Claim That SKAT Are Split Over Robbie
Claims have been made that internal tensions over strategy, the accounting of thousands of pounds of campaign funds and the role of Robbie the Pict all threaten to tear SKAT apart, according to some members.
SKAT has been campaigning for the removal of the tolls on the Skye bridge for more than three and a half years and has won the respect of many for keeping successive governments under pressure on the issue. But internal difficulties have been growing.
In broad terms there is a difference of opinion between those who support Robbie the Pict in his belief that it is only in the courts that the Skye bridge legislation be shown to be fatally flawed, thereby removing the tolls for ever. Others believe that equal effort must be put into political campaigning. Some members of the press and those who are not so friendly towards our campaign have been trying to blow this disagreement out of proportion.
Many SKAT members were confused by Robbie the Pict's public announcement in early May that he was giving up his full-time work for the cause; but then angered by his public statement during the Partnership for Scotland negotiations that Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace need not demand the removal of the tolls as a price for coalition as the toll regime would soon be defeated in the courts.
His appearance on the recent delegation to the Scottish Parliament also became a bone of contention and SKAT convener Drew Millar was accused of securing an invitation for Robbie against the wishes of a SKAT meeting. Mr Millar, insists he did not ignore the views of the membership in getting Robbie the Pict to go to Edinburgh. "I said to our MSP John Farquhar Munro that I was disappointed that SKAT members had not wanted Robbie to go. That was all. John then invited Robbie, although I understand that Robbie had been invited by another MSP anyway."
Some of Robbie's critics also point to the amount of money that has been spent on the legal campaign. Concern over this issue now centres on a lack of proper accounting for figures up to £6000. For a campaign which has been going on for so many years, and with the extortionate costs of our legal system, fees that run into thousands of pounds are not unrealistic.
Mr Andy Anderson, the first campaigner to be tried for refusing to pay the tolls, is one who is determined to clear the matter up: "I am not saying that there is anybody to blame or indeed that there is anything wrong, but I have been appointed treasurer and as far as I am concerned there are considerable amounts of money not properly accounted for and this has dragged on for months. It simply must be resolved. On Saturday, I will be proposing that the executive members of SKAT are given a week to sort it out."
Another leading light in SKAT who has also been a critic of Robbie the Pict is Mr John Campbell, but he sees things differently: "There is no money missing. What is missing is the paperwork. That can easily be reconstructed from the bank statements and we will do that."
Drew said that the person who had held the post of Treasurer before Andy had been unwell for some time and as a result when the accounts were presented to the AGM last December they had been perhaps not satisfactory. However, it had been agreed that the balance was correct and they had taken the accounts as they are
"This is an internal matter which has been blown out of all proportion because of some expenses that were claimed restrospectively by Robbie."
"There is no question of Robbie or anybody else getting money they were not entitled to, they simply did not have access to the funds. Any claims were supported by receipts or invoices. There are very serious internal tensions within Skat, but what would you expect? We are all bloody-minded people otherwise we wouldn't be doing what we have been doing for the past three and half years."
"I hope SKAT doesn't split because after all we all want the same thing, the tolls removed from the bridge. There are differences of opinion as how that is best achieved, but we should be able to embrace them all."
Robbie himself said yesterday he certainly didn't want to be the reason for a split in SKAT. "I would like to stress that I didn't receive a single penny which had not been spent. As to the question of strategy, I would be the first to admit that I am absolutely focused on working through the courts. I genuinely believe that is the only way we will be able to expose the profound wrong that has been done."
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 19 July 1999