Barely two weeks after another categorical SNP election victory, Whitehall chose to chart the course of the railways future with seemingly no consultation on its impact on Scotland, which largely controls the network north of the border .
The upheaval announced by UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will focus on the creation of a new body, Great British Railways, which suggests the UK government is trying to standardize the system in all parts of the continent, despite the significant devolution of powers to the Scottish government.
This does not bode well for relations between the new SNP administration and the Tories at Westminster on transport, already strained by the latter’s plans to improve links across the UK through its Union Connectivity Review.
While the UK government could consider a further decentralization of power to Scotland in an attempt to cool support for an independence referendum, it appears to be on the opposite track in trying to consolidate the Union through decrees from the center.
One opportunity here would have been to give Holyrood the remaining powers on the rail he lacks, like strategic direction, but that seems to have been pushed back.
UK government accused of trying to force Scottish government’s hand on transp …
The Scottish government wants a public sector bid for the next ScotRail contract, which is expected to receive public support, but the UK government plans to continue offering train operating contracts to the private sector.
Unless carefully manipulated, rail could become yet another cross-border dispute over southern control, which the Nationalists would soon exploit.
This echoed the Union Connectivity Review, which gave the impression that not only would major projects be forced on Scotland, such as a bridge or tunnel to Northern Ireland, but there would be interference. in spending decisions in Scotland, such as the modernization of the A75 link. between near the English border and the Cairnryan ferry port.
The Scottish government has argued that it is subjecting these schemes to a much more rigorous scrutiny than the UK government’s scrutiny before deciding on the best choice among competing spending priorities – as the latter leaps the gun with little analysis, and effectively encroaches on decentralization decision-making.
But such cross-border transport skirmishes are not just a hallmark of Boris Johnson’s government.
There have been long-standing tensions over the bullet train, whose original concept of making it properly viable by connecting Edinburgh, Glasgow and London has been watered down, with only vague promises made to expand HS2 from the north of the England at the border, despite insistence. SNP lobbying.
The UK government’s current approach seems likely to further aggravate its counterpart in Edinburgh, which ultimately wants to create its own transport system anyway – without being told how to do it.
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