Call for full inquiry into Bridge by MSPs

Members of the Scottish Parliament will be asked this week to support the calls for an independent inquiry into the whole Skye Bridge project.

A delegation from SKAT campaigners are to meet a cross-party gathering of MSPs on the Mound on Wednesday to press their case. They also hope to meet Jim Wallace, Deputy First Minister and Justice Minister, whose Liberal Democrat party had campaigned on a manifesto commitment to abolish the bridge tolls before the election last month.

Already Highland, Orkney and Western Isles councils have voted in favour of an inquiry as the only way to address the litany of unanswered questions which continue to attend the bridge.

But one of Donald Dewar's last acts as Secretary of State before the elections to the Scottish Parliament was to turn down the request made by the Highland Council. The Scottish Office argument was that the bridge had already been examined by both the National Audit Office and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, and that was sufficient scrutiny.

SKAT, however, argues that both the NAO and the PAC were stinging in their criticism for those parts of the project which they were allowed to examine, but there were many lines of inquiry they were unable to pursue, given their remits.

Portree councillor Drew Millar, who is the convener of SKAT, said yesterday: "Obviously we are delighted that as a body representing a diversity of Skye's interests, we have been granted this early opportunity to meet with MSPs. The response from the parties has been very helpful so far and we detect a willingness to hear us out on the serious effects of the high bridge tolls on Skye's economy."

He said that five SKAT representatives would each make prepared statements on different aspects of the bridge. He said that this would include material from the early contractual history of the project as well as input from the island's business leaders.

The delegation will also seek to bring the MSPs up to date on where their campaign now stands in relation to court action; what they see as their unanswerable case that the proper legal procedures were never followed in setting up the toll regime; that their civil rights were undermined; and the difficulty they now face in getting any court to hear their evidence.

Mr Millar said that even after three and a half years of campaigning, SKAT's weekly meetings still attracted more than 100 people and that MSPs and the Scottish Executive should recognise now that SKAT was not going to go away.

He said Wednesday's meeting with the MSPs in Edinburgh gave an ideal opportunity for Scotland's parliamentarians to push a little bit further at the door which SKAT had kept open all this time, and to finally eradicate what had been an awful blight and injustice. "After all it is not of their making," he said.

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1999.

Most recent revision, 21 June 1999