DO people realise just how great a Scottish triumph is represented by the opening of the Borders Railway this weekend? It was achieved with no money from Westminster for 30 miles of new track, seven new stations, new trains and a million tonnes of earth moving.

The Scottish Government has had to bankroll the full £294 million cost. They’ve gone too douce and decorous on highlighting that, probably to avoid accusations of point-scoring during the Queen’s visit and general joy fest. But to hell with decorum! As a youngster, I was one of the passengers, some in tears, on the last day train from Edinburgh on the old Waverley line. I’ve tracked happenings ever since and remain an angry bird. There was a bomb threat to that train as feelings were running so high at the awesome injustice of the Borders becoming the only part of the UK without a rail link.

That happened in 1969, the year man reached the moon and Borderers stopped reaching Edinburgh by train. Scotland was still treated as Schmuckland. But how much better are things now, when the Westminster vandals haven’t had the decency to repay? Wreck one post of a railway fence and a vandal faces repaying. Destroy over 30 miles of track and wreck stations and Westminster got off, literally, Scot-free.

Few things illustrated so sharply the brute insensitivity to Scotland as the axing of the Waverley Line, or show how disunited this United Kingdom was back then, not just presently. Successive Unionist governments first severed the link between Scotland and England, then wouldn’t restore it. Some Unionism!

The infamous Dr Beeching proposed the wrecking but did NOT make the decision – Harold Wilson’s government did with Tory backing, save for the decent Tory MP, Lord Dalkeith, later the 9th Duke of Buccleuch, who accompanied the heroic campaigner Madge Elliot and David Steel MP when they presented a petition to No 10 in 1968.

Rail investment is the ultimate myth-buster over Scottish equality in the UK. No doubt Scottish Secretary David Mundell will be joining the celebrations, representing his party of one, and, like Noddy, his House for One – the Scotland Office. The SO admits it gave no money, the “reason” being that it isn’t a cross-border line. But it was for a century, as it went through to Carlisle. We ceased being “all in it together” over the creation of the longest rail reopening in the UK – because it’s in Scotland.

But Scotland will be expected to pay towards the HS2, from London to Leeds. Costs have now rocketed to £80 billion, estimates the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Scotland has been baling out rail in the south for decades.

By Tony Blair’s time, £1.25 billion was lavished on The Jubilee Line. Next, in year 2000, as Scots were pleading for money to reopen the Waverley Line, John Prescott announced a £140bn investment for rail and trams – only in England. This included an extension to the London Docklands light railway, £500m for Manchester and millions more for Nottingham right up to Tyne and Wear – all goodies stopping at the Border.

BY 2000, I’d moved from being a last passenger on the Waverley Line to being in the first Scottish Parliament and was in a furious debate on Borders rail, where Kenny MacAskill simply asked Scottish Labour ministers: “Why do we not get our share of the £140 billion and just build it?”

Scotland never did get her share but had the guts to go it alone.

Thatcher’s road mania and other southern extravaganzas were also bankrolled by North Sea oil. As Denis Healey, former Labour Chancellor, said of oil in his 1989 memoir The Time of my Life: “Without it, she would never have won even her second term; Britain would have been bankrupt well before 1983.”

As the first trains in 46 years chug through the gold and green Borderland, every toot and whistle is a salute to community action by Borderers and their supporters from the Campaign for Borders Rail and the Waverley Route Trust to the Stow Station Supporters Group and the Scottish Parliament and Government.

Richard Branson is the one exception to this all-Scottish triumph. Nowadays, Scottish Labour likes to credit themselves for thinking up the feasibility study which, being favourable, eventually led to this month’s triumph.

But they didn’t think it up, Branson did. It was swift thinking by Branson which kicked Scotland into action within minutes, after politicians had dithered for decades. Branson instantly promised seed money to help reopen a line he’d never heard of until he attended a function in Glasgow. I was present, so was Allan McLean, a rail expert and another fellow passenger on that last train. This proved to be an example of how a fast business brain works, compared with politics. It was 1998, pre-devolution.

