Meeting date: Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 22 September 2021
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Diversion from Prosecution, ScotRail, Scottish Ambulance Service, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Point of Order, National Eye Health Week 2021
- Portfolio Question Time
- Diversion from Prosecution
- Scottish Ambulance Service
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Point of Order
- National Eye Health Week 2021
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-01300, in the name of Neil Bibby, on ScotRail.15:21
Today, Scotland’s joint rail unions launched their six months to save Scotland’s railway campaign. The fact that they chose to launch it outside Bute house tells us everything that we need to know about how the Scottish Government is regarded by the workforce. That workforce literally kept Scotland moving through the pandemic. Every last one of them is a key worker who deserves not only our thanks but our respect and support.
Today, those workers were clear with me that industrial relations on Scotland’s railways are at an all-time low. On behalf of Scottish Labour, I express our solidarity with those taking action for jobs, fairness at work, pay and conditions and the future of that vital public service.
Today is also world car-free day—a day when motorists are encouraged to leave the car at home. Nicola Sturgeon claims that she wants Scotland to be at the forefront of tackling climate change. The Scottish National Party has promised to reduce car use by 20 per cent. The 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—will meet in Glasgow in fewer than 40 days and the SNP’s stance on rail confirms that Greta Thunberg is right that Scotland is “not a world leader” on climate change.
The SNP is all talk and no walk, and so are the Greens. Just two days ago, Patrick Harvie tweeted three simple words: “Take. The. Train”. How on earth does the SNP-Green coalition expect people to leave the car and take the train when rail services are being cut and are in crisis?
Does the member accept that some people are working from home and therefore the trains are very empty on some routes?
Of course we are in a pandemic, but we should be making it easier and not harder for people to travel by train. How does cutting train services make it more likely that people will use them? We should stop hiking up fares, provide more trains so that people can travel safely while social distancing, and stop the timetable cuts so that people can safely and conveniently travel and leave the car at home.
After years of prevarication and poor performance, the SNP finally decided to bring ScotRail back into public ownership not because it believes in public ownership as a matter of principle, but because the deal that it did with Abellio was a flop from start to finish. It had to take back the keys.
The Labour Party believes in public ownership of the railways not as a pre-election stunt, but as a way to put the voices of passengers and workers at the heart of the railway. We believe in investing in a growing rail network, not a declining one.
It is time to set out a vision for the future of ScotRail, and it is time for leadership to make that vision real. We need a new people’s ScotRail that is publicly owned and accountable, with representation from Scotland’s passengers and the four joint trade unions on its board. We need a ScotRail that works for passengers, not profit, with affordable travel and improving services. We need a modern ScotRail that is expanding services, decarbonising and driving a modal shift away from Scotland’s roads to Scotland’s railways.
If the minister and his Green colleagues share that vision, they will commit to, first, restoring ScotRail services to pre-pandemic levels from May; secondly, intervening to resolve all current industrial disputes on our railways; and thirdly, withdrawing their feeble amendment and backing Labour’s motion. That is the test for the SNP and the Greens today. Their amendment does not reject overall service reductions; it is a green light for railway cuts. Just as they sold out on a public energy company yesterday, they are set to sell out Scottish passengers today. Their weak amendment proves that the SNP was all talk when it comes to improving our railways and that its deal with the Greens is a sham.
On the day that the SNP and Greens announced their co-operation agreement, ScotRail unveiled proposals to cut 300 services per day. That is thousands every week, and tens of thousands every year. Some 26 million vehicle miles have been stripped from the rail network. Greener government is impossible with a declining network—children who are watching “Thomas & Friends” could tell you that.
The minister says that ScotRail’s proposals mean 100 more services, but that is in comparison to a temporary timetable, and not the pre-pandemic timetable. It is disingenuous to compare the proposals to the current timetable and suggest that service levels are rising. It is time for the SNP to stop the spin, and time for the Greens to stop the cuts.
This summer, an internal ScotRail report by Professor Iain Docherty recommended a 10 per cent reduction to services. Rail unions issued a statement condemning the report, which they said
“seeks to exploit the Covid pandemic and its fallout to attack the jobs of railway workers and cut the services they provide to the public”.
I submitted a motion calling on the Scottish Government to reject the report, and it was signed by three Green MSPs. Nevertheless, ScotRail proposes a 12.5 per cent reduction in services, which exceeds Docherty’s recommendations.
What does that mean in practice? There will be 34 fewer trains, in both directions, between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley via Falkirk High, between Monday and Friday. That is a 27 per cent reduction in trains available between our two largest cities. Does anyone in the chamber think that that is acceptable?
That silence is very telling.
I did not shout up a moment ago, but we are wholly opposed to the cuts. As I will make clear later, my concern is that they will just stay when ScotRail is nationalised, and things will get worse and worse. Does he share that concern?
Yes, I share that concern. We believe in public ownership to make the railway better. We should have a growing rail network and a better rail network with public ownership, but it very much looks like we will have a declining one under the SNP-Green coalition.
The reductions also mean that there will be 25 fewer trains leaving Crosshill station, in the First Minister’s constituency, heading to Glasgow Central station, which is a 33 per cent reduction. Six fewer trains will leave Arbroath, in the transport minister’s constituency, on weekday services to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, which is a 12 per cent reduction. Is that really the level of services that ministers intend to build back to in 2022? In agreeing to the motion, Parliament can give its view and call for services to be built back to pre-pandemic levels from May 2022. We accept that the timetables can change, but the overall level of service must not be diminished.
Labour is also calling on the Scottish Government to resolve all current industrial disputes on the railways with settlements that are fair for the workforce. Industrial action during COP26 is likely and would be an international humiliation for the Scottish Government. Is it really willing to stand by and let that happen? That action is not instructed by London bosses, as five SNP MSPs have disgracefully claimed; it is mandated democratically by key workers in Scotland. To suggest otherwise is an anti-union smear against those workers, and the MSPs concerned should apologise.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—RMT—is again in a prolonged dispute with ScotRail. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association—TSSA—has warned ScotRail to expect action over understaffing. Unite the union’s engineering members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action, too. All rail unions are calling for disputes to be resolved fairly, and they have been frustrated with the minister behaving like a Tory transport minister by appearing to rule out intervening unless workers accept efficiencies.
If the minister wants efficiencies and a resolution, he should reassess the excessive fees that his Government is paying Abellio for a six-day-a-week service instead of legitimising a tax on key workers.
You need to wind up, Mr Bibby.
