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ScotRail: SNP bluster

11 September 2021

RMT demonstration September 2019 in support of their long running campaign for rail services in Scotland. Photo Workers.

The rail union RMT is defending rail services and attacks on its members conditions in Scotland and across Britain. As well as taking on the train operating company, it is facing hostility from the SNP-led government.

RMT has strongly criticised five Glasgow SNP MSPs over their use of inflammatory language in a statement attacking the union’s fight for pay justice for some of its Scottish members.

It also rejected the MSPs demand for a suspension of a union ballot at ScotRail for strike action and action short of a strike from at the beginning of November. World leaders will be in Glasgow for the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference from 1 to 12 November.


On 10 September RMT wrote to these SNP MSPs slamming their statement as “ill informed, insulting and inflammatory”, and called on them instead to meet the union and help resolve the dispute. RMT accuses the Scottish government – which controls and funds the ScotRail franchise – of failing to take action to do so.

RMT General Secretary Michael Lynch said to the SNP MSPs that they appeared to have little understanding of unions in general and the RMT in Scotland in particular. The MSPs had claimed that the RMT’s national leadership in London were making decisions and it is they who should come to the table for negotiations.

Lynch went on to say, “You’ve misunderstood the way that decisions are taken in the RMT. The reason why the union is proceeding with a consultative ballot is that this is what the union’s representatives in Scotland want.


“Indeed, Unions in general are democratic organisations and decisions are taken by democratically elected leaderships.” He continued, “…your letter makes two separate references to “London bosses” and “London leadership”, implying that this was a deliberate decision and something you wished to emphasise…your decision to stress your mistaken view that decisions are being made by people from another country, was regrettable and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It’s also insulting to the members and elected leadership in Scotland who are leading this dispute.”

Lynch said that his members recognised the importance of the COP26 summit. They and others who work in public transport will be vital to the kind of decarbonised transport system we need in the future. He challenged the MSPs, “…it really is a bit rich for you, or the SNP administration to call on us to come to the table and sort out the dispute when we have been asking the Scottish Government to do just that.”

“The SNP government has it in its power to resolve the dispute.”

The SNP-led government funds and controls the Abellio ScotRail franchise and has it in its power to resolve the dispute. Instead as Lynch said, “… [it] has chosen to hide behind the fiction that this is an issue simply for ourselves and ScotRail and sit on its hands for six months. As a consequence of that choice, made by your government, we’re now looking at the action you are objecting to.”

Besides this potential clash in November, RMT ScotRail members continue to take action in another long-running fight over pay and equality. RMT conductors are in dispute over payments for working on scheduled rest days. A series of strikes have been held every Sunday since 28 March, halting and cancelling virtually all ScotRail services outside the Glasgow area. So far, the SNP has not lifted a finger to help resolve this dispute either, despite having political control over transport matters.

Also, hundreds of ScotRail engineering workers recently voted to take industrial action following the collapse of their pay talks.

Abellio, the Dutch state-owned company that currently holds the ScotRail franchise is arguing for cuts to jobs and services across Scotland’s railway. An internal report produced on 1 August advocated more than 85,000 annual rail service cuts, ticket office closures and up to 1,000 job losses.


This proposal would be disastrous for railway passengers and a kick in the teeth to railway staff who have kept things running during the pandemic. The train drivers’ union Aslef has also voiced its opposition to the service cuts.

Abellio seems likely to lose the ScotRail franchise soon, but presently it continues to be fully-funded and managed by the Scottish government. The suspicion is that the Scottish government is at one with the report and hiding behind the pretence of an autonomous franchise. Condemnation and opposition should be directed at the Scottish government, which is calling the tune.

Everyone should support RMT’s efforts to protect their members and the rail service in Scotland. Trade unions in Britain cover the whole of the country and are stronger because of that. If we accept the logic of separation and allow dismemberment and division, we are weaker. Everyone should support the RMT General Secretary in his confident rebuttal of the separatists’ pathetic attempt to pit parts of our national union movement against each other.