THE Virgin boss was guest speaker at a lunch for the Journalists’ Charity. When he asked for questions, I grabbed a mic and shouted : “Can you help re open the Waverley line?” Branson’s reply was: “What is the Waverley Line?” I bawled back that the Borders was the only UK area totally bereft of rail, disgrace, scandal, etc.

Branson quickly grasped facts. Lord Gus Macdonald, then Labour’s unelected industry minister, had been dining at the top table next to Branson for two hours.

Branson acted instantly. He walked back to Macdonald, called over Alex Salmond, always a Borders Rail supporter, who’d been seated at the far end of the table, and the three went into a huddle.

Within minutes, Branson announced he would help bankroll a feasibility study – but challenged the (then) Scottish Office to chip in. Macdonald agreed. What else could he do in a room packed with journalists? Branson also brought in Network Rail. The next year, the Scottish Parliament opened, and the Branson-inspired feasibility study showed it could be done. with all parties now on-side. The pace quickened. The Campaign for Borders Rail was founded in 1999, pulling together years of efforts by Borderers.

Borders MSP Christine Grahame started a cross-party group on Borders Rail and showered questions into the Scottish Executive (then Labour and LibDem controlled). The legendary Madge Elliot soon accompanied a 20,000-signature petition, which fared brilliantly compared with her ignored petition to Downing Street 30 years before. The Public Petitions Committee, led by the superb Labour dissident John McAllion, moved their hearing to Galashiels.

Allan McLean told me recently he even remembered the date of that lunch as a turning point. “I will never forget November 5, 1998. It has been a long time but, at last, trains in the Borders again. Wow!”

How sad that Branson’s kick-start is so forgotten that Transport Scotland told me he hadn’t been invited to any of the celebrations because they (officials) didn’t know that he’d had any involvement.

However, Branson told me that day in 1998 that the new line should later join up with Carlisle, instead of ending at Tweedbank and missing out Hawick. The original line, opened in 1849, was extended to Carlisle in 1862.

Meanwhile, transport consultant and rail author David Spaven observes: “Fraserburgh and Peterhead will now inherit the unwanted mantle of being the farthest towns of their size from the British railway network, now that rail is restored to the Borders.”

Beeching ruined rail in Buchan from 1965 onwards. But Aberdeenshire’s population has risen steadily, currently at 257,000 people. Inspired by the Borders, many Aberdeenshire councillors now want rail reinstatement. Nestrans, the North East Scotland Transport Partnership, is operating a public consultation on all transport between Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen. A restored rail service is one option. Re-opening to Ellon is also possible. More people are killed on rural Aberdeenshire roads than in any other Scottish region (280 dead, 1,566 seriously injured in ten years). “Dr Death” Beeching destroyed more than rail.

Now there are moves to go another 60 miles to Carlisle. Infrastructure Minister Keith Brown has confirmed that officials have discussed a feasibility study on linking with Carlisle, through Hawick.

In 2000, when the Scottish Parliament formally supported the re-opening to Tweedbank, David Mundell was an MSP and said in debate: “Today is an important point, but only a point in a journey – a journey that I hope will take us by train from Edinburgh to Carlisle.” That would be cross border. So where’s the UK money, Mr Mundell? Or does Scotland need to bring back Branson with his kick-ass abilities?

High drama on the last train

“ATTENTION everyone! Don’t panic! But we’ve been told there’s a bomb on this train” announced the policeman who came on board the last day train to the Borders in 1969. 

As “don’t panic” is an introduction most likely to induce panic; some of us last passengers did panic, others just giggled. It was a hoax but emotions were at fever pitch. A mock coffin was loaded aboard the last night train later, addressed to Westminster. 

That train also had its share of drama – at Newcastleton, Borderers stood on the line to block it.