Another flop is coming down the tracks thanks to the SNP’s reverse Midas touch
THERE can’t be many of us who are genuinely shocked that a newly nationalised public service has fallen victim to the SNP’s reverse Midas touch.
Long-suffering commuters — and even occasional passengers on ScotRail — knew from the moment government ownership was announced that it would be a failure.
They are a hardy bunch, accustomed to delays and no-shows, and anyone keeping up with current affairs will be well aware of the Nationalists’ CV when it comes to running things — a litany of disasters would be an understatement.
But many of these stalwarts of rail travel might be a little surprised by just how quickly the project has come off the tracks.
There are ominous reports from rail union chiefs that the worst cuts since those which followed the infamous Beeching Report of 1963 are on the horizon — with predictions that services could be slashed by up to a third.
In the meantime, there are hundreds of cancellations, fuelled by driver shortages — around 300 services were hit on Sunday compared with 110 last weekend, leading to a ScotRail apology to customers on the day its new timetable came into effect.
Now that the painful transition to something approaching pre-March 2020 normality has begun, the railway is far behind the pace — stuck in a siding while the country desperately tries to get back to work.
Train drivers’ union Aslef has balloted its members for strike action after rejecting a 2.2 per cent pay increase — while a ‘significant number of drivers’ have stopped working on rest days.
Optimistically, Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth, taking a break from presiding over the ferries debacle, says she wants our rail unions ‘to have a vested interest, a stake, in the vision of the new ScotRail and what that looks like’.
It’s plain to everyone back on planet Earth, particularly to those stuck on platforms wondering where their train has got to, that the unions have decided what the ‘new ScotRail’ should look like — the old ScotRail, but worse.
The union barons have spotted an opportunity to wreak havoc and they know the Scottish Government is a soft touch, a cabal of lefties numbering among their top team a group of radicals with a Marxist loathing of capitalism.
Conditions are perfect for more union disruption, with passengers paying the price — a heavy price, as usual, with ticket costs having shot up by more than a third in the past decade.
In January, the Scottish peak and off-peak regulated fares soared by another 3.8 per cent, with peak prices rocketing by 38 per cent since the start of 2012.
Transport Scotland said at the time of those latest price hikes — before official nationalisation took place on April 1 — that the ‘changes we are implementing this year are essential to our wider recovery plans’ — plans which only four months later have gone badly wrong.
A government wedded to the pipe dream of the four-day week, and eternal working from home, is hardly likely to pull out all the stops to make sure people get to work on time — and frankly it didn’t seem to care before it was in direct control of the railway.
Back in 2019, a leading government adviser, Richard Marsh, concluded that Scotland’s chaotic railway was costing the economy more than £600million a year.
That figure can only rise as a result of the savage service cuts currently on the drawing-board — and quite how any of this is supposed to encourage more of us to take the environmentally friendly option of shunning the car in favour of the train is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon is driven around in government limousines — so doesn’t appear to care about the multiple miseries faced by lesser mortals who don’t have their own chauffeurs.
Apart from the odd first-class foray, she’s a relative stranger to rail travel, so why should she or her similarly pampered cohorts spare a nanosecond considering whether you managed to make it to your desk on time?
Alex Hynes, the ‘fatcat controller’, remains managing director of Scotland’s Railway under the new system — so much for a new broom…
Prior to nationalisation, he was raking in £330,000 a year, though true to form the salaries of rail chiefs post-April 1 have been kept under wraps so far (on the upside, at least the new ScotRail is now subject to the Freedom of Information Act).
The newly installed chief operating officer, Joanne Maguire, a former university executive, has no experience in railways — what could possibly go wrong?
At the root of the burgeoning ScotRail fiasco is the SNP Government’s Superman complex — it has deluded itself into believing that more of its intervention is needed to help Scotland run smoothly, whereas to the rest of s the opposite is clearly the case.
It is a belief which flies in the face of the available evidence, which suggests that this government is catastrophically bad at managing anything — it’s even bad at covering up its own failures, or trying to, as the botched redaction of ferry documents last week demonstrated.
An incomplete ferry unveiled by Miss Sturgeon in a bogus launch back in 2017, with painted-on windows and fake funnels, is as good an illustration as any of her administration’s pathological ineptitude.
That the entire ferries saga could end up costing us up to £400million is another bitter pill for the taxpayer, the latest egregious assault on the public purse by the Sturgeon regime.
You can take your pick of other examples — how about the government-owned investment bank whose most notable investment so far has been in a pay-off of more than £117,000 for its former boss?
Then there’s the white elephant of Prestwick Airport, taken into public ownership in November 2013 when it was bought by the Government for £1.
Around £42million of taxpayers’ money has been ploughed into Prestwick since then — with £33million of this already written off — meaning that the Scottish Government’s bid to sell it has failed to clear the runway.
Ministers lost up to £52.4million of taxpayers’ money through the collapse of Fife engineering firm BiFab, which took place after ministers signed off a secret £30million guarantee — before U-turning on the decision to support the firm.
And don’t forget Miss Sturgeon’s £586million deal with steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance to rescue an aluminium smelter in the Highlands.
Around 2,000 new jobs in the Lochaber region were promised by Mr Gupta as part of his purchase of the smelter and planned alloy wheels plant, but only 50 jobs were created.
GFG Alliance is the subject of ongoing investigation into alleged money-laundering and fraud, and there are claims the deal breached state aid rules.
As for the railway, there are only two cast-iron certainties — if it goes on failing, there will be major repercussions for the economy as it struggles to remobilise after Covid.
The other is that there is zero evidence of any imminent improvement — indeed massive decline is more likely — with the fatcats and their cack-handed political masters still pulling the levers, while customers pick up the bill for their incompetence.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on May 17, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant