Scottish commuters were let down last month in a Holyrood vote to end the franchise of Scotrail, currently operated by the Dutch state owned company Abellio. Tabled as a motion by Labour, the vote would have seen a “break clause” that finishes Abellio operations as soon as 2022, rather than the planned 2025 end date currently in effect. The move comes from Labour’s manifesto promise of a sweeping reforms of nationalisation, including that of Scotrail, which would have been a huge win for the Scottish section of the party, who have lagged behind their English and Welsh counterparts as far as the Corbyn-fuelled push to further left policies is concerned. The motion was well beat however, with 85 votes to 34 as the SNP and the Tories both voted in favour of keeping the railway’s running in private hands, . These are not unexpected views amongst the Tory section of the parliament but it is a betrayal to the many left leaning workers who’ve put their faith in the SNP. The proposals were drawn up by left wing pro independence group, Common Weal, who have significant support within the SNP so this betrayal won’t go unnoticed among SNP members.
As the movement for an independent Scotland radicalised and moved further to the leftthe SNP leaders . promised more changes for the worker. However as a party wedded to capitalism such promises inevatably get broken. The SNP leaders claim that their plan would be to allow the public sector to bid for the contract for Scotrail in any upcoming franchise changes, however this is not and should not be taken as the same as a plan for public ownership of the railway. Nationalisation reforms are no single fix solution for the issues faced by those who rely on the facilities in question, but are an important step to help ease the burden on commuters to over pay for an under staffed, under performing service.
And with this past vote, the government truly have committed betrayal. Polls have shown that most people see that privatisation of the railway has been a complete failure, and there are widespread calls for re-nationalisation of all UK railway franchises across the country. These suggest over half of respondents believe that nationalisation of the railways is the answer to the chronic issues with the system. As a recent report says one in five services arrive more than five minutes late, rising to nearly three quarters in places like Largs and Milngavie, and that trains are routinely cancelled due to shortage of staff, it would seem like removing the franchise would be a political slam dunk for even the most fiscally conservative of supposedly progressive and centre left politicians. Yet the Scottish MSPs have not seen this as reason enough to put an end to Abellio’s time in charge of our railways, who in another spit in the face of commuters, have implemented fare increases this year as their service continues to spiral downward in quality.
So what is the answer? As Marxists, we should continue to push for there to be worker-owned nationalisation. Recent Labour proposals are promising but are not radical enough to save the failing public services. Publicly owned railways that still are competing on the market are fuelled by capitalist ideals and the need to profit off train transportation, rather than to provide a needed service for society. These plans would leave the Scottish railway in the throes of the market, subject to the boom and bust of the market and would still be subject to the layoffs and cuts to wages that we see today from private companies. Instead, the railway should be under workers’ control where workers and the society decide how the services run and where their priorities are, not government bureaucrats who would chop and change the main concern of the service without listening to the public needs. We should also remember that no compensation should be paid to the companies and the directors of Abellio or any other rail operator when discussing nationalisation. These companies have leeched off of those who require their transport most, lining their pockets, and we should not consider it appropriate to reward them for their exploitation of the people and their reliance on public transport. The railways are in desperate need of change and should be owned by the worker, and implemented as part of broader socialist economic strategy to bring power to the working class and remove the capitalist grip on our society.