By Martin Kelly
The No parties’ commitment to devolution has been called into question by the SNP after UK Treasury Chief Danny Alexander was unable to explain his Government’s failure to devolve Air Passenger Duty.
Questioned by MSP Stewart Maxwell on why, despite his own party’s commission recommending APD be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the Lib Dems have failed to commit to the transfer, the Lib Dem MP avoided answering and bizarrely claimed speed cameras were hitting tourism.
Appearing in front of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury failed to explain Westminster’s refusal to devolve APD – despite the measure being supported by both the Calman Commission and the recent Tory Strathclyde Commission.
When pressed on APD’s negative impact on tourism in the Highlands, Mr Alexander resorted to the dangerous claim that average speed cameras should be removed from the A9.
Asked if he agreed with the view of industry chiefs that APD was harming the economy, especially tourism, Mr Alexander replied:
“My view is that if you are really concerned about that issue, you would not be imposing average speed cameras on the A9.”
Pressed by a puzzled Stewart Maxwell who pointed out that speed cameras had nothing to do with flying, the Lib Dem MP claimed speed cameras did not improve safety and harmed the local economy.
He said: “It’s disruptive to the economy. It is opposed by business organisations in the Highlands.
“It wouldn’t make the route safer and it just goes to show once again that the current Scottish government is less interested in the economy of the highlands and islands than any other government that we’ve seen in some time now.”
The UK Government has already faced criticism for failing to include the commitment to devolve APD in last week’s Queen’s Speech – despite the Tory devolution commission confirming that no fresh legislation was needed and action could be taken immediately.
Commenting, SNP MSP Dave Thompson said:
“Danny Alexander’s appearance at the Scottish Parliament committee was terrible. Not only did he completely fail to explain his Government’s record of failure on APD – he resorted to claiming that people should be allowed to speed on the A9.
“This claim isn’t just transparently ludicrous – it is dangerous and would put people’s lives at risk. It seems that Danny Alexander will do anything to avoid talking about his Government’s failures on APD.
“The failure of the UK Government to devolve APD – which even the Tories admit could be done now with the minimum of fuss – shows that the No campaign parties aren’t serious on devolution.
“A Yes vote in September means we won’t need to rely on Danny Alexander and the UK Government to deliver more powers – we will have all the powers we need to grow our economy and make Scotland a fairer, more equal society.”