I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and that 2020 is a prosperous and happy year for everyone. We must spare a thought and thank all of those who worked tirelessly over Christmas from those serving in our armed forces, to the police and those who were caring for loved ones. We owe them a debt of gratitude and hope they got a chance to relax once the festivities were over.

ScotRail woes continue into the New Year

2020 might be the year we finally see ScotRail sort out the mess on Scotland’s railways. Scotland’s train operator, Abellio, has posted losses for a third consecutive year. Prior to Christmas, I made it clear in Holyrood that delays and cancellations on the Borders Railway were unacceptable and I questioned the Scottish Government’s decision to terminate Abellio ScotRail’s contract early in 2022.

I believe the move will cause disruption to passengers and puts into question job security for current employees. Even Dominic Booth, Abellio UK’s managing director, said: ‘Scotland’s railway needs stability, not the upheaval a change in the franchise would bring about’. I completely agree, and I hope that investment in our railway isn’t halted as a result.

More fuel to the fire came over Christmas, when it was revealed that Abellio ScotRail said it had ended the past financial year £10 million in the red, owing £40 million to its owner, the nationalised railway of the Netherlands. It now seems that Dutch taxpayers are subsidising our failing train services. This is on top of the Scottish Government subsidies, which make up about half of its £1 billion revenues.

We need a viable solution to ScotRail’s woes, and terminating franchises early or nationalisation is not the answer. We need better accountability and long-term planning to ensure we see the fortunes of ScotRail turn around.

The Borders tourism can offer a more peaceful alternative to bustling Capital

I was not surprised to see that Edinburgh was revealed as having the fourth highest ratio of tourists to locals in the world. This is after Miami, Las Vegas and Dubai, and it sits well above 14th placed London. Statistics show there are nearly 450 tourists for every 100 residents in Edinburgh, and it begs the question, are we really managing the impact of tourism well?

Annually our Capital city is influxed with tourists for the Hogmanay celebrations and the Fringe. Whilst it great to see tourism booming in Edinburgh, we need to see more affirmative action to encourage tourists to see more of Scotland, including the Borders. We are located only an hour south of Edinburgh, yet we see very little of the footfall.

We need to see incentives and drivers for visitors to explore outside of Edinburgh. Encouraging rural tourism is at the top of my list, and I believe the Scottish Government need to make it a priority to ensure that our overcrowded capital does not suffer, when rural areas have a more peaceful and less stressful visitor experience on offer.