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Glasgow to Edinburgh High-speed Rail Link

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that plans for a high-speed rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh have been shelved. (S4T-01281)

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

The plans have not been shelved. I refer the member to my recent written answer to a question on the issue from Tavish Scott, in which I made it clear that it is not possible to progress planning for a high-speed rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow further until a cross-border high-speed route is identified. Once that happens, we can consider the integration of plans.

The Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities has made it clear—in public at the high-speed rail conference in Glasgow last September and in the chamber in response to a direct question from Willie Rennie on 24 February 2015—that connecting Edinburgh and Glasgow with a high-speed rail link is inextricably linked to the route options that come from the south. The joint work that is being undertaken with the Department for Transport to identify route options for extending high-speed rail into Scotland is nearing completion and the cabinet secretary fully expects to be in a position to share the findings in the coming months.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The Scottish Government grandly told us that the high-speed rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh was not dependent on the United Kingdom scheme. It said that the link, with journey times of just 30 minutes between Glasgow and Edinburgh, could be built independently by 2024, 10 years ahead of any UK plans. Nicola Sturgeon said that Scotland would “fire ahead” and would “not wait” for Westminster. When was the minister planning to tell us that the Scottish Government is waiting after all? Glasgow to Edinburgh journey times will not be 30 minutes by 2024, will they?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

On the sharing of information with Parliament, I have answered a parliamentary question, but even before that, there have been a couple of debates. One was in committee with Keith Brown, who was then the Minister for Transport and Veterans, in answer to Alex Johnstone on 5 February 2014, which explained the position. There is also investment in the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, which is very much under way, and Keith Brown explained the position in answer to Willie Rennie on 24 February 2015. The position has been shared in the chamber and in an answer to a parliamentary question.

The infrastructure investment plan says in a number of sections that we still have the ambition for high-speed rail, but I have said that it makes sense to see what is proposed on high-speed rail coming from the south. That work is being undertaken in partnership with the UK Government and, as I have said, the cabinet secretary will say more in the coming months about how we are working with the UK Government on high speed 2.

When the position was outlined in 2012, there was no commitment from the UK Government—there was not even a suggestion—that high-speed rail would come to Scotland. In fact, the commitment was simply to take high-speed rail from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds by 2032. With its partners and stakeholders, the Scottish Government advocated the case for bringing high-speed rail to Scotland, and we have worked in partnership with the UK Government to progress that. There is now an opportunity to integrate our stated ambitions and aspirations in a sensible approach that requires working in partnership.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I do not understand why the then Deputy First Minister, who is now the First Minister, announced at Glasgow central station that in just 12 years the journey time between Glasgow and Edinburgh would be cut to less than half an hour. We now know that that was simply overblown hyperbole and rhetoric in the extreme. We need to know why the scheme has been cancelled or shelved. The minister had the business plan back in September 2014—will he now publish it?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I have said that the cabinet secretary will over the coming months outline the findings of our joint study and our work. Our work with the UK Government should not be pre-empted. As I said, our aspirations for high-speed rail to connect Glasgow and Edinburgh can be integrated with the proposals that are coming from the south. That is a sensible approach, and the cabinet secretary will outline the findings from the work on that.

We still have aspirations for high-speed rail, and I have covered how the issues have been discussed in Parliament before—in response to Willie Rennie in the chamber and in response to Alex Johnstone in committee. I am happy to share the notes that I have on the approach that the Government is taking. It is not news and it really is not new.

As for on-going investment in rail, Willie Rennie will be aware of the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, which has received more than £700 million of investment for the whole package. It will improve journey times as well as investing in new rolling stock and new stations. The Scottish Government is investing in rail, particularly between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but there is more to come in terms of high-speed rail from our working in partnership with the UK Government through the Department for Transport. I would have thought that Willie Rennie would appreciate that kind of partnership working, given that he is a constructive and consensual figure. The cabinet secretary will say more about high-speed rail in the next few months.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Regardless of where the high-speed link crosses the border—whether that is on the east coast or on the west coast—surely a high-speed link between Edinburgh and Glasgow will be integral to completing the system. Is it too difficult to go ahead with that project earlier instead of waiting to see where the high-speed link comes in?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

It is interesting that both members who have been given answers before are back to express surprise at the answers now. When he was the relevant minister, Keith Brown said that it makes sense to consider both proposals. If there are options to connect high-speed rail to Edinburgh and Glasgow, or to one city and then to connect both cities, surely it is right that we assess our proposals for Edinburgh and Glasgow in that light and that we integrate them with what is proposed for high-speed rail that comes from the south. That is a sensible and fair rationale for spending public money and it will mean that we make the right assumptions and take the right options.

As I said, once the cabinet secretary is in a position to report to the chamber following the completion of the work that we are doing with the UK Government, we will see a sensible way forward. Our aspirations to bring high-speed rail to Scotland have not changed, and we will continue to invest in rail and the high-speed connections. That is clearly expressed in the infrastructure investment plan.