jimtoggleJim O’Neill backs freezing Scotrail fares, points out that the Tories’ ballooning national debt is getting far less coverage than it should, and marks the passing of Fidel Castro.


Of all the great decisions with which the new Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has made life better for the people of the metropolis, the most welcome has been the decision to freeze the fares on all public transport until 2020. Given that public transport is most likely to be used by the poorer residents, this most progressive of decisions is an exercise in redistribution which is worthy of Gordon Brown at his best and establishes Mayor Khan at the heart of the traditional Labour Party.

Kez Dugdale’s plan to freeze train fares, while intended to benefit the pockets of rail users in Scotland, comes from a different route. Kez has led the campaign against the failings of Abellio/Scotrail, and her recent successes have included forcing the First Minister to apologise to the passengers of Scotrail, and forcing the Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, actually to meet the people he and his Government are failing. Now, Nicola Sturgeon has agreed to consider the Scottish Labour plan to freeze the inflated fares paid by Scotrail passengers, which seem to be going to keep down the fares for Dutch passengers of Netherlands National Railways, the owners of Abellio.

The reason for the proposed freeze is simple. Abellio has consistently failed the people of Scotland with their performance, in timekeeping, in overcrowding, and in their relationship with their staff. Indeed, the single manning dispute was unnecessarily manufactured out of nowhere by the Abellio management when some judicious discussion with RMT leaders could have resolved it without trouble.

Coupled with the reported £1m per month profit possibly being repatriated to the Netherlands, the folly of selling off our railway to the State Railways of the Netherlands has been shown to be an absolute disaster, as we predicted at the time. Thus, why reward failure by charging the long-suffering passengers more for continued failure?

Before the last election, the Co-operative Party and the drivers’ union ASLEF came up with a report which made the case for a People’s Scotrail. Copies of the report are still available from the Co-operative Party. Scottish Labour has adopted this policy and have now started a Freeze our Fares petition to tell the Scottish Government the extent of the anger of Scottish travellers. Information about both is available from our Shadow Transport Spokesperson, Neil Bibby MSP. Once again Labour is showing themselves the most credible of the Scottish opposition parties.

The last ever Autumn statement was, as Have I got News for You noted, most memorable for … being the last ever Autumn Statement. All the Chancellor’s announcements, allegedly made to help Theresa May’s JAMS (those just about managing), failed to address the welfare cuts already announced by his predecessor, George Osborne, which will wipe out any marginal gains from this Statement and much much more. And as more and more claimants move on to the badly designed Universal Credit, the JAMs will become even more impoverished.

What seems to have been forgotten in all this is the growth of Britain’s national debt, now over £3 trillions. Throughout the last Labour Government, the national debt was reduced year on year, but the Coalition and now the Tory Government, though their failed austerity policies, have managed to increase it to some 91% of Britain’s GDP, a totally unsustainable level. Surely it is time for our media to focus on that instead of hammering the alleged benefit cheats!

Finally, farewell Fidel Castro. Having grown up in the fifties sixties and seventies, he was one of my great revolutionary heroes alongside his revolutionary partner, the Argentine doctor, Ernesto Che Guevara. I acknowledge that many of his policies kept many of his countrymen poor, and he continued a long-term clampdown on opposition, but given the experience of the US supported Batista government, the implacable opposition and embargo by the United States and the 634 attempts at assassination by the CIA and Florida based Cubans, this is understandable. These included the US funded invasion at the Bay of Pigs, a disastrous failure.

On the positive side, he gave Cubans free education and healthcare for all and their achievements in sports were lauded at Olympics after Olympics. He also actively supported the Anti-Apartheid movements in South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, and the left-wing revolutionary movements throughout Central and South America. No matter what view you have of Fidel Castro, it cannot be denied that he was one of the great political figures of the Twentieth Century.