SCOTLAND'S trains are to be rebranded with a permanent Saltire livery, The Scotsman can reveal. The "ScotRail – Scotland's Railway" branding will give the network its first-ever uniform look, sweeping away different colour schemes used in the east and west.
The move by Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government agency that is answerable to ministers, will be carried out during routine repainting to avoid extra costs.
Stations will also be overhauled, using a dark blue colour scheme and blue signs similar to those at Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central.
However, the rebranding brought accusations that the SNP government was using the Saltire for "independence by creep". It has already been employed in a range of Scottish Government initiatives, such as Healthier Scotland and Safer Scotland.
Transport Scotland, whose own logo was inspired by the Saltire, stressed work on the new train design had started before the SNP came to power last year.
But the Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes said: "This is all part of the SNP's independence by creep.
"We saw this with the census question on whether people were Scottish or British, and rebranding the Scottish Executive as the Scottish Government.
"They know they can't have a straight fight on it because they would lose hands down, so they try to brainwash people into independence instead with a strategy of incremental changes."
A Labour spokesman added: "This is typical of the SNP. People care about whether their train runs on time, not what colour it is painted. Repainting the rolling stock will be a huge waste of money.
"We have to ask whether the SNP is getting a government agency to use the Saltire for their own nationalistic aims, rather than for simple patriotic pride in Scotland, which we all share."
But the Conservatives applauded the plan.
A spokesman said: "We welcome this move, because it helps to reclaim the nation's flag from the narrow nationalism represented by the SNP.
"The Saltire and the Lion Rampant are for all of Scotland, not just people who want independence," he said.
"It is similar to the Union Jack being reclaimed from the BNP as a sign of patriotism, not nationalism."
Passenger watchdogs said the Saltire livery would reduce confusion and save money in the long term.
Robert Samson, the Scotland manager for Passenger Focus, said: "We can see value in not changing the branding every time the train operator changes.
"It will also help bring uniformity, because there is a mishmash of First ScotRail and Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT] liveries at present, and different signs all over the place at stations.
"The new livery gives Scotland's railways a national identity without being Nationalist."
Transport Scotland said the rebranding aimed to provide the country's railways with a livery that will not change each time a new company takes over.
The planned revamp is also to emphasise that the network is largely funded by taxpayers, rather than the private sector.
Gary Bogan, the head of franchise futures for Transport Scotland, said: "The current range of train liveries creates confusion in the minds of passengers about whose railway it is, and who is paying for it. It does not create a unified brand image.
"Changes in the franchise do not coincide with when we need to repaint trains. We aim to create a brand which is independent of the franchisee.
"We want people to make the same connection as red buses have with London and yellow buses have with schools."
However, the move will mean yet another repaint for the train fleet, the last of which was rebranded in the current First ScotRail livery only last month.
The new look is due to be launched next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the ScotRail name being coined by British Rail.
The "First" name on trains will be reduced in size and prominence, so it can be more easily replaced if another company takes over when the franchise ends in 2014. The 2 billion cost of the Aberdeen-based FirstGroup's current ten-year franchise to run trains is the Scottish Government's largest contract.
Yesterday, First ScotRail said it was happy that it would remain readily identifiable as the train operator as part of the rebranding.
Transport Scotland said the new ScotRail version of the Saltire had taken inspiration from the former British Rail's iconic double-arrow logo, which is still used as a symbol for stations.
The Saltire livery – which will also be extended to train interiors – will cover 260 trains across the country.
At present, trains in much of Scotland are painted in First's corporate blue, magenta and white livery.
The last two trains were overhauled with the new colours last month, replacing the ScotRail livery from the previous franchise four years ago.
However, most of First ScotRail's trains in Strathclyde, which carry two-thirds of the country's rail passengers, are still in carmine and cream – known as "blood and custard".
These are the colours of the former SPT, which had a controlling interest in ScotRail until two years ago.
Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, its successor body, has a much reduced role in the railways. However, the colour scheme still adorns many stations, along with "SPT Rail" signs on platforms.
The rebranding of Strathclyde's trains and buses has been controversial in the past, with the region's sectarian divisions attributing deeper meanings to the colours used.
In the 1960s, the old Glasgow Corporation revealed new green, white and gold double-deckers, shades with Irish Republican connotations. Then, with the arrival of SPT in the 1970s, the vehicles were painted orange – although the shade was officially "Strathclyde Red".