The Scottish Government will press ahead with controversial plans to integrate railway policing into Police Scotland even if it leads to strikes on the network.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said he would continue to have “constructive” talks with unions, but said the plans “should not be beholden to the threat of industrial action”.
Under the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, the British Transport Police’s operations north of the Border will be taken over by Police Scotland
MSPs today approved the bill in principle following a debate in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Yousaf said he had listened closely to issues raised by the BTP Federation and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), adding that there would be “no detriment” to the terms and conditions of those transferring to work for Police Scotland.
Asked by Labour MSP Neil Bibby whether he would proceed with the legislation even if it led to industrial action and “severe disruption”, Mr Yousaf said: “The engagement with the unions has been constructive. We will continue to offer reassurances where we can and remove any doubt from the language we may use.
“We believe on the government benches that this is a sensible approach to railway policing and that should not be beholden to the threat of industrial action. Of course we want to avoid industrial action on any issue on our railways, so I will continue to have that constructive dialogue.”
Parliament’s approval of the legislation in principle follows backing given by Holyrood’s justice committee, despite opposition from its Tory and Labour members.
Tory justice spokesman Douglas Ross said: “The vast majority of evidence the justice committee has heard provides no compelling argument in favour of full integration.
“In fact, it’s the opposite – the Scottish Government is trying to tear up a specialist police service for no good reason at all.
“We’re faced with a model which, according to witnesses, will increase delays for passengers, jeopardise their safety, result in irrecovarable loss of expertise and dilute the specialism of existing railway policing in Scotland. Why? Political ideology and the SNP's single-minded obsession with cutting ties with anything which contains the word ‘British’."
Labour justice spokeswoman Claire Baker added: “BTP is a model which works for us in Scotland. The government is introducing a bill to fix something which doesn’t need repaired.”
Speaking ahead of the debate, RMT general secretary Mick Cash warned the legislation would increase risks for rail staff and passengers.
Mr Yousaf said the bill would “enhance” safety and provide more “joined-up services” across key infrastructure.