The vision for a better, green and publicly controlled ScotRail is one that many claim to share. However, the reality of industrial unrest and service cuts is not compatible with that vision. Therefore, I invite Parliament to support the motion and call for an end to industrial unrest on the railways, the restoration of services to pre-pandemic levels and a new vision for a publicly owned ScotRail that works for Scotland’s passengers.
That the Parliament considers that decisions taken in the coming months will shape the future of Scotland’s railways for years to come; believes there should be no overall reduction in ScotRail services, compared with pre-pandemic levels, when new timetables are introduced in 2022; calls on Scottish ministers to reject overall service reductions; supports Scotland’s railway workers in their current industrial disputes with ScotRail; calls on Scottish ministers to intervene to help resolve these disputes with fair settlements for workers; notes that 22 September 2021 is World Car Free Day, a day to promote alternatives to car use; calls on Scottish ministers to commit to an affordable, clean, green, reliable and modern railway that is publicly owned and accountable, with representation for trade unions and passengers in governance of a new public sector operator, and believes that the Scottish Government should set out a vision for the future of Scotland’s railways based on service improvement, fair work and the decarbonisation of passenger rail services to help meet Scotland’s net zero ambitions.15:30
I welcome the opportunity to debate the future of rail services in Scotland today—world car-free day—because no one can or should doubt this Government’s commitment to improving Scotland’s railways.
In 2008, ScotRail operated just under 2,200 services per week day, providing for 467,000 seats. By 2019, that had increased to just over 2,400 services per week day, providing 645,000 seats. Since 2009, the communities of Alloa, Laurencekirk, Armadale, Blackridge, Caldercruix, Conon Bridge, Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels, Tweedbank and Kintore have been reconnected to the rail network through reversal of the Beeching cuts. Further, in the next three years, Reston, East Linton, Dalcross, Cameron Bridge and Leven will follow. [Interruption.] I will not take an intervention. I want to make progress, as I have a lot to cover.
Some 441km of track have been electrified and 108 brand-new electric trains comprising 364 carriages have been introduced to the network. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, more than 75 per cent of passenger journeys on ScotRail were being made on net zero emission trains. We are walking the walk, but we know that there is more to do. [Interruption.] No, I will not give way. I have heard enough from that side of the chamber.
As we seek to rise to the challenge of climate change and transport’s contribution to Scotland’s emissions, we have big plans for this transportation mode, including full decarbonisation and it becoming a go-to for freight. That commitment and investment was apparent before 2020; it endured throughout the pandemic, with our continuing support for the industry; and I assure members that our commitment and investment will continue as we shape the future of Scotland’s railway.
However, we face some immediate challenges, which are largely brought about by the pandemic. A £1.1 billion annual spend on rail before the pandemic has, by necessity, morphed into a spend of more than £1.5 billion. At the risk of mixing transport metaphors, we need to steady the ship and get ScotRail ready for not so much a build-back but a take-off. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry; I want to get through this.
Labour says that there should be no overall reduction in pre-pandemic ScotRail service levels. In effect, it is saying that what was suitable for 2019 should be suitable for 2022.
Will the member take an intervention?
No—the member had seven minutes to make his points, and I want to rebut some of them.
Does Labour not recognise that there have been substantial economic, societal and environmental changes since 2019, and that those changes are having and will have a material effect on the provision of railway services? There will be changes to working patterns, where we work and how we work, and we have yet to understand what that will mean for the future. Therefore, we need a level of service provision that meets the changing needs of passenger demand as Scotland comes out of the pandemic, but with flexibility for beyond.
I am well aware that ScotRail’s consultation on its proposed timetable for 22 May has generated interest and concern in some quarters, but the review also proposes positive changes. ScotRail currently operates around 2,000 services per week day, providing 531,000 seats. That will grow. There are areas of the country where the services will be improved by the changes.
Mr Bibby asks where. I will tell him. There will be improvements on the route between Glasgow and Carlisle via Kilmarnock and Dumfries. Further, new services are being added between Dundee and Glasgow, which will bring services to Invergowrie and Gleneagles. I hope that that answers his question.
A review is not a permanent thing. We can review services again if travel patterns change again. However, surely, we must look to deliver services that meet people’s needs with regard to when and where they want to travel and that free up capacity to provide more in that regard. Essentially, that is what the current review does.
We have to address the operational challenges on the railways efficiently—all the challenges. I recognise the crucial and positive role that our railway workers played in supporting key workers through the pandemic and in enabling key parts of the economy to function. Everyone who works on Scotland’s railways deserves to be treated and paid fairly. However, it is a hard truth that there is simply no additional funding available to provide further support to the rail sector. Accordingly, if fair and reasonable pay increases are to be achieved, that has to be done through the realisation of operational efficiencies within the business.
Let me be clear, as I have been with the majority of unions that are engaging constructively in exploring the matter: efficiencies cut in more than one way. ScotRail’s management needs to be open to better ways of working that reduce costs on its side. As the Minister for Transport, I will be pressing the Office of Rail and Road, as I did earlier today, to progress savings to Scotland’s Railway’s fixed costs in regard to its contractual arrangements with Network Rail, which make up 55 per cent of overall spend.
Where I find common ground with Mr Bibby is that we both believe that a public sector-controlled and integrated passenger railway is the model that will best deliver for Scotland. The period of stability that has been provided by our decision to deliver ScotRail services within the public sector allows us to assess the scale and pace of recovery from Covid-19 and to consider how we respond to the United Kingdom Government’s white paper.
There is so much more that I want to say, but I am conscious of time. The pandemic’s impacts and the climate change challenge mean that we will have to do things differently to deliver differently. Taking ScotRail back into public sector control means that we can operate differently. Both must be seen by all concerned as an opportunity.
I move amendment S6M-01300.2, to leave out from “considers” to end and insert:
“welcomes the opportunity for decisions to be taken in the coming months that will shape the future of Scotland’s railways; acknowledges the opportunity to create a national rail service that meets the country’s needs and travel patterns by building back to pre-pandemic levels but also provides for expected future demand; thanks Scotland’s railway workers and staff for their commitment to keeping services running during unprecedented circumstances; recognises the financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also believes that staff should be paid fairly and expects the employer to lead dialogue with trade unions to resolve current industrial disputes, with the aim of restoring rail services and re-establishing mutually acceptable industrial relations; welcomes that 22 September 2021 is World Car Free Day, a day to promote and undertake alternatives to car use; notes that Scottish ministers are committed to an affordable, clean, green, reliable and modern railway that is publicly owned and accountable, and founded on Fair Work First criteria, with representation for staff and passengers in the governance of a new public sector operator, and recognises that the Scottish Government will set out a vision for the future of Scotland’s railways based on service improvement, fair work, the decarbonisation of passenger rail services and an increase in rail freight, to help meet Scotland’s net zero ambitions.”15:36
I find it extraordinary that a transport minister, speaking in a transport debate, did not take any interventions.
