Martin Hannan: Privatisation is on wrong track

Nationalising the East Coast line is a major issue. Picture: JANE BARLOW
Nationalising the East Coast line is a major issue. Picture: JANE BARLOW
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Just how safe are our Scottish public services in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

That’s the question Alex Salmond and all the Yes campaigners should start directing at Alistair Darling and Project Fear. This SNP member thinks it’s time for the No side to start answering some awkward questions.

Let’s take East Coast railways for a start. Unless my geography is sadly lacking, quite a lot of the nationalised East Coast company’s services are in Scotland, with the vital main line between Edinburgh and London being the flagship, though its services to Aberdeen and Inverness are equally crucial to those cities.

This is a hugely important issue for Edinburgh. We’ve seen the state-owned direct operating company come in and transform the Edinburgh-London service. It’s vital for businesses and the public – just go to Waverley any lunchtime and look at the people flooding off the London train to attend the Festival.

East Coast makes money for the taxpayer – rail union RMT has claimed that as much as £235 million per year goes back to the Westminster government from East Coast. Yet the Tories and their craven coalition partners the Liberal Democrats are determined to press ahead with re-privatisation of the franchise.

Despite all the evidence that the private sector couldn’t make the line work – remember how National Express’s operations collapsed into chaos five years ago? – the Westminster government’s privatisation fetish must override all sense.

Here’s how ludicrous the situation is. Among the bidders is rail firm Keolis of France which is 70 per cent owned by French state railway SNCF. In other words, the nationalised French railways could end up owning a private franchise that operates here in Scotland because the Westminster government doesn’t like nationalised success – total and utter madness.

Yet again, Westminster dictates and Scotland must do what it’s told. Transport is supposed to be devolved in Scotland – but, clearly, it is not.

The NHS is also supposed to be devolved, but I am becoming more and more frightened that the Scottish NHS will be sold off to the highest bidder when the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) comes into force.

David Cameron still refuses to say whether the NHS across Britain will be exempt from rapacious raids by greedy American capitalists who will give us that old lie about investing, when what they really mean is profiteering.

Only the government at 
Westminster can make that NHS exemption because Scotland has no say under TTIP. Even the negotiations for TTIP are being carried out in secret between the European Union and the US.

Whatever Westminster decides about TTIP will apply to the whole of the UK. Once again, Scotland will be dictated to by Westminster, and on a supposedly devolved matter, too.

So let’s start using some of Project Fear’s tactics. Only this fear is real and not manufactured.

If we stay in the Union, there is every chance that under TTIP, Scotland’s NHS will be sold off to the highest bidder, so come on Mr Darling, give us all an absolute assurance that the Scottish NHS will be exempt from TTIP. And also tell us why East Coast must be privatised.

Don’t be a Westminster government puppet, Alistair. Spell out the future for our public services now, starting with East Coast and the Scottish NHS.

Protests will help kill off the Fringe

The debate over the Israeli company Incubator Theatre performing at the Fringe rumbles on, and I have no intention of wading into the mess that is Middle East politics, except to say that the various religions and sects involved should check their own scriptures to see what it says about killing innocent people of any faith.

State-funded or not, a modicum of research shows that the Incubator Theatre company is not the mouthpiece of the Israeli government. Indeed, the company challenges accepted norms and culture in Israel – exactly the sort of activity the Fringe should be encouraging.

This I do know – if we start protesting against every company from countries we don’t like, state-funded or not, the Fringe will die.

Pointing out the rudeness

Though the English media would have you believe it was a walkover for him, Alistair Darling certainly lost last week’s debate in some quarters – not for his words, but his gestures.

As a certain Edinburgh lady of my acquaintance said: “Tsk, tsk, how rude of him to keep pointing at Mr Salmond. And him a Loretto boy, too.”

ENJOY A LEVEN DO

Glad to see that Leven Brown, the Edinburgh stockbroker turned record-breaking rower, is home safe from his latest adventure in the Indian Ocean. More power to your elbows, Leven.

Howzat? Not too impressive

Good SNP member that I am, I just cannot get fussed over the 200 celebrities and public figures who signed that open letter last week asking Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

A former editor of mine had a neat way of dealing with such unwanted and unnecessary missives. He would reply saying quite simply: “Thank you for your letter. Your comments have been noted.”

All I can say is look at the signatories. Dickie Bird the umpire? Ian Rush the footballer? Al Murray the Pub Landlord? Is that the best they could muster? Patronising or what?