March 8, 2019 Blog, Conference 2019

Colin Smyth MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Transport – Speech to Conference 2019

8th March 2019

Colin Smyth MSP

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Transport

Speech to Conference


ConferenceIt doesn’t seem like 12 months since we last met here in Dundee. 

I see its been another cracking year for ScotRail. 

record year in fact. Record delaysRecord cancellationsRecord overcrowding 

But there is one bit of good news for ScotRail. 

Whenever they miss a target- the SNP just fiddle the figures and there is a new, lower one along in a minute. 


Conference, it’s 25 years ago since the Tories’ Railways Act shunted in the ‘Great British sell off’ of our railways. 

Who would have thought –more than two decades later- it’s the SNP who are the cheerleaders for rail privatisation. 

Letting the private rail firms off the hook and voting with the Tories to block Labour’s plans to end ScotRail’s failing franchise. 

Conference, today the latest performance figures show ScotRail‘s performance is still well below their franchise breach level. So I say this to Michael Matheson. For once – stand up for passengers, not the private rail firms- and end this failing franchise once and for all. 

It’s time for a change. 

Time to end the great train robbery- where rail fares are rising above wages. 

Time for a railway that puts passengers, not profits first. 

Conference – it’s time to bring our railways under public ownership. 

That isn’t a return to some 20th century model of nationalisation. It’s a modern 21st century vision of public, democratic ownership. Where we have a joined up transport system that helps our economy, not hinders it. 

And where our public services serve the people, not the profiteers. 

Labour’s plans would end Britain’s rip-off railways. 

As each private rail franchise comes to an end, we would bring them under public control. 

And we would scrap once and for all the costly and unnecessary franchising system. 

We’re not pledging a return to the old British Rail. We’re not taking power from faceless directors just to hand it to a Government office. To swap one remote manager for another. We want to create a modern GB rail. 

Where those running our track and trains are brought together under an integrated, publicly owned company. Where decisions on Scottish routes are made here in Scotland. Where the Scottish Government would have a seat at the table when it comes to determining those crucial cross-border services. 

And where passengers, not profits are put first.  

But conference, it’s not just on our railways – but on our buses too- where the SNP are obsessed by private profit and millionaire bus bosses- or party donors as they call them. 

We have a bus network being slowly dismantled by the SNP, route by route 

Where passenger numbers have falling by 20% but where bus fares have risen…… and risen ……..and risen- by over 50% under the SNP. 

Conference, we’ve had a decade of decline on our buses under the SNP. Enough is enough. There is another way. The Labour way. 

So when the Transport Bill comes before Parliament I’ll be fighting to put Labour’s plans for municipal ownership and radical re-regulation of our buses at the heart of that bill. 

My proposed amendments to the bill will bring an end to the ban on local councils setting up local bus companies. 

Giving councils the power to end the dismantling of lifeline bus routes. And put a stop to rip-off fares. 

The SNP may have forgotten that public transport is a public service. But Labour has not. 

And if we are serious about improving our environment, we have to invest in that public transport. 

Not decimate the very council budgets needed to make that investment. 


But what won’t protect our environment is an ill-thought out, half-baked, short-sighted car parking tax that will hit low paid workers. 

The success of congestion charging in London was the properly regulated, accessible and affordable public transport system that gives people an alternative. 

In contrast the car parking tax is an after-thought in a Transport Bill which does little to improve public transport. 

And sneaking it through as an amendment has ignited a backlash that will undermine public support for proper environmental action for decades to come. 


In return for supporting a budget that gives someone on £124,000 a year a cut in their income tax, the SNP’s little Green helpers have struck a dodgy deal for a regressive Poll Tax on wheels. 

A tax where a company boss will pay the same as the company cleanerAnd where the Chief Executive of a Health Board on over £100,000 a year will be exempt. But a carer working for a charity on the minimum wage will have to stump up. 

No wonder UNISON say it “devalues council workers and other staff , who deliver vital services”. 

No wonder the GMB say “it’s an attack on the take home pay of workers”. 

No wonder UNITE say it’s a “desperate attempt to absolve the government from the funding crisis they have presided over” 

And no wonder ASLEF, say “it’s a burden on workers” 


Conference, I make no apologies for being on the side of workers in this debate because if Labour isn’t about working people, then what are we about. 

Our challenge as a party is to reach out again to working people. 

To show that the politics of hope- can overcome the politics of constitutional division. 

That we can be a Labour movement- a party- a Government that once again puts our socialist values into action. 

And prove- Labour is the party of the many, not the few.