Parliamentary sketch: MSPs talk trains

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 9 December 2016 in Comment

Devolution may be a journey but a debate on trains saw things go off track

Devolution has been likened to a journey, and so maybe it is natural things sometimes go off the rails. That’s certainly what happened the last time Parliament talked trains.

The whole thing was really Christine Grahame’s fault, given she introduced the debate in the first place. It started out innocently enough, with Grahame demanding that Parliament should recognise the “resounding success” of the return of the Borders Railway and congratulate the people who have introduced plants, flower tubs and hanging baskets to stations. Grahame’s motion said the decoration, part of an ‘adopt-a-station’ plan, was a “sure sign of how much the railway means to these communities”.

Which is true, though you could also argue the constant rage caused by train delays is another sure sign of how much railways mean to communities.


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Moving on, Grahame denied she takes the Borders Railway for granted. “I never take it for granted,” she claimed. This was odd, given no one had actually accused Grahame of taking the line for granted. Then, in what appeared to be an attempt to deflect attention from herself, she accused young people of doing so.

But she wasn’t annoyed with them for taking the line for granted. “Why not?” she asked, adding, somewhat gnomically, “a generation on, even the lambs that used to run from the passing train simply keep munching the grass unperturbed.”

It was a great speech. Grahame covered everything. There really seemed nothing left to add, at least until John Mason took to his feet and asked Grahame if her train stations had libraries in them.

“Shettleston station,” he boasted, knowingly, “has a library”.

A library. In a station. That’s two things. A chill of jealousy ran through the chamber.

Things kicked off after that. Clearly dangerously animated, Grahame leapt to her feet without being called and starting to scream: “I say to the member!”… before being told by the Presiding Officer she is meant to wait to be called.

Quite a bit of confusion followed. Grahame cackled to herself, then, looking around, explaining that she had decided to curtsy instead of waiting to be called to speak, shouting: “I curtsied! I curtsied! Why did I curtsy?”

No one knew. Things were rapidly moving off track. Tory MSP Alexander Burnett tried to take things back to the trains.

It turned out he once joined the scheme, having adopted Stonehouse station at one point. “We installed brightly coloured planters, tubs and fence boxes on the platform, which were planted and are now maintained through funding for the Stonehaven Horizon team.

“The idea would have found a home in our former prime minister’s big society,” he said. Then, looking like a man that was slightly worried SNP members would have a problem with endorsing that sentence, he added: “I am sure that the SNP members will have no problem with endorsing that sentence.”

After this, the anecdotes came thick and fast. Stuart McMillan told everyone about his two favourite train stations. Neil Bibby said train stations are important because they are often the first thing a visitor sees upon arriving in a town. Which is true, as long as you arrive by train.

Stewart Stevenson came after that. And before going any further, it is probably worth pointing out that Stewart Stevenson doesn’t actually have a train station in his constituency. Why was he speaking in a debate about train stations? The reasons were complex, and incredibly lengthy. For one thing, he said, railways are one of his favourite topics. Secondly, just because he doesn’t have a train station, doesn’t mean he doesn’t want one. He does – he wants one very much. In fact, he already has a railcard which is valid until 2031, and all he needs is a train line to actually use it on.

To be honest, it was hard to see where he was going with the speech, at least until he took a sudden turn down memory lane. “Stations are places of happy memories for me,” he revealed, before running through just some of the times in the past he has been on a train. He once got the train to Tweedbank and had lunch, for example. He once got the train because he had sunstroke, he said. “1956 was a very warm year,” he divulged.

After this it was pretty standard stuff, with Stevenson telling the chamber about a man he had once known, called Stanislaw Skrodski, who had been a captain in the Polish cavalry and had “great skill” at welding. It was a long story. He had been a porter in Cupar railway station, Stevenson recalled.

“Given the rather imperfect old cars that my friends and I had, we used to rely on him and we went to the station to get welding done,” he added.

Why was Stevenson, an MSP without a train station in his constituency, talking about a car he doesn’t even own any more, in a debate on trains? Who knows. It was a wild ride.

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