SKAT Letters to the Herald

Flaws of the first Scottish PFI

GIVEN that he failed so lamentably in striking an agreement with the Labour Party which in any way protected the interests of the Liberal Democrat Party and those who have voted for it over the years it will be interesting how Jim Wallace, MSP, fares as Scotland's new Minister of Justice.

One issue which should allow him to prove himself in his new post is that of the Skye Bridge - the numerous anomalies and injustices of which his Lib-Dem colleague in Westminster, Charles Kennedy, MP, recently spent 25 minutes on the floor of the House of Commons detailing. Mr Kennedy also demanded an independent public inquiry into the whole affair.

Over the past three years The Herald's excellent Highland correspondent, David Ross, has done a wonderful job in peeling away the layers of deceit designed to obfuscate the truth about this discredited project. In his article on May 21 he encapsulated all the flaws, inadequacies, and inconsistencies which riddle the hasty arrangements put in place to set up the Skye Bridge as Scotland's first PFI. Mr Wallace would do well to read and absorb the detail of the article and then, as Minister of Justice, ask himself:-

(1) What is just about a bridge which is a third the length of the Forth Bridge but costs 5.30 more per car to cross?

(2) What is just about a regime with relies on an unsigned and undated "Assignation Statement" as its authority from the Secretary of State to levy tolls?

(3) What is just about the court trials of toll non-payers on the basis of a production which is, by all accounts, completely spurious but nevertheless was introduced deliberately by the prosecution to secure convictions?

Mr Wallace, we are holding our collective breath.

Alasdair Maclean, Dunorin House Hotel, Herebost, Isle of Skye.

THE Herald is to be commended for continuing to highlight the ongoing situation regarding the Skye Bridge. I was very interested in the article by David Ross (May 21) drawing attention to the unanswered questions which have been raised in the courts by campaigners for abolition of the tolls, and the urgent need for the Scottish Parliament to fully address these.

To this list of legal anomalies should be added the issue and status of the Toll Order. While this formed the basis of the prosecution against me in 1997, it was later established not to have been "published".

An unpublished Toll Order would have given me a statutory defence against non-payment, given that Section 3 (2) of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, states that it shall be a defence to establish that the relevant SI was not printed and sold.

A further legacy of this legal irregularity is that 125 people have been wrongly convicted.

I look forward to the debates on the matter in Edinburgh.

Irene McGugan, MSP, The Scottish Parliament.

Where have civil liberties gone?

ONCE again I must congratulate The Herald on the excellent article by David Ross on the Skye Bridge (May 21). In these days of spin-doctoring and press manipulation it is so refreshing to get an article which is well-researched and identifies fundamental weaknesses in the Establishment.

The article directs attention to what is at the centre of this whole issue, and what makes a relatively minor and local issue a national threat to human rights, and gives it an international significance.

When I first discovered, back in October 1995, that I was not only going to be charged a huge toll by a private company to use a public highway I was very unhappy, but when I discovered, to my horror, that any resistance to paying the full amount charged by the company from time to time would be a criminal offence, I was extremely angry and absolutely determined to resist this threat.

Where have our civil liberties gone, when a Westminster Government (without any effective opposition) can pass a law making it a criminal matter to refuse to pay inflated prices to a Government-sponsored monopoly? Is this not the sort of thing we were told used to happen behind the Iron Curtain, and that we needed nuclear weapons to protect ourselves from?

I am a retired great-grandfather, who never had a criminal charge against me in my life before I decided that I would not be intimidated in this way and challenged in particular the criminalisation of this issue.

I have been arrested three times and held in police cells overnight 130 miles from my home, I have been imprisoned, and fined considerable amounts (which I refuse to pay) and I understand that there is currently a warrant out for my arrest, but it has not been acted upon, possibly until the election was over.

I have committed no criminal act, I have not been involved in any act of violence against people or property, my acts and deeds have been entirely those associated with liberty and free speech. I was a political prisoner in the real sense of that word.

I have of course not given up and am currently taking a case against the British Government in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

However, I am just one of many hundreds of people who have been most shamefully ill-treated by the Scottish legal system, and normally without any legal assistance whatsoever.

If this issue, which our MP Charles Kennedy has understood so well, and indeed has put forward in detail to an uninterested House of Commons, is not an issue of importance for the new Scottish Minister of Justice, Mr Jim Wallace, MSP, then it is hard to see what would be.

Andy Anderson, Eadar Da Allt 22, Earlish, nr Portree, Isle of Skye

AS a member of SKAT I must thank The Herald, once again, for giving us the "oxygen of publicity" so often denied by other sections of the media. As the Government prepares to launch its much watered-down Freedom of Information Act, Ministers should recognise that the secrecy that surrounds financial and land deals in Britain is grotesque, arcane, and archaic in a modern democracy.

The Skye Bridge deal, formulated by the Tory administration and its business cronies, was little short of fraudulent in the way it was transacted and those who dared register a protest, including myself, a retired regular army officer with many years' service for the Crown (I was under the impression that I had been fighting for democracy and freedom), were treated as common criminals.

In their extreme arrogance Ministers past and present have sought to hide the truth about such deals, including privatisation, from the public who are paying the bills. The Scottish legal profession has nothing to be proud of either. The details of every contract with the private sector must be in the public domain. Commercial confidence cannot be used as a cover. We are the paymaster, the stake-holders, and the clients and have an absolute right to know all the small print. Anything less is an abrogation of our democratic right.

The injustice of the financial penalty imposed on a fragile community by this deal apart from the flagrant disregard of the democratic and legal principle is indefensible. Jim Wallace and his party were highly regarded on Skye and Donnie Munro, who is probably too honest to be a New Labour politician, lost his chance to represent his island over such issues. John Farquhar Munro, we hope, will stick to his principles and will not capitulate.

Jim Wallace, as Minister for Justice, must, based on the evidence hard fought for by SKAT, order a full inquiry on the patent injustice and lack of transparency in this deal. Anything less could be fatal for the Liberal Democrats and leave New Labour as tarnished as the Tories in Scotland. Locally the Labour/Liberal pact is known as "Orkney Fudge" and Jim Wallace as "Faint Heart".

Rod Stewart Liddon. Glenhinnisdal, Snizort, Isle of Skye.

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1999.

Most recent revision, 21 June 1999