Dewar Set To Freeze Bridge Tolls

Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar is poised to freeze tolls on the Skye road bridge.

There was speculation in the Highlands and Islands yesterday that the Liberal Democrats had demanded in their coalition negotiations that the tolls on the Skye bridge be suspended pending an inquiry into the project.

One Lib Dem source said: "We went into the negotiations with our manifesto below our arm, and in that manifesto is a commitment to abolition of the tolls."

The Glasgow Herald newspaper, however, has learned that some of the Labour MSPs from the Highlands and Islands have been working to persuade their leadership that they should give something on the bridge tolls.

They have argued that this should be done not as a negotiating tactic, but as a Labour measure building on the Secretary of State's intervention in 1997 to reduce the cost of concessionary tickets by 100%.

They believe by pegging the normal toll to the present summer and winter levels, there would be significant saving for bridge users over the course of the contract, which may be anything from 12 to 23 years to run.

The Liberal Democrats are coming under widespread attack in the Highlands over their support for Labour's plans to freeze Skye Bridge tolls, with even a former Labour candidate for the Scottish Parliament joining in the criticism.

Hugh Raven, who stood for Argyll and Bute, says Liberals have failed those who put their trust in them at last week's election. Mr Raven, who lost to Lib-Dem George Lyon, says the Liberal Democrats have already dumped their Highlands and Islands pledges unlike, he says, the Scottish Labour Party.

Meanwhile, the SNP's Winnie Ewing has condemned the Lib-Dems decision as "a blow to the voters of Skye and Lochalsh."  Mrs Ewing says nine out of the fifteen Highland MSPs actively campaigned for an end to the tolls. She says the issue cost Labour's Donnie Munro the Ross, Skye and Inverness West seat, and the Liberals will now suffer on the issue.

SKAT Convener, Drew Millar, says he's been inundated by calls from disenchanted Liberal Democrat voters who've not been able to register their disgust because, he claims, party representatives have 'gone to ground.' He says his sympathy is with Skye's Lib-Dem MSP, John Farquhar Munro, who resisted the Agreement. Mr Munro has, he says, been "hung out to dry" by his colleagues.

Meanwhile, bridge campaigner Robbie the Pict has also attacked the decision, saying the tolls will eventually be abolished in the courts: "There's a criminal offence happening here, and that is as clear as day to anyone who will look at it. Donald Dewar is complicit in a commission of this criminal offence and I imagine he would want that dealt with before he talked to the Liberal Democrats in case they shone any light on it. I would invite Donald Dewar to produce a signed and dated Assignation Statement, and a published Toll Order, and then we'll have a far clearer understanding of what's really going on."

"This is an extortion racket and it will cost the Scottish people 80,000,000. As with Donald Dewar's previous reduction, if you're not paying it at the Toll Booth, you're paying it through the Edinburgh offices. The tax-payer will be paying that sum in lieu. The contract is inflation proof, so that Bank of America always gets it's money."
- Katie MacDonald, Radio Scotland News, 14 May 1999, 4:55 pm

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1999.

Most recent revision, 18 May 1999