The First Minister has written to David Cameron calling for a moratorium on the planned £3 billion sell-off until after next year’s vote. But the SNP leader said yesterday that if the UK government presses ahead with the privatisation, expected within weeks, he would reverse it in the event of a Yes vote next year.
However, there was confusion last night about the potential cost to the Scottish taxpayer and the mechanism which would be used to bring Royal Mail back into public hands. A future Scottish Government may not have the authority to buy out what would be a UK-based private firm and could be faced with establishing its own postal service.
The surprise announcement came as the SNP leader was pressed on the issue by Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown at First Minister’s Questions yesterday. “Is there a clear commitment from this First Minister to re-nationalise – and I emphasise the words re-nationalise – the Royal Mail?” Mr Brown asked.
Mr Salmond said: “An independent Scotland I lead – because it will be a decision of the Scottish people – will bring the Royal Mail and the postal service back into public ownership.”
The increasingly “big state” approach north of the Border includes the commitment to free university education, personal care for the elderly, prescriptions and bus travel for OAPs.
Opponents have accused Mr Salmond of seizing on the postal sell-off out of political opportunism, but Scottish political expert Dr Peter Lynch, of Stirling University, said last night that the growing divergence between Scotland the UK is “as plain as the nose on your face”.
He said: “That’s been the story of devolution since 1999 through free personal care and the Labour government in Scotland, with the Lib Dems, nationalising the private Jubilee hospital in Clydebank.”
Unions have already threatened strike action over the privatisation being undertaken despite Royal Mail profits of more than £400 million last year.
The UK government plans to sell a majority stake in Royal Mail. The Post Office was separated from Royal Mail in 2012 and is not for sale.
Mr Salmond said the Conservative-led coalition is “deeply out of touch” with the feelings of people in rural Scotland.
He said. “A privatised service will be more concerned with increasing costs of services and could damage Scotland, where the Royal Mail is the lifeblood of rural communities.
“Royal Mail is a shared asset which belongs to Scotland as much as the rest of the UK and therefore I’ve written to the Prime Minister asking him to place a moratorium on the sale of the Royal Mail until after next year’s referendum.”
Labour’s shadow minister for postal affairs Ian Murray, said: “This is yet another off the cuff, uncosted promise by Alex Salmond. The SNP have committed to maintaining the six-day-a-week, one price goes anywhere service should Scotland become independent so the First Minister must tell us how much of the historic Royal Mail pension deficit he will take on, how many staff the Royal Mail will employ, how much will a stamp cost?”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that the announcement would effectively break up the Royal Mail.
Independence debate ‘leaves people cold’
THE “arid” constitutional row over independence has left people “cold”, a leading Labour figure will say today.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander will add that the debate over Scotland’s future has seen politicians fail to focus on issues that concern the public most.
A poll earlier this week suggested Scottish voters are unmoved by the fierce political skirmishing, with no change registered in the large “No” lead over the summer months.
Mr Alexander will make the comments in a speech in Paisley tonight, as Labour prepares for its annual conference in Brighton.
He will say: “Stepping back over the summer from the day- to-day exchanges confirmed to me just how arid much of the contemporary constitutional debate has become. In the last year alone we’ve seen a debate characterised all too often by shallowness, grievance and personal vitriol.”
He will add: “There is a real risk that the vitriol which at times has infected the debate will not simply fade post 18th September 2014, and when people look beneath the surface of whatever numbers define the result, it will not be a pleasant view.”