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What the SNP says versus what the SNP does

scotrail-trainLast week, when I spoke at the STUC Congress against the SNP putting both Scotrail and the Caledonian Sleeper in the hands of privateers, I said that actions speak far louder than words.

Let’s face it, the SNP hardly misses an opportunity to argue that the public sector should play a key role in delivering public services.
Yet its rhetoric simply fails to live up to the reality of what it is doing in government.

The Smith Commission on further devolution concluded that “the power will be devolved to the Scottish government to allow public-sector operators to bid for rail franchises funded and specified by Scottish ministers.”

We thought that this was game, set and match for those who opposed rail privatisation in Scotland. After all, over many years the SNP had repeatedly told us it wanted Scotland’s railways back in public ownership. But then the SNP government acted almost immediately to stop this from happening.

In fact, it went further than the Tories dared to, by breaking up the previous franchise. It tendered separately for Scotrail and the Caledonian Sleeper — market fundamentalism of the highest order. This, despite the fact that every knowledgeable commentator argues that the biggest problem facing our industry is fragmentation.

Frankly, one can only suspect that the dead hand of the SNP’s biggest supporter, arch-transport privateer Brian Souter of Stagecoach, had something to do with this. Such was the rush to flog off Scotrail that the new franchise began on April 1 — less than six weeks from the general election in which Labour is promising to make public-sector train operators a reality.

The SNP government gave away a 10-year contract with an eye-watering total value of over £7 billion — taxpayers’ and fare-payers’ money lining greedy shareholders’ pockets.

This will mean that if Labour is elected, Scotland is likely to be one of the last parts of Britain to see its railways return to the public sector.
This completely nails the lie that the SNP is somehow a party of the left.

At least unions were able to extract a number of concessions within the new franchise: “Rail staff pay, pensions and travel facilities will be protected;” “staff representation at each franchise board meeting;” and “all staff will enjoy, at least, the living wage.”

Of course, we are also now witnessing blind nationalist ideology driving nonsensical decisions. The recent announcement that British Transport Police (BTP) will be subsumed into Police Scotland was made without any prior consultation. The SNP government seems to be adopting the worst practices of the Westminster coalition.

You know, we have had a separate police force for our railways since the 1840s. Why fix something that ain’t broke and risk losing the specialist knowledge and skills that the BTP brings?

That is why all rail unions oppose this step. The SNP proposals will directly affect the job security, terms, conditions and pensions of the 216 police officers and 47 civilian staff — many of whom are our members — currently employed by BTP in Scotland.

The SNP has made it clear that it will not be swayed from this ideologically motivated decision.

Frankly, rather than this narrow-mindedness, we need a more holistic approach which recognises that the security and safety threats to passengers and workers do not end at national borders.

Lastly, we are dismayed that in recent weeks we have witnessed the rush to tender vital ferry services.

There is a marked reluctance by the SNP to give any form of comfort to workers and their unions.

Ten years ago, when in opposition, the SNP argued that it did not believe that tendering of CalMac ferry services was necessary. Our member Bristow Muldoon, who was then an MSP, led a successful rebellion of Labour backbenchers. They secured guarantees protecting workers and these were built into the tendering process.

In doing so, they successfully frightened off privateers whose plans to make a quick buck were reliant on slashing jobs and conditions. Consequently, CalMac remained in public hands.

Yet move the clock forward 10 years and in government, the SNP now takes a diametrically opposite view by pushing tendering.

If that volte-face wasn’t bad enough, it has so far refused to match the guarantees previously given by Labour — or even repeat those recently written into the Scotrail franchise.

What is driving this inconsistency? Could it be that as Labour is about to slam shut the privateers’ door to the railways money-making machine, the SNP plans to open one up on vital ferry routes?

Why does it appear determined to hive off CalMac to the likes of Serco? These are the questions that Nicola Sturgeon has yet to answer.

I will end as I started. Actions speak far louder than words. And so far, the SNP actions have completely failed transport workers.

Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. This article previously appeared in the Morning Star


  1. David Pavett says:

    Good exposé of SNP hypocrisy.

    But I don’t see how this gives aby traction to Labour. I have no idea what is referred with “Labour is about to slam shut the privateers’ door to the railways money-making machine”. Can Manuel Cortes, or someone else, provide some information or a reference on this?

  2. Fergus Hashimoto says:

    Re: “It tendered separately for Scotrail and the Caledonian Sleeper — market fundamentalism of the highest order.”
    I don’t see the logic of this statement. How does market fundamentalism entail fragmentation?

  3. Robert says:

    Well yes the SNP got this one wrong, but then again does any one believe Murphy we will bring the railways back, I sure has hell do not.

  4. David Pavett says:

    The Internet is a great tool for exchanging and developing ideas. Or rather it could be. For that to become a reality writers of articles, like speakers at meeting need to respond to points/questions put direclly to them. It is a pity that so few Left Futures contibuters take the time to do that. I put a direct question to Manuel Cortes. I would really appreciate an answer.

    In the absence of an answer I will take the point a bit further. To my knowledge, contrary to Manuel Cortes’ s claim, Labour has no policy which is “about to slam shut the privateers’ door to the railways money-making machine”.

    What Labour has is a policy which puts public bodies on a par with private ones and therefore subjects them to the same commercial criteria. As rail franchises come up for renewal Labour says that public bodies can compete with private ones for them. Not only is this cleary not a policy of closing the door to the privateers but it insidiously equates public bodies with private ones and judges them on the same terms. It therefore requires them to operate in the same way.

    I am surprised that there has not been more reaction to this aspect of Labour Policy. (The same approach is applied to setting up new schools.) Rather than being seen as a form if opposition to privatisation it should, in my view, be seen as deeply reinforcing it by reducing public bodies to the status of private providers.

    If I am right then it is surely a matter of concern that the General Secretary of the TSSA appears not to know what Labour policy is nor to understand its implications.

  5. David Pavett says:

    My experience over many years is that questions put directly to leading figures in the Labour Party and the TUs rarely get answered. So it seems to be with questions to Manuel Cortes (so in this respect he is like most Left Futures writers).

    I have been told by someone who spoke to him that he had not looked at the above responses (!) and that having had them drawn to his attention he will respond. I look forward to that.

  6. David Pavett says:

    Still waiting for a response from Manuel Cortes.

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