SKAT have reacted to the pact between the Labour and the Liberal Democrats with a mixture of anger, disappointment and disbelief. This pact, while producing a minor adjustment to the toll regime on the Skye Bridge, seems to have been designed more to stifling any debate on the infamous tolls in the Scottish parliament than alleviating the huge burden of toll charges which falls on the remote rural communities the bridge serves. The acquiescence of the Lib-Dems in this contentious issue is all the more appalling because the abolition of Skye bridge tolls was one of the main planks of their election manifesto. They seem to be happy to go along with a sleekit plan by Labour MSPs to freeze the tolls on the Skye bridge for the remainder of the toll period (how ever long that may be) rather than fighting for their abolition and for an independent public inquiry into the funding and operation of the bridge as they had promised before the election.
Reacting to news of how the new Scottish government propose to tinker with the toll regime SKAT convener, Drew Millar commented. "After all they said about tolls prior to the election you would have thought that embarrassment and shame would have prevented them from agreeing to this pathetic gesture regarding tolls. But somehow the Lib-Dem leadership sacrificed their credibility and dignity for the sake of elevating Jim Wallace to the post of deputy First Minister. Do they really want to return Liberal-Democrats from this constituency in future elections? The other point which should not be lost is that this was a Labour plan stitched up in advance of the pact being agreed. Now that it has been enshrined in the pact there may not be an opportunity to bring this issue before Parliament."
Mr Millar has been inundated by calls from disenchanted Liberal Democrat voters who have not been able to register their disgust with representatives of their party, all of whom seem to have gone to ground. "My sympathy is with John Farquhar Munro, Lib-Dem MSP for this area, who resisted this agreement between the parties. He has been hung out to dry by his Lib-Dem colleagues. I also wonder why this Labour plan for the tolls was not announced before the election since it might have been a crumb of comfort for their candidate, Donnie Munro, who has been dreadfully exposed over the tolls issue."
Mr Millar added that if the coalition parties believe that by freezing them at present levels the anti-tolls campaign will go away they are seriously deluded. "They seem to forget that the Skye bridge is one-third the size of the Forth Bridge but it costs £5.30 more to cross it by car. If this is an example of justice and parity of treatment in the new Scottish Parliament then we are all in deep trouble."
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 21 June 1999