THE Scottish Government will not commit yet to building a high-speed rail line to the English Border under independence because it is “not the best use of public resources”, transport minister Keith Brown has said.
Mr Brown said the pledge was not part of transport plans for an independent Scotland because the UK Government had still to agree to extend the HS2 line as far as the Border.
The comments came as Labour claimed it was “highly inappropriate” that the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency was promoting the SNP plans, and said it had raised the issue with Sir Peter Housden, the head of the civil service in Scotland.
Mr Brown said the Scottish Government was working with the coalition government at Westminster to bring high-speed rail to Scotland. A joint study is due to report in the summer.
The Scottish Government has re-printed its independence white paper’s transport plans as a separate document, with an accompanying press release from Transport Scotland.
The paper goes only as far as stating that ministers’ planned Glasgow-Edinburgh high-speed line would act as a “launch pad” for a route to the south.
The document, Scotland’s Future - A Future for Transport, noted the UK Government’s “current confirmed plans exclude Scotland and northern England”.
It stated: “We will press ahead with developing plans for high-speed rail between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and work with the northern English councils to make the case to the UK Government for a high-speed rail link between Scotland and London.”
Mr Brown told a transport conference in Edinburgh: “What is the purpose of an explicit commitment to high-speed rail to the Border if there is no commitment from the UK Government?
“It’s better to work in collaboration and co-operation with the UK Government. That’s the way we are most likely to achieve it.”
The UK Government has said the HS2 line from London will reach the West Midlands in 2016, with prongs extending in a Y shape to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.
Glasgow to Edinburgh line
Mr Brown said the business case for the Glasgow-Edinburgh line was due to be completed shortly, which would show it was “serious” about high-speed rail.
The cost of the building a high-speed line between the cities and the Border had been previously estimated at £8 billion.
Labour transport spokesman Mark Griffin said: “The facts are Keith Brown is claiming independence would bring Scotland full powers to bring a coherent transport system to Scotland, but the reality is the SNP cannot deliver the improvements needed that they already have control over.
“The scope of the Edinburgh Glasgow [rail] improvement project has been slashed yet the budget continues to rise, the M8 bundle is delayed as is the Borders railway.
“Perhaps Keith Brown should focus on getting transport projects under control rather than obsessing with independence”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We will respond in due course to any correspondence received from Mr Griffin. Transport Scotland is the Scottish Government’s national transport agency and is accountable to Scottish ministers.
“Claims on Transport Scotland’s track record are wrong. We have invested around £9 billion in support of Ministers’ priorities since 2007 on transport infrastructure, supporting thousands of jobs across Scotland.”