Leaders: Plan that leaves rail investment stationary
TRAINS in Scotland are taking an increasing amount of travel strain. Usage of them is up by more than 30 per cent since the franchise began in 2004 to 81.1 million passenger journeys a year. With the cost of motoring, thanks to spiralling fuel prices, looking likely to remain high, this is a travel trend which seems likely to go on rising.
Transport minister Keith Brown’s announcement that some £5 billion is now scheduled to be invested in rail infrastructure is clearly designed to impress and convince passengers that the Scottish Government will meet this challenge. It is certainly good news that ministers appear to have abandoned some of the more absurd proposals put forward in Transport Scotland’s consultation on the future of rail services, such as compelling passengers travelling between points north of Edinburgh and English destinations to change trains in Edinburgh.
But as with the Government’s previous grand road-, school-, and college-building infrastructure plan there appears to be more show than new substance in this plan.
What Mr Brown seems to have done is to have rolled up previously known schemes (improvements to the Highland main line, the Aberdeen-Inverness line, and the electrification of the Edinburgh-Glasgow line) and put them into a delivery timetable which is the only new(ish) element of his announcement.
Even that timetable – between 2014-19 – has come with small print caveats to enable the Government to disclaim responsibility for any slippage. Some elements, such as smart ticketing to enable more convenient use of integrated bus and train journeys, will not be delivered until 2024.
Indeed, the whole package smacks more than a little of the PR spin employed by that other Mr Brown – Gordon – to double and triple count elements until there is a big enough number to silence critics. The trouble with that approach, as New Labour eventually discovered, is that when service delivery fails to match the expectation created by big numbers, voters get angry.
The oddest feature is that the transport minister presented himself as having listened to concerns about the seven-year length of the franchise presently held by ScotRail (argued to be not enough to give ScotRail the confidence to invest) by declaring that the franchise to be awarded in 2014 will run for ten years.
But the small print of this reveals a break clause after five years which would allow ministers to transfer train operations to another company. Rather than this encouraging the franchise-holder to make sure their services are up to the demanded mark, it may just lead them to conclude that the possibility of losing the franchise after five years is such that they should not risk large sums of money on, say, investing in better trains for long-distance journeys. Train operators, like passengers, need certainty, and these plans look anything but that.
Free us from hypocrisy
Religion and politics rarely mix easily. That truth is no more evident than in the shadow dancing by the Scottish Government around the visit to Scotland of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. The political fact that Tibetans would dearly like their country to be free of Chinese military occupation would, you might think, strike a chord with SNP ministers who want Scotland to be politically freed from its much bigger neighbour.
But no. Scotland’s First Minister happens to be abroad, and the SNP provost of Dundee has found he needs to attend a funeral rather than be present when the Dalai Lama speaks in his city, this after having had a recent chat with the Chinese consul-general. SNP ministerial diaries also seem to be full of other more important engagements.
It all seems rather convenient. Alex Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, protests that it is nothing to do with the trade and cultural agreements that the Government wishes to strike with China, or the delivery of two Chinese pandas to Edinburgh Zoo. It is simply because the Dalai Lama is making a pastoral visit to his Scottish followers and that they are just emulating the example of UK ministers who are also not meeting him.
Given that the Prime Minister and his deputy met the Dalai Lama in May, these excuses look like hypocrisy.
There can be little doubt that the Tibetans have a right to self-determination and that the Chinese should not be occupying their country. The fact we believe in the right to self-determination should be asserted by our government welcoming the Dalai Lama even in the face of disapproval from the Chinese government.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west