The Scottish Government Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson announced this week that ScotRail will be nationalised in 2022. Following several years of service disruption and price increases under Abellio, which has bedevilled the lives and livelihoods of people across Scotland, Mr Matheson released a statement indicating it would not be advisable to seek a successor for the franchise during the pandemic.
The ScotRail franchise run by Abellio will be taken over by the Scottish Government when its contract expires in March 2022. The Transport Secretary said they were also drawing up further emergency agreements with both ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper franchise from April to September 2021 and support is estimated to cost around £173 million. Restore Scotland welcomes this decision for several reasons.
Firstly, we believe it represents a grown-up approach to governance. As a party which supports political independence, how else can the electorate establish confidence in the governance of devolved responsibility unless we can develop a new approach to areas of infrastructure such as transport? This presents a huge opportunity to do things better and for the people of Scotland.
Secondly, we believe it is a positive opportunity to diverge from the UK Government in areas of devolved responsibility as Scotland has already successfully done. For example, within the package of additional devolved powers in 2016, Social Security Scotland was pioneered – an agency developed for, and delivered by, the people of Scotland by contrast to the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions.
Thirdly, the Scottish Government could not have made this decision if we were still obliged to implement the Fourth Railway Package. This is a regressive piece of EU legislation which interferes with rail transport regulation by forcing subsidised routes to be put out to tender for private companies to bid on them. As a party committed to independence, this is a positive way to exert our new-found freedom.
The EU Treaty offers an exemption on the “coordination of transport” from state aid rules, which still applies to other sectors and prevents member states from growing and supporting their economies. Nationalisation which prioritises the interests of private companies is not nationalisation and our freedom from EU regulations presents an opportunity to provide a service which prioritises people over profit.
However, the agility afforded to Scotland in the devolution settlement over transport provides us with an opportunity to provide a competitive and sustainable rail service for commuting customers and freight. We simply could not achieve this within the European Union and, if we indeed deliver an affordable, competitive and sustainable service, it only highlights why full independence makes democratic sense in future.