FORMER UK transport secretary Lord Adonis has said that Holyrood could "effectively" nationalise ScotRail by adopting a system of strict state regulation.

He maintains it could set "tougher new conditions" for the franchise, which is held by Dutch operator Abellio, and said that there could be stricter rules about the frequency of services and agreed standards of reliability.

The intervention by Andrew Adonis followed his scathing criticism of the UK Government "bailout" of the Stagecoach/Virgin-run East Coast line when he dramatically quit as its infrastructure tsar last month.

Adonis advised ministers on critical decisions such as high-speed rail – including backing the controversial HS2 line connecting London to the north of England – during his time as chair of the government-backed National Infrastructure Commission.

The Labour peer said Holyrood did not have enough powers to strip Abellio of the ScotRail franchise unless it broke specific rules. However, he said that stricter regulations would effectively bring the service under state control.

Adonis argued: "They could effectively nationalise it by imposing operating conditions. They could set new, tougher operating conditions such as over more frequent services and improved reliability."

He also called on the SNP Government to demand nationalisation of the East Coast line and a share of its revenue for Scotland.

Virgin East Coast, a partnership between Brian Souter's Stagecoach and Richard Branson's Virgin, runs trains from Edinburgh to London, but also serves large parts of northern England.

The franchise is to end three years early, in 2020, and is to be run by a new public-private partnership. Virgin had agreed to pay the UK government £3.3 billion to run the service until 2023.

Campaigners claim this change now amounts to a state "bailout" as the companies continue to run the franchise without making the payments initially promised to the Treasury.

Adonis said that Souter and Branson should be banned from bidding to run state rail services.

He said: "I'm very surprised that the First Minister has been so quiet on East Coast."

Adonis went onto say that the Scottish Government should make representations to UK Ministers demanding renationalisation of East Coast.

He said: "There's a golden opportunity to introduce public ownership. I'd be very interested in whether the First Minister has made any representations to the UK Government to call for public ownership of East Coast.

"It would be quite legitimate to ask the UK Government which is about to nationalise a franchise that serves Scotland."

However, a spokesman for SNP transport minister Humza Yousaf said Scotland already had a "robust franchise agreement" with ScotRail.

Yousaf's spokesman said: "Typical of many Labour Westminster politicians, Lord Adonis shows a distinct lack of understanding of devolution.

In response to the call from Adonis for stricter regulation of ScotRail, an Abellio spokesman said: “We are investing £475 million in Scotland’s railways, the biggest investment since the Victorian era delivering more seats, faster journey times and better stations for passengers."

A Stagecoach spokesman, in response to the criticism from Adonis, said: "The position is that in November last year the government announced a new rail strategy, part of which includes plans for a new East Coast Partnership from 2020.

"The Government is currently in discussion with Stagecoach-Virgin, which runs the existing East Coast franchise, with the aim of putting in place new contractual arrangements in early course to facilitate the transition to the East Coast Partnership model over the next two years."

A spokeswoman from Virgin Trains echoed the Stagecoach comment.