By Angela Haggerty
Pressure is building on Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to address the privatisation of Royal Mail after Labour-controlled Inverclyde Council passed a motion supporting the SNP’s position of re-nationalisation.
Despite a vote in favour of re-nationalisation at the Labour party conference last month, the UK party leadership have ruled it out.
Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond pledged that Royal Mail would be brought back into public ownership under a government led by him in an independent Scotland. Inverclyde Council passed a motion on Thursday confirming its opposition to the privatisation of the service.
Ms Lamont has so far been silent on the issue and is facing calls from SNP MSP Stuart McMillan to address the controversial decision.
“Inverclyde Council’s welcome backing for the SNP position heaps the pressure on Johann Lamont who cannot keep ducking this issue for ever,” said Mr McMillan.
“The privatisation of the Royal Mail is a disaster for taxpayers and the SNP have promised that in an independent Scotland we will bring the service back into public ownership where it belongs.
He continued: “That position is the right thing for Scotland and has won the backing of Labour-run Inverclyde Council. Will Johann Lamont end her silence on this issue and back the SNP, or is she content with the sell-off that her bosses in Westminster are backing?”
The sale of Royal Mail was priced at £3.30 a share, which valued the company at £3.3bn. On its first day of conditional trading on Friday, shares rose 38 per cent to £4.55 and more than 225 million shares were traded, leading to criticism that the sale was priced too cheaply.
One stockbroker reported that its website was encountering problems because of the “unprecedented interest” in Royal Mail and concerns have been raised that the majority of shares were bought by big city investors instead of members of the public.
The UK government will raise nearly £2bn from the sale of up to 60 per cent of the company but could have taken in £750m more if it had started with the £4.55 share price that the first day’s trading finished on.
While the Scottish Government has pledged re-nationalisation it does not have the devolved powers to do so, leaving the option open only if Scotland becomes independent.
“Labour had the opportunity to stop the sell-off of the Royal Mail before it went through, but chose to do nothing,” said Mr McMillan.
“Only a Yes vote next year will protect the level of service that people in Scotland have relied on a publicly-owned Royal Mail to provide.”
Inverclyde Council’s SNP group leader, Chris Mceleny, added: “As the Labour administration knows, for the Scottish Government to re-nationalise the Royal Mail in Scotland the Scottish Parliament needs the economic levers that only independence brings. Therefore I welcome the fact that they are planning for a Yes vote in next year’s referendum.”
UK ministers have defended the controversial privatisation of Royal Mail – something Margaret Thatcher refused to do in the 1980s – but the move has been condemned by unions.
General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, Billy Hayes, described the sell off as a “tragedy” and a “sham” and said that UK Business Secretary Vince Cable had made “one of the stupidest decisions he is ever likely to make as a politician”.