Colin Howden, Director of Transform Scotland, commenting on the Ministerial announcement that ScotRail will move to state ownership in spring 2022:
The right-wing tabloids frothed that this meant we were 'back to the 1970s' while trade unions and various left-leaning NGOs reacted as if Scotland's railways will now move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. Frankly, we can't get as agitated about this as many others choose to do. The fact is that we'll have the same infrastructure, the same stations, the same rolling stock, the same staff, the same labour relations, and, very probably, most or all of the same management. Whether it be owned by capitalists or communists, it is difficult to see transformative change on the Scottish railway until there is transformative investment in the aged infrastructure (of the like that Scottish Ministers are instead making to the trunk road network), and it is difficult to see that transformative investment come about while the cost base of the railway remains so prohibitively high.
Will state ownership change this? Perhaps. But also remember that it was private capital that led to the construction and development of Britain's railways in the C19th and early C20th, and the UK state that ran down British Rail in the latter part of the C20th, so who knows how this will play out. Certainly, Ministers will have no-one to blame but themselves if and when expectations are not met, and here they have made a rod for their own backs. But Ministers will also now have to deal directly with the same rail unions who have chosen to pursue strike action during a global health pandemic which has led to the decimation of rail patronage. All this said, state ownership of the railways remains an undeniably popular move. And we certainly won't be shy of setting out our own expectations of what government must do to make this 'new ScotRail' work.