Good Morning Scotland Transcript

14 March 2005
"BBC Radio Scotland: The result of a strike ballot held by Caledonian MacBrayne staff is expected alter today. Interview with SNP MEP Alyn Smith"

Bill Whiteford:
The result of a strike ballot held by Caledonian MacBrayne's staff should be known later today. The vote was called by the RMT union in response to proposals to put the Gourock to Dunoon service out to competitive tender but the Scottish Executive says EU rules compel them to open routes to competition. We are joined now by the SNP MEP Alyn Smith who's meeting with the European Commission later today to discuss the issue.

Alyn Smith MEP:
Morning Bill.

Bill Whiteford: Hi. What about this strike do you think the staff at Caledonian MacBrayne will vote for a strike?

Alyn Smith MEP:
Well that's for others to answer rather than myself, I certainly hope they won't.

Bill Whiteford:
But what's your feeling? You must have spoken to some CalMac people.

Alyn Smith MEP:
Well if I had to put money on it I would actually be expecting a vote to strike later on today -

Bill Whiteford:
[Interrupts] And would you agree with that?

Alyn Smith MEP:
I certainly hope they don't.

Bill Whiteford:
Would you agree with their feelings of anger about the proposals?

Alyn Smith MEP:
I certainly agree with their frustration. I think this process has been fairly poorly managed on the part of the Executive and it's very unfortunate that the RMT feels that they've had to take this step. I do hope they won't strike because one thing that was brought home to me very clearly when I was over on the Western Isles the week before last was that if there was thousands upon thousands of people in the rest of Scotland sealed off by an avalanche it would be a national scandal. That's exactly what we're looking for particularly places like the Western Isles, it's a very, very serious issue.

Bill Whiteford:
But hasn't the RMT over reacted here? We're talking about one service and it is unique in Scotland in the sense that it already has commercial competition and the Executive could hardly argue that it needed to be kept separate.

Alyn Smith MEP:
Well you've got to look at the wider agenda here the big issue is what happens to the whole of CalMac and CalMac's future. Now we've been talking about CalMac being put out to tender, in whatever form, for some years now and the Executive is saying that EU rules obliged them. Now what we're doing with the meeting with the commission today is the SNP is going to the Commission with independent expert, Professor Neil Kaye from Strathclyde University, with some new ideas, some creative thinking. The Commission is not there to do us any favours in Scotland, it's up to we Scots to come up with new ideas and put them in a constructive way that says, well does this answer your concerns? And I've had an informal thumbs up from the Commission that they're keen to hear what we've got to say, they're keen to hear new ideas from Scotland and that's what today's meeting's all about.

Bill Whiteford:
Isn't that what the Executive plans to do. The point, as I understand it, is they get Gourock to Dunoon out the way because that's a separate thing then they make a case for all the other CalMac routes to be treated differently. Why not group together with the Executive and take that to the Commission?

Alyn Smith MEP:
Well the Executive will be getting the results of today's meeting, the Executive consultation will be receiving a submission from Professor Neil Kaye in his own right and a submission from the SNP with the meeting that we have today and the ideas that we've got. Now bear in mind that what the Executive wanted to do what comprehensively rejected by the Scottish Parliament in a free vote. It was their own Labour MSPs who rebelled against it.

Bill Whiteford:
What are your ideas then?

Alyn Smith MEP:
Well we've got a number of ideas that we want to put to them and one thing that I want to explore in particular is the idea of an independent regulator to make sure, along the lines of the Danes do, the Danes have an independent regulator who looks after the transport sector and has a specific obligation to make sure that it's up to speed with EU law which, I suspect, with respect to the Executive I think there are other options that they could be exploring, but then Danes have a system that has independent regulation along the lines of say Ofcom or Ofgem or the Office of Telecommunications that sort of model that would regulate the system within Scotland and make sure that we comply with what we need to. Now that would answer one of the commissions biggest concerns that there is an independent regulatory structure in place to deal with future issues within the service provision. Another thing as well is, what sort of public service obligation can we put on individual lines within then CalMac route interlinked with other routes within the CalMac network, the extend to which competition is necessary. Now one of the things we've had from the Commission is an indication that the opportunity to put light PSOs as they're called onto specific routes is a power that the Executive have. Now we have...

Bill Whiteford:
Oh, we seem to have lost you. Alyn Smith MEP thanks very much. Sorry about that.

ENDS.