Unions rally for “golden opportunity” of ScotRail public ownership

Successful public ownership bid would represent a bridgehead for the bringing of rail back into public control across UK

RAIL union leaders and activists have hailed a “golden opportunity” to bring Scotrail back into public ownership, a move they believe could have far-reaching implications for the struggle to bring the entire UK rail network under public control.

Speaking last night (6 January) at a rally organised in Glasgow’s Renfiled St Steven’s Church in Glasgow organised by the TSSA transport union, activists from the RMT and TSSA unions reflected on a year that has seen rail workers drive back attempts by Scotrail owners Abellio to reduce the number of guards on trains and Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf raise the prospect of a future public bid for the Scotrail contract.

Scotland organiser for the RMT Mick Hogg told a packed room that public ownership in Scotland could serve as a “template” for the rest of the UK to follow.

He said: “We have a golden opportunity in Scotland, to move to public ownership of Scotrail.

“We have a golden opportunity in Scotland, to move to public ownership of Scotrail.” Mick Hogg RMT

“We could use it as a template to ram [public ownership] down the throats of the UK Government.”

Manuel Cortés, the general secretary of the TSSA, told the audience that 2017 was “the year” that Scotrail would come under public ownership.

He said: “This is going to be the year we force the government to bring Scotrail back under public ownership.”

In November 2016 Yousaf said he wanted to work with Unions and others to put together a viable public sector bid for Scotrail to replace Abellio, which is accused of failing to run enough trains on time, when the contract with the Dutch public firm lapses in 2020. Cortés called on the minister to replace “tough talk” with “tough action” and to strip Abellio of the contract.

RMT Scotland Organiser Mick Hogg adresses the public rally in Glasgow 

There was some debate at the meeting over whether or not a public bid in 2020, or full nationalisation of Scotrail and an end to the contract bidding system was preferable, with Cortés arguing for nationalisation “lock, stock and barrel”.

However, Scottish Green party leader Patrick Harvie, who also spoke from the platform urged that campaigners and unions spend time putting together a strong public sector bid, and that this should be the focus.

“If we get it wrong, the private companies will say look, see, this is what happens. We have to get this bid right,” he added.

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Neil Bibby told the room that both UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish party leadr Kezia Dugdale were fighting for public ownership. 

Hogg and Cortés also noted the general turmoil in rail services across the UK, which they said were demonstrating discontent with the existing privatised system.

Full steam ahead: RMT claims victory in ScotRail dispute

Strikes against the extension of Driver Only Operated trains, which unions fear would see an erosion of safety  and an eventual collapse in the number of train guards, have stopped services on trains across much of south east England over the holiday period.

Abellio UK has stated it is working hard to improve the Scotrail service and said that efforts are better spent in collaboration to that end rather than focusing on public ownership.

Scotrail declined to comment on the prospect of a public sector bid.

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