Salmond scores a massive own goal on Royal Mail

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 Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • My partner is a subpostmaster, and I am absolutely sick of various Lib Dem commentators (I am a member) trotting out this crap about protecting the network.

    The new pay structure basically chops about 30% off her salary, but because we’re talking about 11,000 self employed people, rather than a megalithic stroppy union, nobody gives a damn that post offices will, one by one, be starved out of business.

    Whatever Ed Davey, Vince or Jo. might have intended, the sad reality is that the money being “invested” is being spent on the POs bloated head office structures

  • Caron, you’re missing the key point here. The privatisation of the Royal Mail will, in time, inevitably result in a more expensive service in rural Scotland. The current pricing arrangement is only protected for the next decade, after that, well it would make good commercial sense to charge by cost of delivery…

    Salmond is simply trying to quell these fears as well as promote the majority Scottish view that this is yet another example of Westminster selling off the family silver at the expense of Scotland. It’s a bit cynical yes, but Salmond has always aligned his own interests with those of a substantial section of the Scottish electorate. It’s why he is First Minister and why the SNP have a majority in the Scottish Parliament.

    Privatising the Royal Mail is not in the interests of Scotland.

  • Peter Davies 21st Sep '13 - 3:52pm

    I’m surprised Salmond has admitted this but England continuing to subsidise Scottish mail after independence was never on the cards.

  • Peter Davies, England does not subsidise the Royal Mail in Scotland. Where do you get the idea it does from?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Sep '13 - 8:18am

    There are a lot of myths around England subsidising Scotland which are, frankly, nonsense. Scots pay their own way.

    Re privatisation, you have extra money allowing Royal Mail to do the improvements it needs while a universal service obligation is protected by statute. It can only be changed by an act of Parliament which isn’t likely to happen.

  • Peter Davies 22nd Sep '13 - 9:41am

    I am not suggesting anything about the overall financial balance. There are some areas like housing benefit where England gets more than its share. However, clearly the cost of delivering the average collected letter originating in Scotland is a lot more than the cost of a stamp.

  • Redndead is right. The government’s long term strategy is all about starving out the traditional public sector service. My wife has a good friend who is a postmistress and the bad-faith dealings she and her customers have had to endure in recent years is shocking. The ultimate aim is, I suspect, to privatise and sell off the juiciest bits to Tory cronies.

    Sure we still have – for the moment – the universal service obligation, but that is gradually being nibbled away. Private carriers do not have to meet the USB; they take the benefit of cherry-picking the best business in the City and elsewhere but if they get a letter addressed to the Highlands they can simply stick a stamp on it leaving the Royal Mail to take the loss that delivery to remote addresses inevitably entails. In the end the USB will be found to be ‘unsustainable’ in the face of ‘economic reality’.

    In the meantime, if the Royal Mail reports a loss or has to put up prices well above inflation the Tories can point to it a ‘proof’ that the public sector is inefficient. What I would like to see is either (a) alternative providers being required to provide their own universal delivery without recourse to the Royal Mail, or (b) the Royal Mail being entitled to charge a realistic market price for deliveries handled on behalf of others.

    Under the current arrangements they are simply being set up to fail so Salmond has a point.

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