Readers' Letters: Privatisation failed both rail and energy users

The article by Alastair Dalton on the UK Government plans for the railways (Perspective, 21 May) makes interesting reading, pointing out that UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps “was at pains to say nationalisation had 'failed the railways'.”

ScotRail is set to become part of the new Great British Railways (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

If I remember correctly, Sir Bob Reid, who was chairman of BR at the time made strong recommendations not to privatise and fragment the railways in the way the government proposed. Privatisation has failed and to pretend that the new proposal is “not nationalisation” to a large degree can only be described as some sort of deception.

Privatisation of the electricity industry in 1990 has also resulted in fragmentation and failure. There are now approximately 164 electricity supply companies in the UK and the price of electricity is increasing by an average of four per cent per year, clearly above inflation. There is no central planning body or authority to implement the building of the energy infrastructure needed to meet the Government's own targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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The Government should now announce plans to establish a national energy authority with statutory powers to manage the energy sector. It is time to recognise that the market is not a suitable system for the energy sector, with no discernible competition between firms, and escalating prices.

Not to do this will impose high electricity prices on the consumer over the coming years and they will have little choice but to pay for the Government's incompetence.

C Scott, Mortonhall Road, Edinburgh

Not far enough

When Conservative MP Robert Adley warned against the dangers of privatisation he held up a British Rail timetable – “a wonderful book” – explaining that it allowed passengers (and freight) to travel smoothly from Wick to Penzance on a single ticket. Mr Adley has been vindicated. It's sad he's not around to see it.

The Williams-Shapps report should have gone further in allowing a directly operated service to run the entire network – LNER has shown it's a model to follow. Rail nationalisation is one of the most popular policies with the electorate and if the Tories adopted it completely it would make people ask “What's the point of Labour?”

Furthermore, while privatisation pulled the Union apart, nationalisation pulls it together.

It's only sensible that in the new set up ScotRail services are incorporated into Great British Railways – the UK network is a single entity and there is no border at Berwick.

The same logic should be applied to the UK's fragmented and privatised electricity generation system where numerous private suppliers lose economies of scale and, with their snouts in the troughs of wind power, subsidies ensure that electricity bills will rise at an exponential rate.

William Loneskie, Justice Park, Oxton, Lauder

The next FM?

In her wide-ranging review of the rationale behind First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's Cabinet reshuffle, Gina Davidson made only a passing reference to an important point – succession planning (your report, 20 May). She rightly suggests that Ms Sturgeon considers the new Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes as the two who could one day replace her as leader. Irrespective of the machinations surrounding the timing of an independence referendum, that changeover could come as early as the autumn of next year.

By that time Ms Sturgeon will have made history as the longest-serving First minister since the Scottish parliament was created in 1999. She would be less than human if she did not consider that point, or one soon after, as the right time to step down.

What are the relative merits and demerits of the two proposed successors? Ms Forbes has not just the advantage of comparative youth. She has excellent communications skills, a forensic grasp of whatever brief she has been given, and respect and affection within her party. Few serious political commentators will ever forget the bizarre circumstances in which she was launched into the government limelight following the resignation of Derek Mackay. She was able to present a budget with confidence and gain the respect of parliamentarians of all parties.

None of this in itself means that she has the stamina and temperament to lead a team through a Covid recovery and constitutional warfare. But her insight and perseverance does contrast markedly with Mr Yousaf's equivocal approach. He often appears uncertain, hesitant, less informed and much less likely to cope with harsh criticism.

Nicola Sturgeon rose to power partly because of strong partnership with Alex Salmond and partly because of determination and vision. If Ms Forbes can foster her own strong partnership she has the wherewithal to help her party retain power for the rest of the decade.

Bob Taylor, Shiel Court, Glenrothes

Own goal

I am not exactly a fan of football but the Beautiful Game is so inbuilt into Scottish culture that even I am aware that Rangers have come a long way – from lower leagues – waited a long time and worked hard to win whatever cup it is they’ve just won. In the circumstances it is not surprising that their dedicated fans wanted to celebrate boisterously.

However, like many, I was appalled at the scenes of Rangers fans all crowding together and behaving so badly last weekend. Well, I was appalled until I read that the club had tried to pre-empt trouble and ensure a celebration that would be both safe and satisfy their fans’ enthusiasm. They knew that it would not be possible to stop fans from individually deciding to go to Ibrox to celebrate this remarkable victory, so how much better to manage the process?

In April, the Chairman of the club wrote to the Scottish Government asking that, on four successive nights, 10,000 season ticket holders be invited to Ibrox to join an in-stadium celebration. The request was turned down on the grounds that it did not comply with Covid rules. In my book this makes the Scottish Government culpable for the scenes in Glasgow yet I see that the same Scottish Government is now heaping all the blame on to the football club and trying to work out how to punish it.

It’s no good Nicola Sturgeon emoting about how she feels our pain if she does not understand human nature. The Rangers fans were always going to gather to celebrate. How much better if the Government had recognised the force of human emotion and the event to take place safely, as proposed?

There’s no virtue in being all bossy and sticking to the rules if it leads to a situation that can’t then be controlled. In any case, the Covid rules are not absolutes – they vary too much between the four nations for that to be true.

Judith Gillespie, Findhorn Place, Edinburgh

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Hard to digest

I see an “action group” has been formed to “explore options for the future “of the McVitie’s factory in Glasgow which its owners consider surplus to requirements (your report, 19 May) – a bit like sending for the fire brigade after the house has burned down. In a recent letter it was suggested the closure stemmed from concerns over support for the independence movement but I think it’s a bit more complex than that.

For decades now there has been a pattern of a Scottish-owned and managed concern being bought by one in England; the head office goes right away but the production facilities continue north of the Border until the new owners rationalise their operations onto their English site.In recent years another dimension has been added. A foreign buyer appears offering attractive sums of cash for the British concern and in due course production is moved abroad to where labour is cheaper and employment regulations are more lenient or more laxly enforced. McVitie’s, after being subsumed into United Biscuits, is now owned by Pladis which is, I believe, Turkish owned.

Westminster governments don’t seem to have taken any steps to discourage this process, which is understandable as the City, on which it seems we all depend, is overwhelmingly interested now not in financing the running of UK business but in deals producing an immediate return. Could an independent Scottish Government do anything to remedy this situation? In theory, possibly, but it would be very difficult.

In the McVitie’s case, Scottish Enterprise apparently advanced funds for modernisation including new products – and, unfortunately, a fat lot of good that has done.

S Beck, Craigleith Drive, Edinburgh

Progress is good

August naturalist and national treasure Sir David Attenborough has been named the “people’s advocate” for the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. A better title would be the “anti-people advocate” since he has condemned humanity as “a plague on the Earth”. He argues that we have despoiled our planet, much as a virus flourishes by destroying its host.

Well, that’s all very “woke” but the fact is, industrial progress has lifted billions out of poverty. It has cured diseases, increased food supplies, produced clean water and centralised power plants with anti-pollution technology. Climate-related deaths have declined by 98 per cent in the last century because of our ability to build climate-resilient infrastructure.

Green misanthropes see nature as a finite pie. The more some use it, the less there is for others, so we must stop producing, stop transforming nature, minimise our impact and leave nature to take care of us.

But hanging about “harmonising with nature” will lead to short, unpleasant, disease-ridden lives in which we sit in caves, getting by on a diet of lentils.

(Rev Dr) John Cameron, Howard Place, St Andrews

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