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Letters / Show us the formula

I note your clarification of Robert Smith’s allegation of Scottish Government ‘legerdemain’ on ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’ (RET) for ferry travel to and from Scottish Islands (RET Bombshell; SN, 03/04/15).

I don’t for a minute doubt the accuracy of your comment, however, a fundamental inequality, an injustice, is being perpetrated against the northern isles.

An SIC study for Our Islands Our Future, which found Shetland overpays tax versus government funding receipts by over £80 million per annum, is the context within which the SNP Scottish government is, effectively, saying:

“Because you have so much farther to travel, making it so much more expensive for you than it is for other Scottish islanders and because the ships don’t sail during the day, forcing the additional expense of cabins on you as well, we’re not going to give you anything.”

Mr Smith claims the SNP Scottish Government has manipulated the RET calculation formula to make it appear the northern isles would be worse off with RET than with the existing subsidy arrangement so that no extra money need be paid.

However, if at any time since 2007, the RET formula would have benefited Orkney and Shetland and the formula has since changed to make that not so, then, clearly, Shetland and Orkney have been disadvantaged as a result of an action which took place during the SNP’s term of government.

You have pointed out that the formula in the 2011 report to which Mr Smith refers originates from 2008 and has been revised several times since. Assuming that to be the case:

The SNP were a minority government in 2008, dependent on collaboration with other parties, notably, the Liberal Democrats and local MSP Tavish Scott, to keep them in government.

However, once the electorate gave the SNP their head in 2012, out went the collaboration and in came the more authoritarian style of SNP government with which we are now familiar, accompanied by centralisation of vital services such as the fire brigade and the police, to Edinburgh.

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The northern isles, in particular, Shetland, are suffering under this unfettered SNP regime, due to under-funding of Shetland’s education system by £19.3 million per annum, requiring that money to be drawn from the council’s oil reserves.

Not content with that, the SNP Scottish Government also seized the SIC’s housing support grant of £2.3 million per annum, paid by Westminster to compensate the council for loan interest, incurred at government request, to accommodate the 1970s oil boom.

The housing support grant money was paid via Holyrood after devolution and the arrangement was honoured by all Scottish administrations until housing minister Margaret Burgess stopped the payment after the SNP’s re-election in 2012 – it didn’t take them long.

Tactlessly, she invited the SIC to use their oil reserves to pay off the loan – the very thing the SNP castigated Westminster for – squandering oil money for expediency, as opposed to investing in a sovereign/ community wealth fund.

So this latest little piece of political prestidigitation by the SNP comes as little surprise and since we are all bandying about the term RET, what exactly is meant by it, how do they work it out? I don’t know.

What I do know is that if I and three other people (say, a family of four) decide to drive a return journey of 360 miles (2 x 180 miles), it will cost me about £60 for petrol and adding on, say, 50 per cent for servicing and other mileage-related costs, the entire journey will cost about £90, certainly, less than £100.

People don’t buy cars, specifically, to “go Sooth on the boat”, they already own them and have already paid for their MOT, licence, insurance, etc., whether or not they decide to take their car with them on holiday or leave it sitting on the road, outside their house.

Accountants refer to such costs as ‘Capital’ and ‘Overheads’, ‘sunk costs’ which have been paid, anyway, and are thus irrelevant to the decision of whether or not to ‘drive’ to Aberdeen.

Furthermore, there is no discount on a car licence fee to compensate for the absence of a road between Lerwick and Aberdeen, the government assumes, falsely, that the road exists.

Licence fees and petrol tax are used, ostensibly, to provide roads; roads which many Shetlanders are unable to use because they simply cannot afford to take their car on the ferry to Aberdeen.

It follows that it would be disingenuous to include such costs in the RET calculation, so let’s have a look at this wonderful formula, then we can all see how the SNP Scottish Government arrives at their conclusion that ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’ would be more expensive for the Northern Isles than the existing subsidy.

So, Messrs. Mackay, MacKenzie, Skene et al, show us the formula – now, please – before the election!

John Tulloch
Lyndon
Arrochar

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