Friday, 24 September 2010

The Royal Mail should remain a public service, not privatised

Published: 24 September, 2010

THE SNP Government has laid out a forward-looking programme for this session which will have delivered 80 per cent of our manifesto pledges by May 2011.

This includes a new item of making Scottish Water an income earner for Scots of future generations as a public corporation.

The news from the coalition in London, on the other hand, was bleak in this London party-conference 

Over the years I have campaigned on a range of Royal Mail and Post 
Office issues and opposed the possible loss of the universal service obligation (USO) which is so important to our communities in far-flung areas. Now the Lib Dem and Tory coalition has signalled full privatisation of Royal Mail. Who can trust the Scottish Lib Dem pledge to secure the USO?

This goes much further than Labour, which also wanted to get rid of Royal Mail, and it could be the beginning of the end with job losses, service cuts and deterioration in the working conditions of postal workers. The service provided by Royal Mail is a public service and it should remain so.

If presented with the choice in a free Scotland we would co-operate with our neighbours but maintain a universal service obligation in a Scottish postal service.

I get letters from government departments from other than Royal Mail carriers. No wonder Royal Mail is running at a loss.

We all know it costs more to deliver to rural areas than to cities but the whole point of Royal Mail is that everyone can use it at a reasonable price. It is not only individuals but, crucially, business in rural Scotland that will suffer.

It is ironic that this policy is being driven by the Liberal Democrats. Did those voters in the North of Scotland who supported them in the general election vote for further reductions in their postal services?

Do you remember the Lib Dems’ “save our post offices” campaign? Now that policy page has been removed from their website.

Are they now regretting such a pledge given the likelihood many more post offices may have to close under the new proposals?

THE Holyrood economy, energy and tourism committee has called for evidence on the future of the enterprise network.

Early headlines show quite a reaction. Some say break up Highland and Islands Enterprise, some say merge it with Scottish Enterprise and others ask does it ever take seriously the needs of the more remote areas furth of Inverness.

For example, the Western Isles Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, called for control over HIE funds for its island needs. HIE replied that more was spent per head in the Hebrides than around Inverness. Well of course it is, but that may still not meet the islands’ needs. Similarly small population centres like Caithness need clear evidence that HIE is committed to giving our economy more priority.

As deputy convener of the EET committee, I want to see a genuine view of enterprise promotion focused on the needs of disparate urban and rural areas. The evidence sessions will include one in Skye, the rest will be held in Edinburgh.

AS requested by John O’Groat Journal, I submitted the names of the group of MPs elected by crofters and their supporters in 1885 as my Highland Heroes. They did not make it to the hundred in the supplement last week. Yet they did much to spur on Gladstone’s Government to produce the Crofters Scotland Act of 1886.

I recall from a year ago attending a commemoration of Thomas Telford, the engineer, in the town house in Wick. We were shown the portraits and pictures there, among them Sir John Pender MP.

Few recall he was knocked out by John MacDonald Cameron, the Land Leaguer in 1885, and changed his spots from Liberal to Tory and was retuned in the Khaki election of 1900.

Who were these crofters’ MPs and why are they heroes?

Dr Gavin B. Clark was elected in Caithness in 1885 and was only defeated in 1900. He was a friend of Karl Marx and a supporter of Boer independence.

John Macdonald Cameron, a Gaelic speaker born in Dornoch who had lived in Saltburn before gaining worldwide engineering experience, was elected for the Northern Burghs comprising Wick, Dornoch, Tain, Dingwall, Cromarty and Kirkwall till 1900.

Sutherland voted in the radical local laird in 1885 but elected Angus Sutherland as Land League MP in 1886. Donald Macfarlane, previously a Parnellite MP in Ireland, was elected in Argyll in 1885 but was knocked out in 1886 in a sectarian campaign. He regained the seat in 1892. Inverness-shire elected local laird Charles Fraser Mackintosh in 1885 as a key member of the Land League.

In Ross-shire Dr Roderick Macdonald, from Skye, was re-elected in 1886 and was replaced by Mr Galloway-Weir in the 1890s.

These Land League MPs with Irish and radical support opposed the Gladstone Crofting Bill of 1886 because it did not go far enough to return the land to the people.

As I said in the Holyrood debate on the Crofting Bill last June: “The cherished view of the Land League was to ensure that every productive piece of land was put to good use and placed at the disposal of those who were able and willing to till the land.”

The Land League MPs voted against Gladstone because they wanted much more. On the other hand, Labour and Lib Dem MSPs voted in the 2010 Crofting Bill for fewer regulatory powers – unlike the active crofters who want rigorous regulation to ensure good land use.

We’ll see who the Highland Hero is, but the crofters’ members were up there with the best.

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