Readers Letters: Rail dispute solution lies in Cabinet’s hands

Scottish Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth doesn't need to be reminded that she has taken on the hottest political potato at Holyrood aside from that of First Minister. She appears to be so busy over the current rail dispute that she is often “unavailable” to take up requests from the media for interviews. I still think it is unfair for RMT organiser Mick Hogg to suggest the “buck stops with her” in terms of finding a solution (your report, 24 May).

In the sense that the buck stops with anyone it has to be the Scottish Cabinet, in particular First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and Ms Gilruth herself. They are the people who can signal to ScotRail service delivery director David Simpson that more money can be made available to help solve the problems of pay, rotas, timetables.

Mr Simpson and his colleagues, together with the union negotiators, have the detailed knowledge of how the rail system works. If their negotiated outcome needs more money than is available to the ScotRail management, that should be put directly to the Cabinet.

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Of course, there is a danger that any sort of special deal for the train drivers will be seized on by other unions representing a host of public sector workers. This is a perennial problem that has affected various governments trying to control inflation. But that is a political problem from which the Scottish Government cannot shirk in the coming months. It may need some independent body to look at comparative rates of pay. The immediate problem, however, is to restore a civilised, modern means of getting around. This is as important for workers with irregular hours as it is for the many people from home and abroad hoping to attend sporting and festival events in the coming months.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth

The Cabinet needs to step up with boldness and imagination if it is to avoid a reputation of being unable to run a census, a railway network or indeed, viable ferries.

Bob Taylor, Glenrothes, Fife

Dig heels in

There must be many, like me, who applaud the Transport Minister’s insistence that salary claims by ScotRail’s employees should be settled with ScotRail’s Board and not by Government intervention of the kind which was the curse of the management of the postwar nationalised industries. The theory then was that the Government appointed a Board which it trusted, laid down what it expected in financial and performance terms, and in an annual review of the proposed activities and anticipated revenues and expenditures for the forthcoming year, agreed the funding that would be made available. The Board would then be left to get on with the job and be held to account if its performance was not up to the mark.

Unfortunately, the politicians of that era, both Labour and Conservative, were incapable of such self-restraint and interfered at every level. A price rise was judged on its political impact and its timing determined by the imminence or otherwise of any form of election. A pay dispute was immediately referred to the Minister, who was expected simply to authorise and fund an outcome that breached the financial parameters set for the Board or stood in the way of settlement if a national pay policy was in operation. Even the most trivial operational issues became matters for referral to Ministers by MPs, by letter or Questions in Parliament, and it was a bold Minister who had the courage to tell an importunate MP to stop raising matters with Government that were properly for the Board.

Judging by the howls of anguish which Jenny Gilruth now faces because the Board of ScotRail’s funding does not allow for a settlement with its unions at the scale demanded and she has not rushed in simply to sign the cheque, she will need all the stamina she can summon. But if the nationalisation of ScotRail is to succeed, as I hope it will, and not relapse into the inefficiencies that allowed Margaret Thatcher to sweep away the old structures, she should keep her heels dug in.

James Scott, Edinburgh

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Energy war?

What a surprise. Oil and gas industry leaders warn that a windfall tax on their excessive profits risks future green investment (your report, 24 May). Nonsense.

First, when oil prices cratered in 2015, the UK Government cut oil taxes to zero, which of course negatively impacted the rigged GERS accounts for Scotland. Now when these same companies are raking in obscene profits from speculation, not cost increases, they squeal like stuck pigs while consumers buckle under crippling energy bills. To show their gratitude, these firms have donated £1 million to the Conservatives since 2019.

Second, the UK stands alone among EU nations in having sold off its energy assets so that private companies and shareholders can benefit while the rest of us are held ransom to their bottomless greed. Germany, Norway and France are shielding citizens from higher prices while UK citizens are paying 54 per cent more, with further increases slated for October.

Scotland bears the brunt. Self-sufficient in cheaper renewables, Scottish renewables producers pay ten times what their English counterparts pay for grid connection, which is pure discrimination. Scottish consumers’ standing charges are doubling whereas Londoners will pay just 38 per cent more. The new £18 billion London Crossrail won’t provide a fraction of the benefit similar investment in Scottish renewables would, but Westminster is allocating just £27 million for the NE Transition Zone. And last year Westminster spurned an Aberdeenshire carbon capture project for one in former red-wall northern England.

As long as energy policy lies with Westminster, Scotland will be short-changed. Independence, anyone?

Leah Gunn Barrett, Edinburgh

Moving on

I’m not sure if The Church of Scotland is due a medal for keeping up with the 21st century, but nonetheless we welcome the vote to allow its clergy to conduct same-sex marriages, given the importance to gay Christians. Some oppose this new equality saying that it’s “unbiblical and sinful” and are glad of the “conscience clause” allowing them to turn away gay couples.

The times they are a changin’. Would the Alabama bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks to move seats during the fight for equal civil rights have been entitled to say, “I didn’t sign up for this!”?

Neil Barber, Edinburgh Secular Society

Not quite equal

It was announced this week that the Church Of Scotland has approved same-sex marriage and it may proceed. That is not entirely true – only ministers who apply for a licence may perform the ceremony and not every church will be available to use. The church Vestries can and will oppose the use of certain churches so that they may not be used for same sex marriages.

It is unclear from the reports if only Church of Scotland members will be allowed to be married by COS ministers with the appropriate licence or whether other denominations will be welcomed.

I believe there is a fair way to go before there is true equality, but it is one small step.

Michael Campbell, Conon Bridge, Highland

All gurning

Listening to Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein vice-president, on BBC Radio 4 this morning, I was struck by the similarity in her approach and Nicola Sturgeon's to their respective UK break-up ambitions.

Both seemingly want to keep the constitutional debate front of stage, essentially to moan on about out their relationship with Westminster, while not risking a referendum each could very easily lose. Both also are very focused on Boris Johnson, undoubtedly a Marmite figure, ignoring that the personality, or even possibly the actions, of the prime minister du jour are largely irrelevant when dealing with the interwoven relationships between nations going back hundreds of years.

Sturgeon is longer in the tooth in a leadership position largely focused on anti-UK rhetoric so is obliged to claim she wants to hold a referendum next year, to try to keep her endlessly patient followers supporting her – yet most of us know all she wants is to pick a fight with Johnson over whether she's allowed to hold a referendum, and relish being denied one. So should we expect much gurning about the constitution over the coming years from Sinn Fein and the SNP – but little action?

Martin Redfern, Melrose, Roxburghshire

Own goal

In response to Fraser Grant's claims I know “little about Hearts or Scottish football” (Letters, 24 May), I had letters in The Scotsman on 22 March 2022 regarding Rangers’ infamous “penalties” granted in near perpetuum in domestic matches, and took Alexander McKay to task on 23 April 2022 for his silly claim that Hearts fans’ sectarian chants were as bad as the Old Firm's perpetual bigotry and bile. Perhaps he needs to read his Scotsman more often?It's risible to excuse Hearts’ poor cup final performance on injuries. Hearts have lured highly promising talent to its much-vaunted youth programme on the promise that, unlike Glasgow's Ugly Sisters, youth players have a realistic chance of first team football should needs arise – Harry Cochrane and Aaron Hickey the proof in the pudding. Are Hearts starting to repeat Hibs almighty folly of treating its “academy” as just a PR gimmick playing second fiddle to ageing crocks?

Mark Boyle, Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Back we go

No trains, a precarious food supply, internecine conflict on the continent, a fractious relationship with England, a mysterious pox, and serf-like wages. Looks like the SNP are taking us all back to 1706.

David Bone, Girvan, South Ayrshire

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