Skat News April 2000
The meeting took place on Saturday 29th January in Tigh na Sgire, Portree under the Chairmanship of John Campbell with 34 members present. The Chairman commented that the period since the EGM had been constructive with two very good demonstrations taking place with many people putting in a lot of good work, so the campaign could go forward in an optimistic way. The Treasurer presented the accounts for the years 1998 and 1999, which had now been prepared with the valuable assistance of Brian Forehand.
The following Officers were elected:
Chairman: Ron Shapland
Vice Chairmen: John Campbell & Andy Anderson
Secretary: Myrna Scott-Moncrieff
Treasurer: Brian Forehand
The Chairman spoke of the future of the campaign and asked for members' views on the way forward. After discussion the members voted by 31 in favour with 3 abstentions to maintain as the principal aim the total abolition of the tolls, while accepting that this may have to be achieved by a strategy of tackling small individual goals. Examples of this were the petition to Holyrood relating to concessions for hauliers and crofters, and the pressure being exerted for the publishing of the, long overdue, DTZ Pieda report, while much would be made of the Government's dilemma on what to do about VAT on bridge tolls.
It was reported that it was intended to have a presence at the Annual Conferences of all political parties as this was an excellent opportunity to put the case and solicit support from all MSPs'. Many suggestions were put forward for future demonstrations which would be detailed at later meetings.
Members attended the SNP Conference and at the SKAT stall Myrna and Milly were able to meet and talk with MSPs'. They included Brian Adam, Mike Russell (Business Manager), Kenny Macaskill (Shadow Transport Minister), Andrew Wilson & Irene McGugan. They heard SKAT member Irene McGugan MSP speak at the conference, calling for a public enquiry into the entire bridge project. The SKAT delegation earlier this year had been advised that more opportunities would be found using Parliament and its Committees. In particular, Audit and Transport & Environment.
Myrna & Andy attended the Conference in Edinburgh on the 10th-12th March and were able to raise issues concerning the tolls and date stamping of the books of concessionary tickets with MSPs', delegates and party supporters. Finance Minister Jack McConnel gave them a sympathetic hearing, as did Peter Peacock. The petition concerning the request for reinstatement of concessions for hauliers and crofters was available and signed by many people. The level of toll displayed on our information posters did not fail to elicit expressions of disbelief. One Labour delegate commented that "he thought we had sorted this out". Myrna replied "that is why we are here, it hasn't been sorted". Many more at the conference have now been made aware'of it due to the presence of SKAT.
A fringe meeting was held on the 24th March in Dundee, which was attended by 25 delegates to the conference. The meeting was addressed by Charles Kennedy MP who referred to the matter of court procedures, and that he was awaiting a meeting with the new Lord Advocate. He also stressed that VAT should not be levied on tolls. Mike Rumbles MSP, the Rural Affairs Spokesperson, then spoke about the continuing commitment of Liberal Democrats for abolition of the tolls, and he considered it to be a high priority for the partnership with Labour. He was of the opinion that there was a majority within the Scottish Parliament for abolition. He emphasised PFls should be value for money, which was not the case with the Skye Bridge. lan lenkins MSP also attended and contributed to the meeting. Ron Shapland outlined the current position and answered the many searching questions that were put by the very supportive audience who were critical of the overall scheme.
Since the last issue, matters European have moved on. I have not had a date for Court, as was reported in the Press & Journal, but I have been notified that a single judge has been appointed to look into my complaint, which is the next stage of the procedure. After I initially contacted the European Court of Human Rights I received my application forms on which to give details of the complaint. This was duly completed and sent back. The reply was less than encouraging and it completely ignored any reference to Lord Roger, which was the main thrust of my appeal.
