TRANSPORT minister Humza Yousaf has sought advice from a think tank that advocates turning the railways into a state-run monopoly as he considers the future of Scotland’s network.

Mr Yousaf met with Common Weal earlier this year – just months before he is due to make an announcement on the Scottish Government’s plans for a public sector bid to take over the railways.

He initiated the meeting with the left-wing “think and do tank” to discuss a paper it produced with the transport union TSSA, which also suggested creating a unified public transport body for Scotland’s buses, trains, trams and ferries.

The document, entitled A Public Future for Scotland’s Railways, argues the current franchise system should be abolished to prevent the railways being taken back into private ownership if a public bid takes over.

It states: “While the system of tendering out time-limited contracts for operating Scotland’s railways remains, even the most popular and efficient public-sector operator will suffer from the lack of certainty which inhibits long-term thinking in the railways today, as it would face the very real prospect of losing its right to operate the franchise every five to ten years.

“In order to allow us to enjoy the full rewards publicly-run railways have the potential to bring, the Scottish Government should seek the power to abolish the franchise system, and instead allow ScotRail to be operated permanently on a public-sector basis.”

The paper argues “much of the transformative potential of the idea of publicly-run railways in Scotland relies on it being a permanent break with decades of privatisation and market-oriented policy”.

It references the InterCity East Coast franchise, which was run by a state-owned operator between 2009 and 2015, and argues a publicly-owned rail company could make substantial cuts to ticket prices.

It also suggests three governance models: a new public arm's-length rail company, a unified public transport body, or a co-operative partially owned by workers and passengers.

In an entry on Holyrood’s lobbying register, Common Weal writes: “We were asked to provide our advice and opinion on [the] plans and to offer suggestions as to what other aspects of the recommendations in our paper could be prioritised.”

Dr Craig Dalzell, head of policy and research at the think tank, said Mr Yousaf had been interested in “the report in the round”.

The transport minister is currently preparing a bid to take over the railways, with a statement on the Scottish Government’s plans due within days.

A public-sector bid by state-owned ferry operator CalMac is understood to be one of the favoured options.

But current operator Abellio has repeatedly said it would have "no problem competing with a public bid".

Scottish Tory transport spokesman Jamie Greene said the meeting with Common Weal “should send alarm bells ringing”.

He said: “Seeking views of this type simply signals that instead of just pushing for a public operator to run our railways, the transport minister is in fact open to full monopolised nationalisation, at any cost.”

He added: “Tenders and franchises offer a transparent process which get the best available operator at the best cost to the public purse.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Our consistent view over many years is that there ought to be a level playing field between the private and public sector in bidding for rail franchises.

“It is vital that we take the time to think through the various scenarios as ministers want to enable a competitive public sector bid which offers best value for the public purse while delivering continuous service improvements. We expect to give an update on this over the coming weeks."