Friday 29 September 2023

The West Lothian Question

Political Posturing?

The phrase was coined by Enoch Powell way back in the 1970s. Fiery Scotsman and MP Tam Dalyell ...
... repeatedly brought up "The Question" as the Devolution debate began to feature in Parliamentary business. Should, for example, Scottish MPs (e.g. from West Lothian), sitting in the House of Commons, be forbidden from voting on purely English business? 

To a certain extent the debate has never been resolved!

fbb's West Lothian Question was less politically charged, but, as things have turned out, equally distressing for residents to the west of Edinburgh. 

As recently as April 2023 fbb asked ...
... whether McGill's purchase of First Bus operations in the area plus those based in Falkirk and Stirling was a step too far for the company. 

The above timetable book cover reminds us all of happier times when The Scottish Bus Group ran almost 100% of Scotlands bus network with the exception of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen corporations - and a few small independents.

In the privatisation carve-up First gained ownership of vast swathes of operation in Central and Lowland Scotland. including the massive Glasgow operating area.
For a while, First seemed to be making a go of West Lothian, Falkirk and Stirling. Then the rural Eastern Scottish routes were sold to Clyde Coast, trading as Borders Buses.
It has been a tough learning curve but, at least outwardly, things have looked positive in Hawick, Galashiels etc. despite the success of the Borders Railway.

Then suddenly - so it seemed - up rode McGill's on  a white charger and First was gone. 

But in West Lothian First had suffered mightily at the hands of an aggressive Lothian Buses.

Would you buy a First Bus company knowing that it was being beaten into a squidgy pulp by Edinburgh Corporation Transport?
Well, McGill's did and bus watchers wondered why!

During mid-April 2023, it came as no surprise to hear that McGill's was to have a "Network Review".
We know what those words usually mean - they are a euphemism for "Service Cutbacks". And there were -plenty!

Some commentators estimated that 30% of McGill's West Lothian network ended up on the cutting room floor. Services were cut back, merged or simply ditched completely. And ...

One of the problems with a policy of trimming is that, very soon, your remaining passengers lose confidence in the network and seek solace elsewhere - e.g with Lothian buses or buying a bike. 

So it seems almost inevitable that the ultimate announcement would follow soon.

Cancellation of Eastern Scottish routes 21, 23, 25, 26, X22 & X24

McGill’s Group has announced that it is to cease its bus services in West Lothian.

The operator took over West Lothian services from First.Bus in late 2022. Since that time, McGill’s Group has injected a total of £4.5million into McGill’s Eastern Scottish to turn round the ailing business.

Despite this substantial investment – a mixture of one-off investment and mainly ongoing subsidy from McGill’s Group and its owners - McGill’s Eastern Scottish has faced constant challenges on a number of fronts.

The West Lothian network has endured sustained head-to-head competition from a nearby publicly subsidised operator, which entered the market several years ago. This, alongside a new electrified railway, has meant that Eastern Scottish routes to Edinburgh had to contend with huge competition as well as the challenges of the capital’s roadworks, diversions and congestion. 

The business also had historical and current issues, including driver shortages and long-term, sustained passenger decline.

McGill’s Group said it would enter into consultation with staff and union representatives at Eastern Scottish but said it was committed to avoiding redundancies where possible. The announcement follows a meeting with staff held this evening.

In terms of services, McGill’s Eastern Scottish intends to cease services X22 and X24 between Livingston and Edinburgh from October 15th. (Alternatives exist on Lothian Country routes 72, X27 and X28.)

From December 2nd, services 21, 23, 25 and 26 will no longer run. McGill’s is currently consulting with the local authority on these services and it is hoped an announcement will follow in due course.

There will be no changes to routes 20, 63 and 68 at the present time.

As part of their "just can't be bothered" policy, McGill's no longer show a network map for West Lothian. But X22 ...
... and X24 ...
... are the two remaining "main line" services into Edinburgh. They will both be gone in a couple of weeks.

You will still be able to enjoy the other four until the beginning of December.

Six routes?  What a shadow of former First's network and an even more pathetic shadow of the original Eastern Scottish services.

fbb guesses that some replacements will materialise, but not c/o McGill's.

The end of a very short and questionable West Lothian era!

Elsewhere, however, there are more positive developments. This is the new brand for Stirling University.
Frequent, too ...
... but reduced to every 20 min during vacations.

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 30th September 


  1. Borders Buses is a subsiduary of Craig of Campbeltown, aka West Coast Motors. No idea where the idea that Clyde Coast were involved, long gone and on the wrong side fo the country.

  2. You do not mention that Lothian took on the former Eastern Scottish depots at Dalkeith, Musselburgh and North Berwick. The operations in the Borders were split from the main company in the 1980s and purchased by management before selling out to GRT who became First. Loss of contract work to Munro’s and Perrymans saw a rump of former operation which was affected by the opening of the Borders Railway leading to sale to Craig’s of Campbeltown t/a West Coast Motors.