This week, Alex Salmond told Scots that their postal service would get worse if they voted for independence. Of course he didn’t actually say those words, but it’s the effect of his proposal. At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, he said that an independent Scotland led by him would bring the Royal Mail and postal service back into public ownership.
Let’s just leave aside the hundreds of millions that would cost for a minute, as well as the complexities of breaking up a UK wide service and defining the Scottish share. The biggest problem that would arise would be that there would no longer be a UK wide universal postal service at the same cost six days per week. At the moment, wherever you live in the UK, your birthday card to your auntie in Bristol costs exactly the same as your birthday card to your Granny in Munlochy. If we have two different postal operators in an independent Scotland, how can that possibly be the case?
If, however, Scotland votes to stay in the UK, that universal 6 day same cost service is enshrined in legislation, the Postal Services Act 2011, piloted through Parliament by our own Ed Davey when he was the minister. That guarantee could only be removed by a further act of Parliament.
It’s clear from Wednesday’s Big Debate on BBC Scotland that the nationalists are making wildly misleading claims over Royal Mail privatisation. They were making out that post offices would be at risk, which, of course, is completely wrong. The Post Office is not for sale, and, in fact, the successive Liberal Democrat ministers have made the Post Office network more secure. I challenged one of them on Twitter to get the reply “Semantics” back. Semantics? Try total inaccuracy.
If Scotland stays in the UK, it will have a 6 day postal service at the same cost across the whole of the UK, even in the most rural areas. The establishment of a new publicly owned service after independence may well guarantee the same service across Scotland, but can’t do the same across the UK. We would be worse off from the start. Any person or business who posts things across the border, or to Wales or Northern Ireland, would lose out.
Willie Rennie had this to say on Alex Salmond’s plans:
The First Ministers surprise announcement that he would break up the Royal Mail will stun the millions of people who rely on a single-fee, UK-wide service. The First Minister wants a separate postal service, separate postage costs and to separate Scotland from our successful UK single market.
I am appalled that Alex Salmond’s independence plans would see Scotland opt-out of the universal service obligation. This enshrines in law an equal six-day-a-week service for every part of the UK. People living in rural areas or with relatives and customers across the UK can be in no doubt that the SNP have the wrong priorities for Scotland.
Alex Salmond should explain this reckless move to the thousands of people across the UK who rely on a UK-wide postal service.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings