After fouling up the ferries, the SNP now turn to the trains

by Colin Campbell

NICOLA Sturgeon said on her return from her grandstanding jaunt to America that the much delayed prospectus for independence being drawn up by Holyrood civil servants would be delivered “in the fullness of time”.

Before long that could be the response you’ll get at Inverness railway station when you inquire on the departure time for a train service.

“The next train for Edinburgh will leave in the fullness of time. Confused passengers are meanwhile requested not to clutter up the concourse.”

Scotrail has axed a third of hitherto regular trains, only weeks after the rail service was nationalised by the SNP Government. This is being blamed on a pay dispute linked to a severe shortage of drivers. When or if the clash over money will be resolved remains to be seen, but the driver shortage problem will have no quick fix.

For the foreseeable future these cuts are here to stay.

And trains from Inverness, which are relied on more than in most places across Scotland, are not unaffected. The last service to leave will now be at 6.59pm, almost a full three hours earlier than the final departure time of 9.43pm which has been in operation up till now.

The full list of cutbacks has yet to be announced, but Highland services will to some extent at least be heading off the rails.

Transport links to the north are and always have been of particular importance. Now this is happening at the beginning of the first fully operational tourist season for three years. A reduction in services with a deterrent effect for travellers is anything but good news.

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Those of us with long memories are all too well aware of how bad the nationalised train service was back in the cold, dark days of the 1970s. A time when it was almost routine to be stranded on a cold, dark train in winter at Dalwhinnie for an indeterminate period because something on the clanking relic you were travelling on had broken down.

In more recent years memories of a grossly deficient train service from the Highlands have faded into the distant past. The focus instead has been to shave off 10 or 15 minutes off train travel schedules to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I didn’t particularly see the need for that myself, but it showed the progressive direction of travel.

Now that has gone into reverse.

What is it with the SNP and transport? Can’t they get anything right? A total of £400 million spent on grossly overpriced ferries which may not be afloat for two or three years, far behind schedule. And more awkward news for Sturgeon trickling out from that scandal almost every day.

And on the roads, due to their alliance with the Greens, plans to further upgrade the highly dangerous A96 to Aberdeen and the east coast look like being killed off. An appropriate phrase, regrettably, given the number of lives lost on this most treacherous of roads.

Sturgeon and the SNP know the A96, like the A9, needs further improvement on safety grounds alone. But they cannot afford to fall out with weird little Patrick Harvie or his car hating Canadian co-leader Lorna Slater. They are reliant on them for a pro-independence majority at Holyrood and that, literally, is more important to them than life itself.

And don’t look for any support for rail passengers and the tourist industry from local MPs Drew Hendry or Ian Blackford. For these Westminster high fliers looking down on the world from a great flight height, trains are for the little people. Buses are for the plebs.

The good news, however, is that with the SNP now in the driving seat there will still be some trains departing from Inverness on a daily basis, “in the fullness of time”. Not all services have been cancelled.

But the likelihood is that schedules will deteriorate and services will worsen. Sturgeon will insist that it’s of paramount necessity therefore to get hold of those levers, this time the train levers, to improve services through independence. That’ll fix everything.

Under the SNP, all public services are destined to become nothing less than world leading, “in the fullness of time”.

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