Alex Salmond and the SNP will say and do anything to get people to put a cross in the ‘Yes’ box next September.
Ian Murray is MP for Edinburgh South and Labour’s shadow postal affairs minister
This week the dreadful privatisation of the Royal Mail was signed, sealed and delivered against a backdrop of widespread opposition from those who fear for the future of our postal service.
And whilst the SNP at their conference in Perth this weekend will be, rightly, quick to defend the Royal Mail and the universal postal service, they have failed to answer critical questions on stamp prices, how the postal network will be maintained, as well as how many staff will be employed and how their pensions will be paid in their desired separate Scotland.
Labour has opposed the sell-off outright and campaigned side-by-side with staff to try to stop it. From our vigorous opposition during the passage of the Postal Services Bill in 2011 which enabled privatisation I, along with Labour colleagues, have collected signatures for petitions, asked questions in Parliament, and have used every opportunity to highlight why this ideologically driven fire-sale should not have gone ahead.
Meanwhile, the first minister and his colleagues stayed silent. That was until last month when he called for a ‘moratorium’ on the privatisation, until after the referendum. Why did the first minister not oppose the sell-off outright? Why wait until the referendum? Why must he insist on playing politics with one of Scotland’s most important services? Why must it always be about putting Scotland on pause?
A few days later he moved from calling for a moratorium opposing the privatisation to saying the SNP would renationalise the service if people voted yes. This was an ill-thought through off-the -cuff statement that actually made the privatisation more attractive. Investors would see a possible yes vote as an opportunity not only to sell the most expensive part of the Universal Service Obligation (USO), but getting a ransom payment for the Scottish parts of the Royal Mail.
Alex Salmond’s promise of renationalisation at his weekly question time came just sixteen hours after his finance secretary said he could not commit to such a policy as he would not know the shape or format of the Royal Mail post-privatisation and how much it would cost.
And now the share price of the company has rocketed, increasing the value of Royal Mail by over 40 per cent, further pressure has been heaped on the SNP’s promise. You would have thought that they may have even contacted the Royal Mail or the Business Department to seek information? Well, no. Their officials do not even know how much it will cost.
Let me help them out. It is estimated it will cost Scottish tax payers in excess of £1.25bn. This is not including the significant subsidy or considerable price rises to deal with maintaining the six day a week, one price goes anywhere service within Scotland’s rural geography.
So, exactly how would they fund the purchase? How will they deal with the billions of historic and current pension fund deficits? Yet again, the SNP has cynically used an important issue to make their false case for separation, their argument that the grass is always greener on the other side.
Ultimately, the people of Scotland have the right to know what sort of postal service they will have should they chose to separate from the rest of the UK. From the small businessman in Inverness who posts his products across the UK, to the pensioner in Stirling who’s reliant on a timely service for her hospital appointment letters – they need certainty.
It is clear that Alex Salmond and the SNP will say and do anything to get people to put a cross in the ‘Yes’ box next September, even when they know in private that what the promise on Royal Mail renationalisation is neither true or workable.
The UK postal service is the epitome of how the UK is stronger together as it does not matter if you live in Shetland or Southampton, Edinburgh or Eastbourne, you get the same service at the same price.
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