The Borders railway is a massive Liberal Democrat achievement – why are we not shouting it from the rooftops?

This weekend the first journeys take place on the new Borders railway. Originally shut in 1969 under the Beeching cuts, it was rebuilt thanks to the Scottish Liberal Democrats in Government. Trains will now run again on a 30 mile stretch from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank.

It was Liberal Democrat transport ministers Tavish Scott and Nicol Stephen before him, who fought the battles within the Scottish Executive on this against Labour’s distinct lack of enthusiasm.  In fact, one of their MSPs tried to wreck the project by putting an amendment for it to only go as far as Midlothian but that was defeated. Special Adviser at the time Sam Ghibaldan has been talking on Facebook about the fight the Liberal Democrats had to get the project up and running:

I’m really delighted the Borders Railway is up and running. When the Lib Dems were in the Scottish government we had to battle to get the Borders Railway through against Labour and civil service opposition. One particular incident that sticks in my mind is being told by the then head of the transport division (shortly after the railway had been included in the 2003 coalition agreement), that that made no difference as the project was not one of the agreed transport priorities. Which it turned out had been set pre devolution….

Unusually, it wasn’t an Executive Bill, it was a private bill piloted through Parliament by  the Waverley Bill Committee who did the parliamentary legwork. Current Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick, then an SNP MSP, chaired that Committee and secured a station at Stow. She said on Facebook the other day:

Not many people can say they helped a new railway to be constructed so I am delighted to see trains running now on the Borders Railway. I was the Convener of what was the Waverley Bill Committee which considered the proposal. Three years of my life from 2003 to 2006. My committee amended the Bill to add an additional station at Stow and to ensure that once the work was started it had to be completed all the way to Tweedbank. On Wednesday I will be on the train for the official opening. Proud.

You would think, then, that we would be shouting this from the rooftops, but we’re allowing ourselves to be airbrushed out of our crucial role in making this happen. All we’ve had is one admittedly exuberant press release from the then MSP for the area, Jeremy Purvis, who said:

It is a sheer joy to be with the first travellers on the Borders Railway today. I am proud to have helped secure the approval of the project while I was an MSP.

Being with so many people who have contributed to its coming into being is a genuine delight for me. The Borders is well and truly back on the railway map and I hope businesses, tourists, students and families will make the journey to this beautiful part of the country in future.

I’ve had butterflies all morning being part of this and I know the excitement bodes well for the future of the Borders.

It is a thing of great joy to know about his butterflies, really it is. But the reality is that this was a major, against the odds, Lib Dem win and we should be much better at promoting that. I hope we see every Scottish Liberal Democrat politician slipping it in as one of the good reasons to vote for us.

It’s almost a decade since that Bill was passed. In Scotland, there’s a strong legacy of Liberal Democrat achievement from free university tuition to free personal care to fair votes for local government to this new railway, stronger freedom of information legislation and much more. These things have all really stood the test of time. I wonder if there will be similar long-term examples from our time in coalition government at Westminster.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 6th Sep '15 - 8:32am

    Well done.

  • John Tilley 6th Sep '15 - 12:19pm

    Whilst I personally am thrilled by this news and congratulate David Steel in particular, I have to be honest and say that if I climbed on my rooftop and shouted about it here in South West London it would not be long before I was carted off by paramedics.

    Perhaps LDV is going into another one of its obsessively Tartan phases ?

    A sense of proportion might help. So you have got thirty miles of railway opened up. Hurrah!
    Well done Liberal Democrats in The Borders.
    Well done Tavish Scott for having done something in 2006.
    At a rate of 30 miles every 9 years you are making magnificent progress.
    And with that much loved tram in Edinburgh you are by now probably leading the world in public transport initiatives.

    I expect nothing less than street parties across Glasgow, a line of bonfires burning from Skye to Dundee. Mass rejoicing and breaking open those tins of shortbread. The minting of special coins and the free distribution of whisky to every home in the land. The BBC could help by broadcasting old episodes of The White Heather Club and we could all pretend that Nick Clegg’s disastrous leadership never really happened so Scotland has just as many Liberal Democrat MPs as it ever had.

