Labour whip quits to axe bridge tolls

LABOUR'S chief whip at Holyrood today announced he had quit his post in order to vote against the Scottish Executive and abolish tolls on the Forth Road Bridge.

Dunfermline West MSP Scott Barrie said he had no alternative but to represent the people who elected him by voting for an SNP motion to scrap the charges on the Forth and Tay bridges.

Mr Barrie's resignation was a major blow to the Executive, which was already facing the possibility of an embarrassing defeat on the SNP motion.

At least three other Labour MSPs were expected to join Mr Barrie and two Liberal Democrats said they too would vote against the Executive.

Mr Barrie announced his resignation during the debate. He told MSPs in the chamber: "I believe absolutely fundamentally that tolls on the Forth and Tay should be removed.

"I will not be supporting the Executive today. To underline that I yesterday gave my resignation as the Labour whip to the First Minister. I have no alternative but to support the people who elected me to this place and vote against the Executive."

Mr Barrie dismissed the Executive's argument that scrapping the toll would increase congestion. And he said the traffic had flowed better when staff collecting the tolls went on strike for the day.

Mr Barrie also criticised the standard of public transport for commuters from Fife to Edinburgh. He said: "I use public transport and I have to say the train service over the past five weeks has been deplorable. I hate to say it, but public transport alternatives are simply not there and vast numbers of my constituents have no alternative but to use the Forth Road Bridge."

Dunfermline East Labour MSP Helen Eadie said she would also vote for the SNP motion because she had campaigned for scrapping the tolls all her political life.

And party colleagues Kirkcaldy MSP Marilyn Livingstone and Fife Central MSP Christine May were expected to join her.

Liberal Democrats Iain Smith and Andrew Arbuckle said they too would rebel. The SNP argued since tolls had already been scrapped on the Skye and Erskine bridges, it was unfair to maintain them on the Forth and Tay.

SNP Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP Tricia Marwick said: "The toll money has been used since 1995 as the cash cow to fund transport projects which should be the responsibility of government."

But Transport Minister Tavish Scott said studies had shown removing tolls would mean more congestion. He said: "

Removing these tolls increases congestion, which increases emissions, which increases our impact upon the global environment."

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