SCOTLAND must take control of the rail network and last week’s report by Reform Scotland was a step in the right direction. The think-tank claimed that most ScotRail services would be on time if the operator of the railway infrastructure, currently Network Rail, was answerable to Holyrood not the UK Government.

Their voice needs to be listened to as Reform Scotland, which though to the right, is far from partisan. Moreover their advocate Tom Harris has a wealth of experience as a former Labour transport minister and before entering politics he worked with the old Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority. He both knows and cares about public transport.

So the logic was impeccable.

The current debate on nationalising the railways is stultifying even though it’s a policy I support. It’s simply become a mantra chant from Labour and the unions; the former which failed to act when in power.

The Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, is right to consider taking ScotRail into public ownership at the next available opportunity but it’s neither the only issue nor a surefire route to success.

Progress has been made on the railways even if it may not seem that way to hard-pressed commuters frustrated at delays or seasonal travellers irked by overcrowding. Line enhancements and service improvements have been achieved. To his enormous credit the minister has never shirked from accountability and has challenged the rail operators when required. It’s no consolation to be told how much better things are here than down south but the statistics are clear.

The idea that nationalising railways would immediately improve the service is fatuous, as it’s not simply about ownership but investment. The idea that a change from private to public frees up a bounty to invest is nonsense. As Tom Harris cogently argued the profit margin is slim, which is no doubt why some former operators have shamefully cut and run, leaving the state as the operator of last resort.

Until there’s a recognition that public transport needs greater funding it doesn’t matter who runs them, the challenges will still remain. The reason that the railways run better in the Netherlands and Germany, with even the absurdity that the former run ours, is that they invest more in them. Until public transport is seen as a vital part of our economy and society that’s best funded collectively through the state than paid for individually by the commuter, progress will be restricted.

However, actions can still be taken to improve the mess that has been created by the Tories' botched privatisation. Reform Scotland’s proposal to devolve Network Rail to Holyrood is something many support. It’s a logistical not constitutional argument.

Tom Harris and I disagree on Scottish independence but can agree on this as it's about good governance of the rail network. There’s long been an argument made for what’s called vertical integration where track and rail operators are conjoined. I’ve even heard it made by private sector transport operators though they sought to have the combined entity left in the private sector.

Network Rail was returned to public ownership following both financial and operational concerns. However, its direction is from south of the border even though the overwhelming majority of rail journeys in Scotland never cross into England. It's reckoned that it's track rather than rail operator issues that result in over half of delays here. Poor Humza takes the rap for issues well beyond any powers he possesses. No wonder Reform Scotland argue it would be better to have Scotland’s railways overseen by Scotland’s Government.

So I accept the arguments Reform Scotland make and support most of the proposals for further improvements but still I’m left dissatisfied. For though I accept it’s become a meaningless mantra I still believe that the state should run the railways. The days of wholesale public ownership are gone and not returning, globalisation has seen to that. Moreover, the state can fail as an operator as we’ve seen in the shameful dereliction of duty to communities by banks that have been bailed out and are now theoretically ours. Though that’s more testimony to poor government than state ownership as such.

But there remains areas of our life that are so fundamental that the state should operate them and I believe that applies as much in rail as it does in health. It's why even governments of the right in Germany and the Netherlands maintain theirs and renounce the dogma that still sadly rules here.

Commuters might not care who owns the railways but those who work on them most certainly do. My old uncle was a railway man and I’ve known many others, proud of the service they gave. British Rail was much maligned, though history shows it was under-investment not public ownership that harmed it.

Nationalisation is as much about an esprit de corps as the powers the states possesses. You’ll never see a gravestone inscribed here lies Jock or Jean who dedicated their life to Virgin Health Care or even Virgin Rail.