    Or, we could just “get real”.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Sep '15 - 2:23pm

    @John Tilley: Spoken like a true city dweller. You may have amazing transport links on your doorsteps. The towns and villages on the Borders railway will benefit from this. Rural communities may not mean much to you, John, but they sure mean a lot to us in Scotland.

  • John Tilley 6th Sep '15 - 3:32pm

    Caron, I have not been able to use any form of public transport for the last 18 months so on a personal basis it is all a bit academic. I know you do not like ad hominem attacks on people in LDV and I am sure that was not your intention.
    My parents for years lived in Langport in Somerset just next to where the station used to be before Beeching shut the line and sold off the station premises. We do have rural transport gaps in England as well you know.

    30 miles of railway line in The Borders is of course fantastic especially if it restores a link that has not been there for 50 years but how does it look to outsiders?

    In China — the government made a decision in 2004 to make some improvements in their railways.
    So a similar timescale to the work started off by Tavish Scott in 2006.
    Just Google ‘High-speed rail in China’ to see how quickly they moved.
    For example the Beijing-Guangzhou line is now 1,428 miles long and in operation even though construction only started in 2005.
    It does rather put into context your great achievement in government in Scotland.

    The Titfield Thunderbolt is a fine film but it is not a guide to the future.

  • David Evans 6th Sep '15 - 5:20pm

    I think the people to ask are the likes of Michael, David and Archie plus the other leading lights of the Borders’ Lib Dems. My suggestion would be to adopt the motto of the Penhaligon School of Liberal Democracy, “Stick it on a piece of paper, and stuff it through a letter box.” If they need any help delivering it, it’s a very nice time of year to be in the Borders.

  • Passing legislation to reverse the damage done by the UK government is the easy bit. The hard bit is managing the project to make sure it is fully delivered on time and on budget. If you can climb out of the gutter to the rooftops for long enough then please do shout about it. It will only encourage comparison between the success of the SNP in delivering a rail link from Waverley to Tweedbank and the, then, Liberal Democrat led Edinburgh council’s fiasco in managing the project to deliver a tram link from Leith to Ingliston which was only partially delivered, way over budget and years late.

    You may as well print “Liberal Democrat waste. Liberal Democrat failure. A promise of more!” on your leaflets.

  • “Liberal Democrat waste. Liberal Democrat failure. A promise of more!” Al – silly comment.

  • Built on the cheap, the line is mostly single-track and the bridges that have been re-built have been built without the facility to upgrade to double-track running. There are no sidings on the line so when a train breaks down it will cause chaos. If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly otherwise it’s money badly spent.

  • We need to have a policy of re-nationalizing the railways. Let us do it in a very cost-effective manner! Now, this would be a Lib Dem pol.icy I would shout about!

  • David Evans 7th Sep '15 - 3:54pm

    Steve is absolutely right. When the Scottish Nationalist took control in 2007 they wasted a whole lot of time trying for a PFI style scheme which delayed the whole thing was delayed by 4 years. Their new contract came in at over twice the original and they cut ever more corners to bring it in at that price.

    As Al said “The hard bit is managing the project to make sure it is fully delivered on time and on budget.” The bit he seems to have got wrong is “SNP waste. SNP failure. A promise of more!”

    and is now way over budget and so has had to

  • I remember travelling the Waverley line by steam, before it was axed!

  • Peter Thornton 9th Sep '15 - 11:54pm

    Well, the Queen seemed to think it was quite important?

  • Adrian 14th Sep ’15 – 9:27am

    That all sounds right to me. I am always astonished how Scotland (whoever happens to be running the place) makes so little of its assets for tourism.

    Perhaps all those visiting Americans and Canadians hunting family heritage and an ” authentic” family tartan have created a false sense of complacency and ossified the tourist industry north of the border?
    ( with the exception obviously excellent Visit Aberdeen setup).

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