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Sturgeon on collision course with unions over Scotland’s railways

·2-min read
Abellio To Be Stripped Of ScotRail Franchise - Getty
Abellio To Be Stripped Of ScotRail Franchise - Getty

Nicola Sturgeon is on a collision course with union bosses over plans to seize control of Scotland’s railways.

The SNP will nationalise Scotland’s train lines from 2022 following criticism over cancellations and performance levels under Dutch firm Abellio.

Scottish ministers will appoint an “operator of last resort” to run services in a move that allows Holyrood to avoid putting the network out to tender.

However, Ms Sturgeon wants to extend the power grab to billions of pounds worth of tracks and stations. The SNP manifesto set out plans to create a “national infrastructure company to manage and develop public assets for the public good”.

Such a move would shift the assets, owned by Network Rail, under the control of the Scottish government – a strategy that would put it at odds with union leaders.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “RMT supports devolution of certain rail powers in the context of a national integrated railway under public ownership and have also campaigned for the Scottish and Welsh governments to have the power to run their passenger services in public ownership.

“We want the railway to be more accountable and responsive. But, alongside the Scottish TUC, we are opposed to any attempts to break up ownership of the UK’s rail infrastructure, which will lead to more fragmentation and an end to the financial and operational benefits of nationally integrated rail infrastructure.”

A Scotrail train - PA
A Scotrail train - PA

Scottish rail services are already being disrupted by a campaign of industrial action by the RMT over pay and working conditions. Fresh strikes will take place across ScotRail today.

Mr Lynch added: “It is about time the political leaders and Transport Scotland put a stop to this trashing of the image and reputation of the rail network across the nation.”

The SNP has insisted that moving the railways to public ownership will save taxpayers millions of pounds and allow ministers to decarbonise the network by 2035.

Ms Sturgeon’s administration is facing difficult questions over a number of high profile economic policies that have left taxpayers facing losses worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

A Glasgow shipyard accrued a £100m loss in just four months after being nationalised in 2019, it emerged in April.

Meanwhile questions remain over a decision to hand large state guarantees to troubled steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta.

Graham Simpson, Conservative transport spokesman, said earlier this month: “The SNP must be upfront about how much nationalisation of our railways is going to cost taxpayers.”

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