I thank Scottish Labour for bringing the debate to the chamber. It is being held against a backdrop of looming service cuts, on-going industrial action and a forthcoming change of ownership of our rail operator. Today, as we have heard, unions have been protesting outside the First Minister’s official residence, calling on her to stop the service cuts. The RMT’s Mick Lynch says:
“With COP26 just weeks away, it beggars belief that the Scottish Government is happy to preside over massive cuts to rail services, despite this being a sustainable and low carbon form of transport. This will do nothing to make Scotland a ‘Net zero nation’ and will just push more people into cars.”
Mr Lynch is absolutely right about that, but he might want to reflect on the fact that strikes achieve the same thing. It is clear to me that, if the cuts go ahead, they will be here to stay and the direction of travel will not be good.
It is easy to be critical when anything goes wrong on the railways. We have all done it in relation to leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow, station skipping, fare increases, late trains, no trains, breakdowns and now strikes. There is a lot to criticise, and there always will be, because running railways is a fiendishly complicated business.
However, we have to be honest and say that, although privatisation of the railways led to some improvements and an increase in rail travel, it has not been the roaring success that many hoped that it would be. We should also be honest and say that nationalisation is not the cure-all that Labour and the SNP think that it will be.
The industrial action on Scotland’s railways should serve as a warning to the Government: there could well be more where that comes from. Today’s debate should be about a positive future for our railways; it should not be about industrial strife. That suits some people’s narrative, but not mine. The minister should insist that parties get round the table and accept mediation. Perhaps he can address that point later.
We need to move away from the “private bad, public good” mindset and accept three things. First, we want trains to run on time. Secondly, we need simpler, cheaper fares and easier methods of getting tickets. Thirdly, we need more lines connecting more communities—that means not only reopening old lines but improving what is there. It is nonsense that the largely single-track lines that link Aberdeen, Inverness and the central belt are not electrified, and we need to improve the line beyond Inverness too.
Patrick Harvie tells people to “Take. The. Train”, but that is just not an option for many people, even in the central belt. As members know, the United Kingdom Government is to create a new public body—Great British Railways—which will own the infrastructure, receive the fare revenue, run and plan the network, and set most fares and timetables. Network Rail will be absorbed into that new organisation.
Great British Railways will simplify the current confusing mass of tickets; standardise mobile and online ticketing; and end the need to queue for paper tickets. It will contract with private companies to operate trains to the timetable, on fares that it specifies, in a way that Transport for London uses. I like the TfL model—we should consider it in Scotland. We do not have to do so, however.
We know that the Scottish National Party wants to take Scotland’s rail services into public ownership from next March, but we do not know any of the detail of what that will look like, or have any in-depth explanation of what its proposals—we do not know what those are—will deliver for the passenger. Our amendment calls on the Government to come up with that explanation; the minister can perhaps do that later.
We want to see a green recovery, and public transport should be at the heart of it. That will need investment and commitment; what it does not need is dogma, and I fear that that is where we are headed.
I move amendment S6M-01300.1, to leave out from “supports” to end and insert:
“notes the disruption that the RMT strikes have been having on passengers across the country and calls on the Scottish Government to work to deliver a resolution; further notes the Scottish Government’s intention to nationalise the service in March 2022 and therefore calls for the details and costs of its plans to be published urgently; believes that any operating model must put delivering a reliable and affordable service for passengers at the heart of its aim; notes the work of the Williams Rail Review and calls upon the Scottish Government to consider its recommendations carefully; further calls for the Scottish Government to undertake a review of disused tracks and stations with a view to reopening those that would support local growth and connectivity, and notes that, for many people across Scotland, particularly in rural areas, car travel is a necessity not a choice.”
I can tell the chamber that we have no time, so interventions will have to be accommodated in the time allocation.15:41
An anecdote is attributed to one of my predecessors as a representative of Shetland, Jo Grimond, who when asked to name his closest railway station, would say, “Bergen”. I cannot say that I am not jealous of colleagues who are able to hop on the train and return to their constituencies after a day or a week here. Instead, I am more used to flight safety demonstrations and gate changes than staying behind the yellow line and platform announcements.
As the motion points out, today is world car-free day; it is a tricky task for people who live in an area that geographically challenges public transport, but we must do more to break the reliance on cars for short journeys and we should ensure that every part of Scotland has an excellent local transport system and good links to the rest of the country. We must also make public transport sustainable if we are to see any benefit for our planet.
In 2015, transport became Scotland’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than a third of them. Progress has been made in other sectors, such as electricity, but transport has not budged. In 2018, 48.7 billion vehicle-kilometres were travelled by road—up 10 per cent in a decade. By 2037, Transport Scotland modelling forecasts a 25 per cent increase in car trips and a 44 per cent increase in goods vehicle trips. If we cut rail timetables, we certainly have no chance of changing that situation, and we do not have a chance of meeting our climate change targets unless transport is rapidly decarbonised.
Meanwhile, delays and dissatisfaction have beset the current Abellio ScotRail setup. People are so frustrated that, for the first time in decades, the number of people who used rail pre-pandemic went down, and delay-repay compensation to passengers nearly doubled in the space of just two years. If our railways face cuts—including, potentially, to the workforce—we need a commitment to greater investment and fair treatment for workers. We support driving up improvements to services, and performance improvements can be made through stronger protections for passengers.
The next chapter for rail services needs to deliver more for passengers, and we need governance that will deliver those services from day one. For the future of rail, we would like to see a system that recognises post-pandemic patterns of travel, takes into account local input and is accountable to passengers. We would like to see more freight moved on to railways to reduce congestion and pollution, and a move away from fossil fuels on the network towards electric power, batteries and hydrogen. We embrace the opportunity to run railways better through taking the best of the UK Government’s Williams review, such as simplified modern ticketing.
With passengers in mind, we can attract more people on to trains and out of their cars, all of which would help to accelerate action to tackle the climate emergency, and to meet the tougher target of a 75 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, which was put into Scottish law after work by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
We call on the Scottish ministers to commit to an affordable, clean, green, reliable, expanded and modern railway, with overall journeys maintained, that is accountable to passengers. Empty, polluting, ageing trains do not benefit anyone. Change is needed now for our rail service.15:45
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate today, which is world car-free day. Like many of us, I am and have been a regular user of rail services for many years. Earlier this year, I welcomed the news that the Scottish Government was planning to bring ScotRail back into public hands, but unlike what Mr Simpson says, we need the devolution of full rail powers to Scotland, not the UK.
