Published: 19th September 2014
The decision of most voters in Scotland in favour of their country remaining in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland means that things will stay the same as now – but probably only until 2016.
That Scotland is different has long been recognised within the UK. Since 1999 that recognition has taken the shape of a devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Before then there was administrative devolution.
Scotland continued to have its own legal system, education, Church and culture after the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, which followed on from the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603.
By a clear majority, voters in Scotland decided in a referendum on 18 September 2014 to vote “No” to the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
That means that the Scottish Parliament will continue to exercise those powers that are devolved to it from Westminster, including railways among a range of transport matters.
New franchises for Caledonian Sleepers and ScotRail under the aegis of the agency Transport Scotland are still due to start in the spring of 2015 and the Borders Railway project is on target for completion in the summer of 2015.
But there will be change. There was already agreement under the Scotland Act 2012 that there would be more devolution to the Scottish Parliament within the UK. From April 2016, that means new income tax and borrowing powers for Scotland.
Now, additional devolution is intended to go further, according to a pledge given during the referendum campaign by the leaders of the three biggest Westminster political parties.
The aim is apparently to complete the second reading of a new Scotland Bill before the UK General Election in May 2015, although it remains to be seen what that will mean in practice as concerns have been raised in other parts of the UK.
For example, the North of England also hopes to gain benefits. Whatever happens, arguments in favour of a more important role for railways are likely to be heard, with people in areas of England citing Scotland as an example of how railways can be expanded.
Lord Smith of Kelvin is to oversee the process of devolving more powers to Scotland over tax, spending and welfare. Other parts of the UK are certain to expect their voices to be heard and heeded during the coming months.
The Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown has announced that Scottish train fares will only increase by an average of 1.9% next January because of a cap negotiated by the Scottish Government. This is on average 1.6% below the average English train fare increase and could be 3.6% below the steepest increase to be imposed. Wales has yet to decide the level, if any, of their increase.
So what does this tell us? The average increase masks how much passengers will pay because ScotRail peak fares will rise by 2.5% whilst off-peak fares remain at 2013 levels. The latter make up 40% of ScotRail journeys.
Mr Brown said: "This fares announcement shows that Scotland’s rail passengers are getting a better deal when it comes to fares. “I have negotiated an agreement with ScotRail which means their peak fares will only increase by 2.5%, rather than up to 5.5% in England and Wales if the RPI plus a 2% flex is imposed. This 2% flex does not apply in Scotland.
"I will continue to make sure Scotland’s rail passengers get the best deal possible. The next ScotRail franchise will bear down further on the cost of fares, ensuring they will not rise above inflation, and it will be a condition of the next franchise that regulated off-peak fares will be restricted to 1% below inflation from 2016.
"From January 2016 regulated ScotRail fare increases can be no higher than RPI and off-peak regulated fare increases will be capped at 1% below RPI.
“The Scottish Government is committed to encouraging more people to use the train, whilst reducing the reliance on the car and recognises that prices have to be affordable and fair.
It seems certain that it could be all change in Scottish railways with Westminster being left behind in a couple of years. This could allow Scottish Authorities to operate their own ScotRail services and set fare levels without reference to The Department for Transport.
It also means that setting fares for cross-border tickets with differing increases and coding will become a hugely complex and expensive business to manage.