My reply to the Court was sent by return post correcting the omission. The next communication from ECHR informed me of my case number and the date of my submission; this was in reference to the 6 month rule. Interestingly the date given was the date I sent for the ECHR booklet in October 1995, so I am well within the 6 months. A short time after this, the Herald published an article by David Ross about the letter from the Lord Advocate to the Procurator in Dingwall, sent in 1995. It seems that this letter is to remain secret for 75 years, which is a wee while too late for me to see it. If I survived that long I would be 125 years old and would probably have forgotten by then why I wanted to see it in tile first place!
The letters to and from Europe were sent to Professor Alan Miller, top Human Rights Lawyer in Scotland, for his opinion. I was delighted to be informed that the Professor was offering to take my case. To have a lawyer of his calibre offering to take my case certainly starts to restore my faith in things legal and perhaps justice will prevail after all.
Hush Mclntyre (MAC)
Over 70 people assembled on the 6th November to assist with the driving of a flock of sheep across the bridge to highlight the outrageous cost of hauliers using the bridge to take animals to market. Afterwards a rally was held in the Kyleakin Village Hall when John F Munro MSP, Jamie MacGrigor MSP, Cllr. Margaret Paterson and Hector Macleod of the Crofters Union all spoke of the problems of Crofting at the present time and the need for assistance, of which the re-instatement of the CalMac concessions for livestock and feed was one example
A demonstration was staged at Uig and Armadale where we met with Sarah Boyack, Transport & Environment Minister, who agreed to meet SKAT in Edinburgh and we look forward to receiving a confirmed date. SKAT also met with the Justice Minister, Jim Wallace when he visited Skye. The possibility of a community buy-out of the Bridge concession was discussed, more a stunt than a starter, however the valuable opportunity was taken to raise SKAT legal matters with the Minister.
One of the means of protest that SKAT has used to highlight its case has been to challenge the law in the Scottish Courts. Almost 500 normally law-abiding citizens chose this route, not a step we took lightly since most of us could ill afford to have a criminal record. Right at the outset we were told by one of the lawyers advising us that: "You will experience the full weight of due legal process, do not confuse this with justice".
At the time we did not take his words to heart, now older and wiser we are totally disillusioned with the system that most of us were proud of before the campaign. The injustice of the system has led to cases currently before the European Court of Human Rights. Four years after the offences we stilt have cases awaiting High Court hearings, indeed there are two individuals who waited two years for a trial, and two years further on are waiting for a stated case from the Sheriff. One of the worst examples of injustice is the case of Rt. Hon. Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. This judge was head of the prosecution service when our cases were initiated. He went on to elect himself to the bench and sit in judgement on cases began when he was head of prosecution - justice indeed. The system eventually gave up; sheer numbers caused the Crown to abandon most prosecutions. The law written for the scheme is no longer applied by the police, but this is far from the end of the legal fight In addition to the Human Rights and High Court cases we are currently working on a submission to the European Court of Justice. We believe that this project breached European Law on several counts.
SKAT always recognised that ultimately politicians write the law. We know that even a complete victory in the Courts would be short lived if it were the will of the Government that our community should pay the toll. Courts may well identify faults in the law, politicians can re-write it to rectify these. So why should the politicians care, why should they remove the iniquitous burden from our community? The first and clearest argument is that imposition of tolls at the level they are set at in an area recognised by Europe as extremely disadvantaged, is unjust The Skye Bridge was a political experiment, the first of several PFI schemes. We believe that our area was chosen because the Government of the day did not expect effective opposition. The needs of the community were treated with contempt for example the public enquiry was held AFTER the contract had been awarded. We have had indications from politicians of all political persuasions that they recognise this basic injustice. Donald Dewar found money to reduce the cost of a book of 20 tickets then froze the tolls at 1999 prices. We are grateful, but this does nothing to stop our "bread and butter" tourist traffic turning away when faced with the full toll. it also does little to help our friends in the Western Isles most of whom cannot justify the purchase of a book of tickets that must be used within one year.