I thank Scotland’s railway workers and staff for their dedication in keeping services running during Covid.
In the context of today’s discussion, we must recognise the financial impact that the pandemic has had on ScotRail. The update that we all received today showed that revenues are only at 50 per cent of their pre-pandemic level. That is the reality.
We must also acknowledge that the Scottish Government has invested record levels to improve connectivity and increase the number of trains across Scotland’s rail network. As the transport minister said, in the past 10 years, the Scottish Government has invested £1 billion in 441 track kilometres of electrification and associated infrastructure improvements, directly benefiting more than 35 million passenger journeys each year.
In my constituency, East Linton station has just been granted planning permission and I met representatives from Network Rail this morning to discuss construction timelines. Investment is also being made in an additional platform at Dunbar.
Employment on the railway in Scotland is at its highest level ever under this Government, with more than 9,000 jobs and many others in the supply chain.
Covid-19 has changed how and where we live, work and travel. Companies and organisations are reviewing the way they work. Hybrid working will become the norm. A recent report from the World Economic Forum found that 49 per cent of workers surveyed would prefer home working after the pandemic, with another 30 per cent preferring a hybrid model, while two-thirds of companies are actively looking at home and hybrid working models.
ScotRail is seeking to develop a timetable that will better meet future travel patterns and significantly reduce the unsustainable burden on the public purse of running more trains than are needed. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry. I have only four minutes, so I do not have time.
Many communities across Scotland have been reconnected to the rail network, including Alloa, Caldercruix and the Borders railway communities. The Government has opened new stations on the Airdrie to Bathgate line, and reopened the Borders line.
The Scottish Government has also allocated a record £4.85 billion to maintain and enhance Scotland’s railways in the current control period. That investment includes continuing electrification and decarbonisation throughout our rail services.
The consultation on the proposed new timetable provides an opportunity for ScotRail customers and businesses to help to shape a reliable and responsive timetable. That is a starting point, not the end. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry. I am conscious of the time.
It is time to recognise the challenges that we face on the railway and find a way to build back from the pandemic in a manner that delivers a more sustainable and efficient service that is ready to meet future demand. The Scottish Government and the Scottish ministers are committed to an affordable, clean, green, reliable and modern railway that is publicly owned and accountable, that is founded on fair work first criteria, and that will decarbonise our passenger rail services and meet Scotland’s net zero ambitions. I support the Scottish Government amendment.15:48
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, such is the strong concern that has been expressed by many of my constituents across Mid Scotland and Fife, but most especially by those who live in the Perth to Edinburgh M90 corridor, the area around Kirkcaldy and central Fife, and those near to Dunblane. Those people have been in touch because they are concerned about the proposed 2022 changes and what they would mean for them and their families.
There is no other way to describe what is contained in the proposals other than to say that they are cuts to rail services. In percentage terms, they would work out at a 12 per cent reduction across Scotland since the pre-pandemic year.
I also fully understand and sympathise with the passengers and rail workers who feel badly let down by the proposals because they will impact not just on the services but on jobs.
In its amendment, the Scottish Government implies that Professor Docherty’s report is about not just
“building back to pre-pandemic levels”
but providing for “future demand”. I want to examine that further. John Mason rightly pointed out that working patterns are changing, perhaps permanently, and that there will definitely be people who will choose to work at home who would previously have commuted to work in offices. However, that fall in demand must be set against the regional demographic changes and what we are told is a wider Scottish Government policy when it comes to the green agenda.
I will explain what I mean. The proposed removal of a direct link from Edinburgh to Perth has been a particular concern. The rerouting of services from Perth to Edinburgh via Dunfermline will add 10 minutes to the journey time, when that journey time is already well over the time for comparable journeys in the rest of the UK and Europe. That is precisely why, for the past 20 years, we have been campaigning for the rail infrastructure between Edinburgh and Perth to be upgraded. We want to get more people on to greener transport by making trains much more competitive with roads.
Surely we must also pay attention to the extent of the population growth that is taking place around the western edge of Perth city and around the hinterland of Kinross and Milnathort, a large proportion of whose working population travels to Edinburgh and Glasgow. We should not forget, either, that Perth station is supposed to be the hub for Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, which is exactly why bodies such as Transform Scotland have been presenting such a cogent case when it comes to infrastructure developments. Surely it is very important that ScotRail recognises all that when it timetables future services.
Such was my concern about those issues that I asked to meet ScotRail officials on 6 September. They told me, in effect, that they were going to push ahead with the changes because there was so little that they could do to make ScotRail services competitive against road, given the constraints of the current infrastructure. I understand that concern, but I am afraid that I do not accept that what they are proposing for 2022 will be the right answer.
There are concerns in other parts of Mid Scotland and Fife about the proposed ending of the direct link between Dunblane and Glasgow, which will necessitate a change at Stirling, and about the proposed changes to services in central Fife, which will involve more changes at Inverkeithing.
People are telling us clearly that they want trains to be accessible, to run on time and to be clean and efficient. They do not want slower trains, cancellations and train journeys that are less competitive with car journeys, nor do they want a service—as Graham Simpson pointed out—that is functioning against a backdrop of uneasy relationships with Government and with passengers.
Good-quality transport must be at the heart of economic policy making, and I suggest that we learn a lot from what is happening on the rail networks of some of our European neighbours, who know how to get train services right.15:53
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Let me begin with the facts. Abellio ScotRail is fully funded by the Scottish Government—fact. Even before the introduction of the emergency measures agreement, the Scottish Government funded two thirds of Abellio ScotRail’s revenue—fact. The Scottish Government has announced its intention to bring the ScotRail franchise into public ownership—fact. The Scottish Government now has complete control of the ScotRail franchise—fact.
So, I ask Scottish Green back benchers and front benchers, as well as the minister, why it is that the Scottish Government, having presided over the commissioning of the Docherty report—although no one is claiming responsibility for it—is now refusing to rule out implementing that report’s recommendations, knowing that it will mean a radical cut in Scotland’s rail services, a radical cut in the workforce and a radical cut in ticket offices. It is no wonder that Professor Docherty himself has said that his plans
“will require addressing ‘difficult’ cultural and political questions.”
When I tackled the minister on the issue in a written parliamentary question last month, he replied that Transport Scotland was working to
“provide a platform”—
“to assess the scale and pace of recovery from Covid-19”,
and he spoke of
“the changing priorities and requirements of rail passengers”.—[Written Answers, 18 August 2021; S6W-01667.]
