The SNP have cranked up the election campaign gears by launching a savage attack on the Westminster coalition, accusing the Tories and LibDems of reneging on a pre-election pledge to introduce a Fuel Duty Regulator.
With prices at some pumps in Scotland nearing £1.50 per litre SNP Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP has hit out at the UK government’s lack of action and described the prices in an oil rich country as “a national scandal”.
The surge in the cost of fuel is due to the duty increase introduced on New Year’s Day coupled with last week’s 2.5 per cent rise in VAT.
Mr Hosie insisted that the SNP would make the cost of fuel a central issue in the forthcoming election campaign and claimed that the election offered a “vital opportunity” for Scotland to gain more economic powers.
Mr Hosie said:
“The country is crying-out for action to bring down fuel prices, and the Holyrood election campaign is a vital opportunity for Scotland to demand that the Scottish Parliament has the economic and financial tools needed to act in the interests of our communities and the travelling public.
“Westminster – where the powers currently lie – has failed to do anything, and the Tories and Lib Dems have reneged on their pre-election promises. “
“This is a huge issue on the doorstep and the forecourts – and the SNP will make it a big issue in the election. It is a key illustration of why we need to build up Scotland’s Parliament, and equip it with the full powers of financial responsibility.”
The MP for Dundee East pointed out that cutting fuel by 10p per litre in Scotland would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion the UK Treasury is set to gain from North Sea Oil. Mr Hosie said that it was a scandal that oil-rich Scotland was paying some of the highest prices for fuel, he added:
“A Fuel Duty Regulator – which the Tories supported before the election – would bring duty down when oil prices go up. Cutting fuel by 10p per litre in Scotland would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.
“It’s a national scandal that, in Europe’s oil-richest country, Scots are paying among the highest fuel prices.”
Mr Hosie was speaking a day after First Minister Alex Salmond insisted the Scottish government was ready to take on Downing Street in order to gain control of Scotland’s economy. Mr Salmond pledged to fight for Scotland’s own fuel regulator and promised that if successful an SNP government would reduce fuel prices in Scotland by 10p per litre.
Mr Salmond also condemned the rising cost of of fuel in Scotland and added:
“Oil revenues flowing into the London Exchequer will be £10billion this year, another £1billion from recent price increases, and yet we are paying the highest petrol prices in the world. It’s an unbelievable position. How on earth can you arrive at a situation where Europe’s leading oil producer, along with Norway, is in that position? No other country would stand for it.”
Conservative spokesman, Derek Brownlee attacked the SNP leader and claimed that Mr Salmond “has shown in previous elections that he will promise anything and everything”.
The Tory spokesman was joined by Labour’s Lewis Macdonald who appeared to relish the Scottish Government’s lack of powers and said: “They have no control over the fuel duty, so they have no say on how it is regulated,”
Malcolm Bruce, president of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said Mr Salmond should “concentrate on delivering those things he is directly responsible for instead of making bold claims”.
However business and motoring groups condemned the price of fuel in Scotland and attacked the lack of action by the Tory/LibDem coalition.
Phil Flanders, The Road Haulage Association’s director for Scotland, said: “The only reason this has become a difficult issue is because Mr Cameron has realised how expensive it is going to be.
“The fuel prices in Scotland are probably higher than anywhere else in the UK and, for Highlands and islands haulage companies, who perhaps only rarely leave the region, the situation is even worse.”
Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Rural and lower-paid motorists are at breaking point.
“It is somewhat ironic that the prime minister should float the idea of a stabiliser just days after two tax hikes and then sink the idea days later.”
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC, said: “For most people, a car is a necessity and not a luxury. Most of us do not have the option of jumping on a subsidised bus or train when prices at the pumps rise.
“The [UK] government knows this, which is why it is happy to increase fuel tax safe in the knowledge most of us have no alternative but to drive.”