The second and probably more effective argument is that it would be cheaper to buy out the contract than to continue subsidy at current levels. Both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit office concluded, after examining the scheme, that the taxpayer had obtained very poor value for money. Estimates of income to the Skye Bridge Consortium and their backers range from £50-£80 million over the life of the concession. That money will be taken from our community and a proportion of it will end up in America. We have looked into the economics of this contract and estimate that the taxpayer would benefit to the tune of £25 million if the contract were bought out now. How can this be? The argument is not simple hut is based on indisputable fact. We have a separate leaflet which sets this out and can be obtained from:-Ron Shapland, 39 Camus Cross, Isle of Skye.
Government spokesmen have said repeatedly that buying out the contract is not possible. We say "Where there is a will there is a way" to suggest the Government is powerless is simply ridiculous.
Evidently the European Commission has been considering proceedings since 1988, before the Skye Bridge contract was assigned, against countries not levying VAT on tolls. Knowing this the Government of the day still went ahead to set a toll regime that would ensure that any subsequent VAT would take tolls well above previous ferry fares. Sarah Boyack MSP has been unable to confirm that VAT will not be added to the existing tolls, which, if inflicted, would add f2 to a return car journey, raising the cost to £13.40. We will continue to press for any extra casts to be absorbed within the present charges, as the increase would be more than it currently costs to cross the other Scottish Toll Bridges. Sarah Boyack has now told us that this is a matter for Westminster and not the Scottish Parliament, and that we would not be told as to what arguments would be presented by the British Government against VAT being levied. We have now found out that the information presented to the European Advocate General is inaccurate and Skye has not been presented correctly, and that we should not have VAT on the tolls because there is no free alternative route.
The SKAT campaign is taking advice from Lib Dem and SNP MSPs in appreciating that the arrival of the Scottish Parliament provides new avenues to redress the injustice of the tolling on the Skye bridge. One of these is the Petitions Committee. SKAT supports the petition submitted by the Western Isles Council requesting, among other things, a separate discounted scheme for transport of livestock and feedstock. SKAT has also submitted a petition; "Given that justification for the level of tolling on the Skye Bridge has been based on the ferry rates, the petitioner, SKAT, therefore requests in the first instance that the Scottish Parliament negotiate with Skye Bridge Ltd. So that the concession given by CalMac to livestock floats on the Kyle-Kyleakin ferry whereby floats were not charged a fare when empty to be honoured on the Skye Bridge and therefore afford some relief to our beleaguered crofters and hauliers."
"In the second instance and with the same aim, we request that the Scottish parliament negotiate with Skye Bridge Ltd. To re-instate the historical concession given by CalMac whereby hay haulage was charged half fare. In the third instance, we request the Scottish Parliament negotiate with Skye Bridge Ltd. To institute a similar half fare (toll) concession for livestock feeds". The successful negotiation of these concessions would benefit crofters in reduced charges; would benefit hauliers in reduced costs and would indirectly benefit the welfare of island livestock. Hauliers are facing increased costs for fuel, licensing and complying with EU regulations. We believe there is a social and moral responsibility on the Scottish Executive to have these concessions that have historical precedence re-instated and provide some modest relief for our crofters and hauliers."
Future SKAT meetings - All at 6.Oopm
|Monthly Aim: Organise meetings with SNP MSPs|
|May 13th||Portree||Dr Thoms/Tommy|
|Monthly Aim: Lobby Scottish Parliament. Organise meeting with Sarah Boyack.|
|Monthly Aim: Attend Conservative party Conference. SKAT News|
|Monthly Aim; Plan Questionnaire & do survey on tourists.|
|Monthly Aim: Organise 5th Anniversary. Prepare mail-shot|
|September 16th||Portree||Dr Thoms/Tommy|
|October 14th||Bridge||5th Anniversary Demo|
If you cannot take a meeting please change with someone else.
General Secretary - Myrna Scott-Moncrieff
Tel: 01470 522122
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 2000.
Most recent revision, 26 April 2000