As usual, the minister did not answer the question that I asked—but, significantly, he did not deny that the Scottish Government was making its own assessment of the Docherty cuts. So, we make a simple and uncomplicated call on the Scottish Government to rule out cuts to rail services in Scotland.
At a time of climate crisis, we should be expanding our railways, not contracting them. In plain terms, I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport is not here, but he was a late convert to ending the rail privatisation experiment. To him, the minister and the Government, I say in all sincerity that railways in public ownership, run for passengers not profits, are part of the solution to the climate change crisis and not part of the problem.
The other question is this: with the Scottish Government in complete control of the ScotRail franchise, why are the cabinet secretary and the transport minister presiding over Britain’s longest-running industrial dispute? In addition to that, when anti-trade union laws demanded that the workforce reballot, why was it that, at the very point that those hard-working senior conductors and ticket examiners—those key workers—were reballoting, five SNP MSPs in Glasgow decided to issue a joint statement attacking their trade union and calling on the workers to collapse the strike or break the strike? Why did they not instead issue a joint statement calling on ScotRail and their own Government to address the pay injustice, end the pay freeze and settle the dispute?
Finally, do they not recall the words of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, who said in March 2021:
“I am clear that the pay freeze announced by the Chancellor ... fundamentally misjudges the value of front line workers.”
The SNP, supported by the Greens in government, is fundamentally misjudging the value of those front-line workers. I call on the Government and the Parliament to get on the side of Scotland’s railway workers and all their unions—to drop the planned cuts to rail services, drop the planned cuts to rail jobs, drop the planned cuts to terms and conditions and back the Labour motion at decision time.15:57
As someone for whom world car free day is an everyday reality—I have spent more than 48 hours on trains in the past month—folk hamming up the grave disruption to their lives that would come from not using their car for a 20-minute journey on one day out of 365 really jars. I therefore thank my colleagues on the Labour benches for giving me this opportunity to make productive use of my irrational annoyance.
Being a Highlands and Islands representative, I understand that going car free is not only difficult for many of my constituents but impossible. If you live in Alness and work in a care home in Barbaraville, how do you get to your night shift when the last bus has long gone? I also accept that many could make the switch from car to public transport. However, they do not, because we are not giving them good reason to. When the journey from Thurso to Inverness is four hours on the train and two hours and twenty minutes in a car, why would you take the train?
The Friends of the Far North Line point out in their latest issue—and, it is fair to say, in all their issues—that most of the Highland main line remains single track, asking, “When will the sun shine on the Highland main line?” I have raised the need to double that route twice in the chamber already. I expect that a number of my colleagues will be sick of hearing about it from me fairly soon and until it happens.
Given the massive carbon efficiency benefits and the fact that massive lorries carrying freight that could be transported by rail—not to mention the current issues around who drives those lorries—are the cause of many issues on the A9, it is great to see mention of moving more freight on to our railways in the Government amendment. However, you can go only so far with that while the Highland main line remains single track. If we are talking about the benefit to the climate, it surely makes sense to move freight off the roads and on to rail, where the journeys are the longest and therefore carbon emissions highest.
It is fantastic that we are talking so much about decarbonising public transport—about electrifying and exploring ways to hydrogen power trains on existing routes such as the west Highland line. However, having control of the franchise surely means that we have to go further than simply improving what is there. We also have to ensure that the services and timetables are working not only for those who currently use them but for those who can be convinced.
I find it bizarre that ScotRail is using current passenger numbers to justify service reductions. We cannot use passenger numbers as any kind of basis for decision making at a time when people have been actively told not to use the train. We should be looking to the future and using the opportunity of service changes to encourage more users, and I was glad to see that mentioned in the Scottish Government amendment.
I was as excited as a child at Christmas—or me at Christmas—when I heard the announcement that the Government was taking over ScotRail ownership, and I am even more excited now that there is a commitment to putting staff and passengers at the heart of governance. However, I share the disappointment that, in the wake of that, timetable changes show that we are still not using high-speed trains to service Inverness. It is the city with the longest intercity routes in the country, which surely should mean that it is top of the list for dunting trains that have been described by ScotRail and the Scottish Government as
“not suited for intercity travel”.
ScotRail being brought into public hands provides us with a massive opportunity to get things right, which is recognised in the Labour motion and the Scottish Government amendment. I look forward to working with my colleagues across the chamber, including Scottish Labour, to make sure that that happens.16:01
In six months’ time, ScotRail will enter public ownership and a new national rail service will be created—a development that will not only shape the future of our railways and the jobs involved but have a significant influence on our journey to net zero. Given the significance of the plans and the policy, we have heard remarkably little detail from the Scottish Government about what will be involved. Given their significance, the Scottish Government must resist the temptation to railroad these plans through Parliament—the pun is intended—with the help of the Greens. Whatever the plans involve, they must be subject to full parliamentary and committee scrutiny, widespread stakeholder and worker consultations, and a long-term strategic plan for Scotland’s railways.
We have seen in the past what happens when this Government intervenes to bring assets into public ownership without consultation, long-term planning or proper scrutiny. When Ferguson Marine was nationalised two years ago, there was no prior consultation and no plan in place, despite warnings—including from members on these benches—that it would damage the yard’s ability to win future work. We saw the same with the intervention in Burntisland Fabrications—again, there was no consultation and no long-term plan. We saw the same with Prestwick airport. We saw the SNP take the same flawed approach with the proposed publicly owned energy company: a policy announced without consultation, only for the Government to spend half a million pounds on consultancy fees, to then be told that the policy would not work.
That flawed approach has to change. There has to be a better way to plan for the future of Scotland’s railways. If the Government needs help with its long-term planning for the railways, my colleague Graham Simpson set out in his opening remarks some clear objectives that we can all support: for the trains to run on time; for simpler, cheaper fares and easier methods of getting tickets; for more lines connecting more communities—we announced that as part of our manifesto—and for a railway network that works across Scotland, England and Wales.
The Government needs to tell us how its plans will help to deliver the transition to net zero. On that point, there are many recommendations in the Williams rail review that merit close consideration by the Scottish Government. I ask the minister not to let narrow political interests get in the way of following good policy elsewhere in the UK.
We do not just need that long-term plan for railways in Scotland. We also need to see an immediate resolution to the industrial dispute that has been going on for six months and causing disruption across Scotland—a strike that, if unresolved in five weeks’ time, could threaten to disrupt the COP26 climate change conference that is to be held in Glasgow. Scotland will host up to 20,000 delegates, with events being held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and other venues across Scotland, and rail connectivity will be critical to the success of the conference. Not being able to run trains during COP26 would be an embarrassment for a Government that claims to be world leading and for the whole of Scotland. That is why we are calling on the minister to get involved and work with ScotRail and the unions to resolve the dispute. It has gone on way too long.
