Amid growing disquiet over the shambles of Scotland’s rail network in the run-up to Christmas, the Scottish Government managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Just when it looked as if beleaguered transport minister Humza Yousaf would be forced to fall on his sword, it was announced season ticket holders would be given a week’s free travel by way of an apology.
At a cost of £3 million, it bought the government and ScotRail franchise operator Abellio some much-needed breathing space.
But it now appears no one is actually sure who will pay for the idea, leading to accusations that Mr Yousaf came up with it “on the back of a fag packet”.
ScotRail managing director Phil Verster yesterday told MSPs his firm had been given only a few weeks’ notice before the announcement and had yet to decide whether it would contribute £1.8m from a fund for rail improvements.
That the money looks ready to come from an improvement fund will no doubt be met with astonishment from put-upon commuters, the very people who will suffer when £1.8m worth of said improvements are not carried out.
Simply put, this an announcement the government never should have made.
Just as it is not right for taxpayers cash to be used to fund free rail travel for others, nor should ministers be fining the operator through the backdoor.
This populist measure was politics at its worst – policy made up on the hoof to deal with negative media coverage more than actual problems on the network.
Sadly it speaks volumes about the way Scotland’s railway is being run.