn’t ask for extra rail powers when the Scotland Act was going through Westminster earlier this year,’ says the union’s officer in Scotland, Kevin Lindsay. ‘It may be political opportunism, but it does demonstrate that politicians are honing in on the fact that the public back a public rail network. It is a vote winner – or, in the case of the Tories desperately clinging to their privatisation dogma – a massive vote loser.’

The union says both sides should come clean on the issue so the people can make a choice. ‘The Scottish government should commit itself to a public rail network if it is given the powers, and the Westminster government should allow an experiment in Scotland even if it will shame them – as it will.’

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