Passengers and workers across Scotland deserve a Government that gives our railways more support, more financing and more attention. They are not getting that from this SNP Government. I support the amendment in Graham Simpson’s name.16:04
I thank Labour colleagues for bringing this debate. It is important that we thank the workers for their commitment to delivering rail services during the pandemic, and it is important that we push Abellio to get round the table with our unions and resolve the industrial dispute well ahead of COP26.
The motion references world car free day, which is a reminder of why we urgently need to transform our transport system. If we do not get the system right, the 70 per cent of people who have access to a car will simply drive more, while the people who do not have access to cars will be even further disadvantaged.
Rail must be at the heart of the Government’s plan for a 20 per cent reduction in traffic. The transfer of ScotRail into public ownership next year must mark a relaunch of rail in Scotland and a genuine people’s railway. We must have a service that is run in the public interest, with a direct role for passengers and workers in service planning and delivery, so that we reach out to communities who are currently not served by the rail network and to passengers who—let us be honest—could be served a lot better.
I am concerned that the focus of the Docherty report and the subsequent ScotRail timetable proposals is on service cuts and facility closures across Scotland’s rail network, rather than on changes that can genuinely create room for expansion and improvement of services. In the report, it was claimed that the recommendations were due to changed passenger behaviour and the need for economic recovery from Covid but, as members said, it is still too early to say how rail use will recover post-pandemic, given that many workplaces have, understandably, yet to invite workers fully back to the office.
ScotRail is currently consulting on its national proposed timetable and the consultation closes for responses on 1 October.
Will the member give way?
I do not think that I have time in hand—or do I, Presiding Officer?
I can give you a little time, if the member will be as brief as possible.
Okay. I will give way.
What will be in the Scottish Greens’ submission to the consultation? Do the Greens accept ScotRail’s fit for the future proposals, which include cutting 300 services a day?
No, and I will tell the member what I am doing to listen to the travelling public and channel their comments to the minister and to ScotRail. I have been active in encouraging constituents across my region to make their voices heard. More than 300 people have engaged with the consultation portal that I set up and have told ScotRail what they think of the cuts. ScotRail confirmed to me today that it will attend a town hall event next week, which I am organising online, to explain the timetable changes to people and hear directly from passengers across my region about how the changes will affect them. People have a voice and they are having their say on the issue.
How ScotRail deals with the responses to the consultation will be a big test. We expect full transparency about the concerns that are raised and the action that it will take to address them before it passes on final proposals to the minister for a decision.
I acknowledge that some change will be necessary. No one wants to see empty trains running, and the rail network must be used efficiently. There might be timetable changes that meet passenger demand better than the current timetable does.
However, the changes that we have seen so far are concerning. For example, the Kirkcaldy to Perth service will take up to 30 minutes longer, with no direct train between the two places and less frequent journeys. Journeys in Fife will require a change at Inverkeithing, which will increase journey times. Passengers in Strathearn might benefit from more regular services from Gleneagles, but for Perth residents the current problems with journey times will be compounded. If the message is that it will become harder to take the train between Perth and Scotland’s other cities, that will be incredibly damaging to the Government’s target of securing a 20 per cent reduction in vehicle mileage.
I hope that the minister will listen to passengers—I am sure that he will do so—and to the workers. We look forward to the successful relaunch of a people’s railway next year.16:09
I welcome the chance to take part in this debate.
There is no doubt that we face some challenging decisions around travel in general and rail travel in particular. On one hand, we want a world-class rail service, which carries passengers and freight everywhere they want to go. On the other, we need to think about the environment. Many of us were perhaps travelling too much before Covid and have now learned to travel less.
I travel each week by train from Glasgow, via Bathgate, to Edinburgh and have seen a remarkable reduction in the number of passengers getting off at Edinburgh Park station. Will those people ever return to previous work patterns? I do not think that anyone knows, to echo what Mark Ruskell just said.
The other side to all this, of course, is the financial aspect. As with all parts of the budget, we have to live within our means. I strongly support having the railways under public ownership—for that matter, I did not like seeing gas and electricity privatised—but they will still have to operate within a budget. Broadly speaking, if there is to be a pay increase above inflation, there will need to be a matching increase in fares above inflation, or, if fares are to be held down, wages will have to be held down too.
I have to say that, when rail was previously in public hands, the public did not always get a good deal—the awful British Rail sandwiches were a standing joke. This time round, the passengers and other users have to be at the centre. From that perspective, I agree with the point in the Conservative amendment that
“any operating model must put delivering a reliable and affordable service for passengers at the heart of its aim”.
I am not sure whether that is good English, but never mind.
As we move towards new ownership of the railways, we need to remember that the railways are not there to serve us as politicians and neither are they there to serve the RMT or the railways staff, much as we appreciate them, especially for the work that they did during the pandemic. The railways are there to serve the public, and both we as politicians and the staff who work on the railways are there to serve the public too. If fewer people are travelling by train because of home working or nervousness about being in a busy public place or for any other reasons, the railway system will have less income than it did pre-Covid.
That shortfall will have to be made up in some way. For example, we could increase fares, increase the public subsidy by cutting the national health service budget or trim services to better match demand. I think that those are the three main options that we have. I hope that Labour, in particular, will seriously engage in that debate. It is easy to say that we want more services, increased pay and reduced fares, but, sadly, the numbers have to stack up.
I agree that public transport is a public service and that the state will have to support it, but if we are not willing to invest in public transport, there is no point in declaring a climate emergency. When declaring a climate emergency, we need to invest in public transport in order to get people using it, which requires greater public investment.
Mr Mason, I can give you back most of that time.
Thank you. Of course we need to invest, but we can invest only the money that we have. Mr Bibby lives within a budget—I understand that he has a family—I have to live within my budget and we all have to live within our budgets. It is all very well saying that there should be all the things that we would like to see, but we can have that only if the money is there.
Moving on to some of the specific service proposals, I welcome the fact that the Glasgow north electric suburban line, which includes the Edinburgh to Helensburgh service, looks like staying broadly the same. On the Glasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk High service, it is a bit disappointing that the previous all-day 15-minute service will reduce to 30 minutes off peak. I understand the reason for that and the fact that, given what I have just argued, the money has to come from somewhere. However, given that that route is, in many ways, ScotRail’s flagship route, given the investment in Queen Street station and given the electrification of the route and the excellent rolling stock, it is still disappointing. I hope that, if demand picks up, services can be increased.
