The Holyrood Labour group were branded ‘leaderless, clueless and spineless’ after turning their back on calls for the Westminster coalition to take action in order to help hard pressed motorists and firms in Scotland.
The party, led by Iain Gray, refused to back a motion tabled by Transport Minister Keith Brown which called upon the Westminster coalition to cancel a planned rise in duty which could see prices rise by another 4p per litre.
Despite Labour’s refusal to back the calls, the Scottish Parliament backed the SNP motion by 75 votes to 3. Holyrood also called on the UK Treasury to introduce a fuel duty regulator in order to use revenues from higher oil prices to help support households and businesses.
Welcoming the result, SNP Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP said it showed that pressure for action was reaching a critical mass.
Mr Brown described the Labour stance as “astonishing” and said Iain Gray’s party would regret placing themselves on the wrong side of ordinary families, businesses and hauliers.
Commenting, Mr Brown said: “This debate was an opportunity for the parties in the Scottish Parliament to unite and put pressure on the UK government to take the action that people want. The fuel duty increase must be scrapped and a fuel duty regulator introduced as promised.
“The Tory government must now listen to the views of people across Scotland who can no longer afford the extortionate fuel prices.
“Labour’s failure to back a fair fuel regulator shows that in May voters have a clear choice between an experienced SNP government on the side of the people of Scotland and a petulant Labour party.
Mr Brown also accused Labour of supporting an extra tax take by London. The SNP Minister claimed that the amendment proposed by Labour to reduce VAT was inadequate.
Mr Brown added: “Their own amendment failed to address the issue of increasing oil prices – which would wipe out any benefits that may occur – and wouldn’t make any difference to businesses recoup the VAT anyway. Nor does it address the fundamental issue that the VAT increase should be abolished across the board.
“Just like with the recent budget vote Labour put ill-thought puerile political opposition before the national interest – before the interests of ordinary families and struggling businesses.”
The motion received backing from the Lib Dems and Tories, despite their own parties being in government at Westminster.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said the UK economy was “hurting” because of the surging price of fuel.
He said: “I think that will be a matter that the UK government have to deal with in the coming budget and I hope that today in our parliament we can make clear that here are the practical measures the UK government could change in order to provide some degree of relief.”
The Conservatives labeled the Labour group “leaderless, clueless and spineless” after the vote. Their MSP Jackson Carlaw described the increases in fuel prices as “prejudicial” to the economy in Scotland and said he did not feel “slavishly bound” to endorse everything the Tory-led UK coalition said.
Labour’s Charlie Gordon said: “We are focused on practical assistance to the families that are hurting today now.
“The families out there want more than talk, they want more than broken manifesto policies.
“They want more than the impotent politics of grievance. They want lower fuel prices now.”
The motion passed was as follows:
Fuel Duty – That the Parliament notes that petrol and diesel prices in Scotland are among the highest in Europe and have reached record levels and that the planned rise in fuel duty by the UK Government in April 2011 could increase prices by a further 4p per litre; recognises that such increases impose an additional burden on households and businesses at a time of rising living costs and could undermine the economic recovery; notes the UK Government’s proposal to introduce a 5p-per-litre fuel discount scheme for island communities, and calls on the UK Government to cancel the rise in fuel duty planned for April and implement a fuel duty regulator that would ensure that some of the additional revenue that the UK Government will receive from increased revenues due to recent increases in oil prices is used to reduce fuel duty to help support Scottish households and businesses.