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"The Scottish Region Annual Political Event: Reform Scotland" by Alison Payne, Research Director, Reform Scotland - Edinburgh meeting of 23 January 2018.

Alison Payne, Research Director, Reform Scotland at the meeting.d

Alison Payne, Research Director, Reform Scotland at the meeting.

© John Yellowlees, 2018

Established in 2008, Reform Scotland aims to set out proposals that deliver increased prosperity and better public services based on traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility.

It is a charity relying on donations, but does not take commissions for work. The organisation is independent of all political parties, but individuals from the four main political parties sit on its Advisory Board.

Reform Scotland has produced eighty reports or briefings over the past decade on themes ranging from a Basic Income and air passenger duty to railways and education. Throughout these run several consistent themes : Reform Scotland seeks to promote decentralisation and diversity in the belief that one size does not fit all.

The organisation aims to lead, create, widen and contribute to the policy debate in Scotland on a wide range of issues, believing that think tanks have an opportunity to be innovative and think outside the box in an attempt to come up with ideas that could improve economic growth and public services.

Although only having two members of staff, Reform Scotland often work with members of its board and it also manages the Melting Pot, a guest blog, where others can share their blue sky thinking. The think tank also jointly established the Commission on School Reform, which is chaired by Keir Bloomer.

Recently former Labour Transport minister Tom Harris, who sits on Reform Scotland's board, co-authored the report Track to the Future. He suggested that the public versus private debate surrounding ScotRail was a meaningless distraction since railway infrastructure already is in public ownership, yet more than half of the delays experienced by ScotRail passengers are caused by Network Rail. The greatest focus for the future is with HS2, yet the improved journey times that it will bring between the Central Belt and London will exacerbate the contrast with the much slower journeys from the Central Belt to the North and North-East of Scotland.

The causes are well-known - lack of electrification and reliance on single-track lines - and the Scottish Government deserves credit for its rolling programme of electrification and for its Edinburgh-Glasgow and Aberdeen-Inverness line upgrades. The public is perhaps made insufficiently aware that such investments are far from straightforward, yet the current aspiration to trim just ten minutes from the Edinburgh-Inverness journey-time may be far from sufficient if we are to be serious about saving the Highlands from decline.

Track to the Future also recommends devolving Network Rail to a new body directly responsible to, and answerable to, the Scottish Government so that there may be greater transparency and accountability to its performance and priorities. It proposes also the creation of a Scottish Rail Infrastructure Commission to look at the needs of the city regions, local networks and the rural and scenic areas of Scotland in order that we can start getting ambitious for the improvements that will be needed in the short, medium and longer timescales if Scotland is to be able to attract more people in order to sustain its economy.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

 

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