I love getting the train from Inverness to Wick and travelling on similar rural routes. However, that is one of the most heavily subsidised lines, with the average fare being £7 and the subsidy £25 per passenger. I am not arguing against that, but I wonder whether Labour is seriously arguing that we should increase that subsidy above 75 per cent.
It is not just because you are commenting on that part of the railway line, but you will need to conclude now, Mr Mason.
Right. I will just stop there.
We move to closing speeches.16:14
I have listened carefully to the debate. In a speech of only four minutes, I have a limited time to pick out the key issues. However, first, we can support the first part of the Labour motion on resisting the reduction in ScotRail services.
The second thing that the debate makes clear is the utter abdication of responsibility by the Scottish Government on the matter. That was evident in relation to the pay dispute long before today. In June, I asked the First Minister about the matter and she said that it was for the employer to resolve and that the matter rests with the operator and the unions. We have heard that position in today’s debate from the minister and Mark Ruskell, and it is reflected in the Scottish Government amendment.
However, there are three reasons why that shameful abdication does not stack up. First, ScotRail has been operating under an emergency management agreement. Section 5.5(c) of appendix ii to schedule 1 of the supplemental agreement makes clear that Abellio can negotiate all it wants, but it cannot authorise anything without the consent of the Scottish ministers because, ultimately, that is where the funding will come from.
Just in case I was mistaken on that, I dug out the franchise agreement. Schedule 15.2, clause 2.1, which is on page 617, states that in the last 12 months of a franchise, Abellio shall not vary or promise to vary the terms or conditions of employment of employees without the prior consent of the Scottish ministers.
In any event, under employment law, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 state that
“any purported variation of the contract of employment”
that is or will be transferred is
“void if the sole principal reason for the variation is ... the transfer”.
Of course, there are caveats to that, but as the future transferee, one would have thought that the Scottish Government should be actively discussing with the transferor what it would expect to see post-transfer. I do not accept the Scottish Government’s position of sitting on its hands and hoping that Abellio and the unions fight it out. That is not acceptable.
Graham Simpson’s amendment calls for the Scottish Government to undertake a review of disused tracks and stations and reopen those that would support local growth and connectivity, and notes that for many people across Scotland, particularly in rural areas, car travel is a necessity not a choice. That point was made in a thoughtful contribution by Emma Roddick.
I heard Liz Smith talk about campaigning for rail infrastructure upgrades between Edinburgh and Perth for 20 years, and I raised the point yesterday that Fraserburgh and Peterhead are the furthest towns in the entire country from the rail network. Car travel in the north-east is a necessity, not a choice. Remedying that shocking lack of rail provision would support local growth and connectivity and have many other positive side effects, not least on the drive to net zero and the reduction of car kilometres that the Government wishes to see.
However, when I raise that issue with the minister he abdicates responsibility to the delayed strategic transport projects review 2, for which just yesterday the cabinet secretary failed to give me a precise date of publication. Perhaps in closing, the minister will state whether he supports the reopening of the Dyce to Ellon line as soon as possible and the prompt extension of that to Peterhead and Fraserburgh.
Graham Simpson raised the lack of electrification of the line between Haymarket and Aberdeen; I have asked many questions on that issue and on whether the north-east might see the £198 million that is left from the £200 million that was promised years ago as part of the Aberdeen city region deal. Who did the minister abdicate responsibility to this time? Network Rail.
Members have heard a shameful litany of instances in which there has been a complete failure of the Government to take responsibility. Dean Lockhart demanded that the minister get involved; the minister has the perfect opportunity right now to show some leadership and take responsibility—will he? We shall see.
I heard the reference to Fraserburgh but, as Ms Wishart made clear, other places have claims to being further away from the train network.16:18
In closing for the Government, I will again make clear some key points. First, the Government has delivered more routes, more trains, more people travelling on those trains, more stations and greater frequency. Secondly, we should not forget the huge impact of the pandemic. The need to lock down the country and transport services for all but essential travel purposes has had a long-lasting impact. That is why we announced on Monday a further extension of the emergency measures agreement to provide additional support for ScotRail. Our rail services are, sadly, in effect haemorrhaging cash and are running at much more substantive losses than previously. We have to get our railway back on to a surer financial footing while also planning for long-term service delivery.
Let me be clear: we are determined to do all that we can to restore passenger service levels to where they were pre-pandemic, but we face challenges in the short term.
The timetable proposals in many areas actually mean better and more frequent services, but I appreciate that that is cold comfort for areas that face fewer services than currently, at least in the short term. It is a consultation and a starting not an end point—
Will the minister take an intervention?
The Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley service, via Falkirk High, has been described as the flagship service between our two largest cities. People should not have to wait half an hour to get a train between our two largest cities. Surely, the minister can rule out those cuts—
As usual, dealing in facts is problematic for Mr Bibby. Let me throw another fact back at him: that service is the one service on our network that washes its face, and those seats are occupied only 26 per cent of the time. That exemplifies the challenge that we face over usage. Beatrice Wishart was absolutely right in what she said about the future not being about running empty trains; we have to get real about it.
To return to my point about the consultation, I encourage members, as Liz Smith and Mark Ruskell have done, to get involved in the process.
The Labour motion calls for full restoration of services to pre-Covid levels, regardless of affordability. What about the new services that are to be introduced from 22 May? Are they to be ditched or does Labour suggest that we keep them and add them back in on top of the old services? We cannot run the same carriages at the same time in different locations.
A number of members have, rightly, raised the issues about pay claims and industrial action. Graham Simpson and Mark Ruskell called for the parties to get around the table. I advise them and others that such engagement is and has been under way. The unions and management are currently looking at finding a way forward around pay claims; I know that because I have actively encouraged them to do so and I have engaged with a number of the unions.
Will the minister take an intervention?
Do I have time, Presiding Officer?
Very briefly, Mr Simpson.
On that point about getting around the table, can the minister explain further what that is? Is it mediation?
I need to be careful in what I say, because it is a matter between the unions and Abellio ScotRail, but I confirm that discussions are taking place.
The Government agrees that rail employees deserve to be treated and paid fairly. As Minister for Transport, I have challenged all the parties to identify efficiencies to free up the funding that is needed in order to deliver fair and reasonable pay settlements. I reiterate that those efficiencies need to come from all quarters, including from our strategic relationship with Network Rail. The SNP contends that a fully integrated, publicly controlled railway—not the present separation of track and train—would best serve the needs of staff, customers and the public purse.
However, alongside pressing the case for that, we will continue to engage with the Office of Rail and Road in order to seek a better deal. Does anyone really believe that paying £815 million per annum just for the maintenance of and access to Scotland’s rail track represents value for money? If we are to reduce overheads, maintain and grow employment levels, increase services and further invest in the network, that issue has to be addressed.
