TO paraphrase the late, great comedian Jeremy Hardy, whenever there’s an industrial dispute on the railway, most of the mainstream media goes with headlines like: “Misery for commuters!” It’s never: “Joy for anarcho-syndicalists!”

It’s been like that throughout the current chaos at ScotRail. To listen to some commentators, you’d think that the on-going crisis on Scotland’s recently nationalised railway has been caused by millionaire train drivers bunking off to go and spend time in their second homes in the Bahamas without a thought for the long-suffering commuter.

The Scottish Government and the train drivers’ union Aslef have been in what look like make or break talks this week. As they do so, it’s crucial that the myths around this dispute be debunked. The truth is, the Scottish Government has bungled the nationalisation and the associated negotiations badly. The cause of this dispute is not “greedy, well-paid train drivers” trying to fleece the Scottish taxpayer.

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On the contrary, the drivers are merely trying to defend their pay and conditions in the face of attempts by recently appointed Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth (above) and her team to undermine their livelihoods with derisory pay offers that are well below inflation.

Let’s be clear, contrary to the Scottish Government’s description of its offers – initially of 2.2%, more recently of 4.2% – as “pay rises”, these offers are, in fact, pay cuts. Inflation currently stands at around 7.8%.

Nationalisation means that all ScotRail staff, including the train drivers, are now public sector workers. The current pay offer from the Scottish Government to other public sector workers, from teachers through to council staff, is a pathetic 2%.

That is why Gilruth’s team went into negotiations with Aslef effectively telling the train drivers that 2.2% was a “take it or leave it” offer. They were worried that a reasonable offer to the train drivers would lead to demands for reasonable pay settlements across the public sector.

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The response of the drivers thus far has been very limited action. By merely refusing to work on their rest days, the drivers have shown how massively ScotRail depends on them working overtime. The hugely reduced timetables that ScotRail management have had to introduce are extremely damaging to Scotland, both economically and socially. Indeed, they are a national embarrassment.

The outcome of this week’s negotiations matters not only to the train drivers and rail users. It matters to every public sector worker, and, indeed, every Scottish citizen.

It matters, too, to the fight for Scottish independence. If the independent Scotland we strive for is one built on principles of, in Burns’s words, “equal rights and equal laws”, it is imperative that the train drivers, and every other public sector worker in Scotland, gets a fair pay settlement.

If public sector workers are forced to accept below inflation pay settlements (in other words, pay cuts) we, as a society, are accepting the idea that working people should pay the price of the economic crisis. Working-class people have done nothing to cause this crisis.

Nor was the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine or, even, the Covid pandemic. Putin’s invasion and the coronavirus outbreak have merely exacerbated an economic calamity that already existed.

The disaster was caused by the casino economics of the big banks and the outrageous profiteering of big business. A glance at Scotland’s rich list shows exactly who should be shouldering the burden of the cost of living crisis.

In addition to the huge profits of energy companies (which are getting off lightly with Rishi Sunak’s belatedly announced “energy-profits levy”), the rampant inequalities in Scottish society are exposed in other windfalls. For instance, Glenn Gordon and family, owners of the William Grant & Sons whisky company, registered profits of £409 million last year (taking the family’s wealth to £3.59 billion).

The idea that, as energy and food prices race ahead of the incomes of working people, decent pay rises for workers will be inflationary, is an insulting lie. If we want to live in an equitable independent Scotland in the future, we must defend the livelihoods of the country’s working people in the here and now.