Our vision for the future of Scotland’s railways is based on service improvement, fair work and the decarbonisation of passenger rail services. To answer the question that was asked earlier, we will update Parliament on all that before the end of the year. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, I say now that we intend that staff and passenger representation will play a key role in shaping the future direction and governance of the new organisation.
We also have ambitions to facilitate a marked increase in rail freight, to help meet Scotland’s net zero ambitions, as Beatrice Wishart and Emma Roddick called for. I note that the Labour motion fails to mention rail freight, and I assume that that is just an oversight, because our vision, which is shared by the trade unions, is that a competitive, sustainable rail freight sector will play an increasing role in Scotland’s economic growth by providing a safer, greener and more efficient way of transporting products and materials.
Our long-term commitment to rail remains undiminished. We have some difficult and immediate challenges to overcome but, with a real world approach to addressing them, we can overcome them and get Scotland’s railway truly fit for the future, so that it meets the needs of the public, is a fair work employer and plays a leading role in cutting transport emissions.
I call Colin Smyth to wind up the debate.16:24
The decisions that we take in the coming months will shape the future of Scotland’s railways, and by doing so they will shape our response to the climate crisis. As Beatrice Wishart said, transport is Scotland’s
“largest source of greenhouse gas emissions”,
“more than a third of them”
with levels barely below what they were in 1990.
The past decade under the Government has been a missed opportunity to put rail at the heart of a fightback against climate change, yet in the year that the world’s eyes will be on Scotland as we host COP26, when we all hope that agreement will be reached, here on our doorstep, that will herald the world’s determination not to lose the climate emergency race, it beggars belief that the Scottish Government’s swansong for its failed ScotRail franchise is to herald in the single biggest cut in rail services since devolution.
Let us be clear: it is a cut in services. It is 300 fewer services a day than there were before the pandemic—100,000 fewer per year. It is really astonishing that, when given the opportunity to rule out reducing the overall number of rail services below pre-pandemic levels, the minister tried to spin his way out by saying, “It’s fine. The number of services will be more than they are in the middle of a pandemic” and that, as Emma Roddick said, at a time when we are telling people not to use the train.
Is that really what we mean by building back better? Is that the height of the SNP-Green coalition’s ambition for our railways? When car travel has crept back to above pre-pandemic level, the SNP-Green coalition has thrown in the towel when it comes to getting back to pre-pandemic levels on our trains, never mind growing them. As Richard Leonard said:
“At a time of climate crisis, we should be expanding our railways, not contracting them.”
The minister said that we need to match service patterns with uptake. Labour believes that we need to use every power that we have to increase that uptake. We will not do that and get people back on our trains by taking those trains away. The minister even claimed that the proposed new timetable was good for passengers in my region. He highlighted the Nith valley line and said that it would benefit. Let me tell the minister what those cuts actually mean for my constituents in what, in my view and that of my constituents, is the real world, in a region where in many cases the pre-pandemic services were not good enough.
On the Nith valley line between Glasgow and Dumfries, the number of trains on a weekday will fall from 11 to just eight—a cut of 27 per cent, with a 20 per cent cut in return journeys. Direct services to Newcastle will be axed altogether. There are plans for a reduction from eight to just five trains in each direction between Girvan and Stranraer—a cut of more than 37 per cent. Between Ayr and Glasgow there will be a massive 16 fewer trains a day in each direction—a cut of more than 25 per cent.
The proposed timetable means that there will be just three trains a day between Carstairs and Edinburgh and compared with the pre-pandemic timetable the proposals reduce the services on the Borders railway, restricting half-hourly trains to peak times during the week. Of course we need to align the times of services to meet changes in travel patterns, but that does not mean we need to cut the overall number of services altogether. That is what Labour’s motion talks about.
As Mark Ruskell and the minister said, we do not know yet what demand will be when we emerge from the pandemic. However, we do know that if you drive down frequency you are gonnae drive down passenger numbers even further. There has been no effort from the Scottish Government to make rail more attractive post-pandemic. Rail fares have rocketed by more than 50 per cent under the Government, with passengers facing another hike in ticket prices in the next few months. The cost of a season ticket from Tweedbank to Edinburgh will increase by £112 in January; from Ayr to Glasgow, it will rise by £100. Where is the proposed rail fare review from the SNP-Green coalition? Surely that is urgent. Surely we should have had that review before we have this new timetable.
When will we see more urgency when it comes to reopening stations? The minister talked earlier about the Nith valley line. He mentioned it in his speech today and also two weeks ago. Let me give an example of what he can do to get people back on the trains in those places. He can reopen stations in Eastriggs, Thornhill, Mauchline and Cumnock on that line. That will get people on to our trains. Let us show ambition by reopening those stations.
As Neil Bibby and Richard Leonard said, today the joint trade unions launched their campaign to stop the cuts—the six months to save Scotland’s railway campaign. Labour stands with those workers. They are key workers who deserve our thanks for keeping Scotland moving during the pandemic, but they need more than just our thanks. They need and deserve fairness at work and decent pay and conditions.
It is not good enough that ScotRail workers have not had a pay deal for two years, including before the pandemic. It is also not good enough that the Scottish Government is quick to hand out millions of pounds in management fees to Serco and Abellio for a seven-day service that we are not getting, while at the same time it has effectively imposed a pay freeze on ordinary rail workers and the minister is, frankly, posted missing when it comes to resolving an industrial dispute that has dragged on for months.
Fortunately, the failed franchise will drag on for only another few months. The minister and John Mason said that they support public ownership of our railways; however, that was not the case when they opposed not one, but two motions that I brought to chamber in the past three years to end the ScotRail franchise and deliver what the Scottish Co-operative Party describes as “a people’s railway”.
I welcome that the SNP has come on board to shunt to the sidings what it once claimed would be a world-leading franchise, which, as Neil Bibby said, has been
“a flop from start to finish”.
If the SNP is really committed to public ownership, why will it not bring the Serco Caledonian sleeper franchise under public control? I will do what the minister failed to do at the start of the debate—I will take an intervention from him if he wants to answer the question.
No, you will not, because you are about to conclude, Mr Smyth.
Much to the relief of the minister, I am sure.
A fully publicly owned and run railway is Labour’s vision for our railways. The vision starts to put passengers, not the profits of privatised companies, first. Our vision would put the railways at the heart of the fight against climate change, and not accelerate it by cutting services. It is a vision in which the workforce are the managers of change, not its casualties. By backing Labour’s motion, we can start to deliver that vision today.