Stuart Randall appalled by Scottish Leadership and posturing on tolls
Councillor Stuart Randall has resigned from the Conservative candidates’ list and so will not stand in 2007 for any level of Government. He considers his Council and Parliamentary careers at an end, but will serve out his current term of office on Fife Council, where he is Conservative Group Leader. He will stand down as Treasurer of the Scottish Conservative Councillors’ Association at the forthcoming AGM, where he will present the accounts for last year.
Cllr Randall stood against Gordon Brown in 2001 (Dunfermline East) and 2005 (Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath) and also fought his local Dunfermline East seat against Helen Eadie in 2003. He is the elected member for Dalgety Bay East and the only Tory councillor in west Fife. Before he was elected in 1999, there were no Conservatives on Fife Council at all.
Cllr Randall has announced his retirement from front line politics in order that he can speak freely regarding what he sees as his party’s poor management and a “policy vacuum”. In particular, he wishes to stand up for the interests of his constituents over Forth Road Bridge tolls and the need for a second road bridge.
In November, Cllr Randall’s status was renewed as an approved parliamentary candidate with authority to run for by-elections and key seats. However, Cllr Randall was kept off the Dunfermline & West Fife by-election shortlist, for which he was the local front runner, in order to promote a previously inactive female candidate from outside west Fife. Cllr Randall believes moves are also now afoot within the party to skew the Holyrood regional ranking arrangements. This will unjustly favour certain candidates and he wishes to stand up for the hardworking activists who will be disadvantaged by such a step.
Cllr Randall says:
“To many outsiders it may seem as if this decision has come suddenly out of the blue. But to anyone who has followed Scottish politics over the last couple of years, they will know that my frustration and disenchantment with the Scottish leadership has been growing inexorably over a long period of time. I have tried very hard behind the scenes to get the party to wake up and reform without success. The party has been taken over by an incompetent clique, who can’t see past the next headline, and there seems to be no way for the grassroots to regain control. Decision after decision has been botched and wherever one scratches the surface, the whole edifice of the party is crumbling, yet no-one seems to really care. Image is everything. There is a vacuum at the heart of Scottish Conservative policy and nobody seems to be responsible for where the party is heading. We need a strategy and we need it urgently, for if we don’t know where we are going, how do we know which is the right direction?
“The final straw came last week when the party announced its stance on the future of the Forth Road Bridge and the tolling regime. My ward is just a couple of miles from the north end of the bridge, so it affects my constituents greatly. It’s also the biggest issue affecting the whole of Fife at the moment, and yet I only found out about the new policy when I saw it in the local newspaper and a by-election flyer. And I’m the Leader of the Tory Group on Fife Council! Treating senior party activists in that way cannot be acceptable in any competent, democratic party. Local government is far too important for that.
“I was appalled to see Annabel Goldie, who has been selected for West Renfrewshire, posing on the Forth Road Bridge and singing the praises of tolling. This is not because I’m against tolls in principle, I’ve been very straight with people about that, it’s because I know she is simultaneously pushing for the abolition of the Erskine Bridge tolls back home. Why should my constituents be treated any differently from hers? Tolling can only be acceptable as a Scotland-wide strategy, as it is in England and Wales and I won’t stand by silently while my constituents are treated unfairly. What’s good enough for Skye and Erskine is good enough for Fife. It’s either tolls for every expensive long-span bridge or tolls for none.
“I have been pressing for a consistent right-of-centre policy on this matter for years, but it’s been like talking to a brick wall. No-one will take us seriously as a tax cutting party if we keep telling people that everything, including exorbitantly expensive bridges, can be provided and maintained by the Executive free at the point of use. Government should be concentrating on health, education and pensions not pretending it can provide 21st century infrastructure on time and on budget. The state sector has a terrible track record on infrastructure, precisely because this kind of seedy politics gets in the way. Just look at the gaps in our motorway network and see how long they’ve remained unresolved. No wonder no-one wants to manufacture in Scotland anymore. We pay high taxes, but still get poor transport links.
“The Conservative Party should be offering a distinct alternative to the spin and hypocrisy of the other parties, but unfortunately, we’ve been all over the place. Last May, Ted Brocklebank, who is in the party’s policy cabinet, stood up at Holyrood and called for all tolls to be abolished. He was shooting from the lip and had no proposal or budget to maintain the existing bridges, let alone replace them. He was simply making up policy on the hop for short-term populist reasons and it caused me a lot of trouble in my west Fife ward. People, understandably, thought he was pronouncing Conservative Party policy and that he was serious about this.
“Then, late last year, it was the turn of David Davidson, our Transport spokesman, no less. He stood up in Parliament and called for a new bridge with a freight railway line. He said nothing about how this would be paid for or whether motorists would end up paying through the nose for train passengers to cross the bridge for free. It was not in the Tory budget. Freight railway lines need a very stiff, heavy bridge and so add massively to the cost, but the Tory Transport spokesman didn’t seem to have considered this at all. There was no costing, consultation, or justification. If there had been he would have known that we have an under-used Forth Bridge and the whole point of the new Kincardine – Alloa rail link is to free up capacity on that.
“I’m pleased to say that both Ted’s and David’s proposals have now been dropped, but not before they caused huge embarrassment to the party. I don’t want to see the Conservatives pushing for expensive toys, like bullet trains, airport tunnels and tram tracks, in the way the spendthrift socialists do. Scotland needs a bit of common sense at Holyrood, not more of the same. Most MSPs behave like children in a sweet shop, presumably because they don’t have to go through the pain of raising the taxes they spend so liberally, but Tory MSPs should be different.
“It is ironic that, here I am standing down, when the idea of using private money and tolls to get new bridges built quickly is pretty much what I have been pushing for all along. But the chance to outflank the opposition with cast iron commitments to major Scotland-wide roads investment is now long gone. You cannot have a policy that gives the west of Scotland ‘free’ bridges at taxpayers’ expense and the east of Scotland endless increases in tolls. It looks like a short term patch up job, just to get the party through the by-election. If the policy had been finalised before the Skye bridge debacle, and if it had been applied consistently across Scotland, as I wanted, then we could have seized the moral high ground. But now it looks short term and shoddy. I don’t feel vindicated, I just feel sad.
“It’s also ironic that I am leaving front line politics at the very time when David Cameron, the UK leader, is pushing for my kind of politics south of the border. I was working in the council estates, promoting compassionate conservatism and advancing the cause of climate change long before David Cameron was even an MP.
“The poor judgement at the top of the Scottish party did not start recently. Twelve months ago we lost a disastrous general election, winning only one seat and with our share of the vote down to a measly 15%. And this despite the fact that the party made significant gains in both England and Wales. Of course, the party leadership spun this in public as some great success, as any politician would. The trouble is they have swallowed their own propaganda and have been feeding the same hopelessly complacent line to their troops, behind the scenes. It’s as if the party leadership stand in a closed circle with each patting the next person on the back.
“I have served the Scottish Conservatives, to the best of my ability, for almost eight years, in the front line. I’ve taken flak for just about everything and it’s been very difficult sticking at it through probably the darkest years in the party’s history. Others dropped out when times got hard, but I stuck at it, suspended my business and career, and made whatever personal sacrifices were necessary to keep the Tory torch burning in west Fife, a hard Labour area. I’ve never expected special treatment in return, but I certainly expected a fair crack at the whip, to be treated with integrity and to be consulted when serious decisions affect my patch.
“I’m not cancelling my membership or abandoning my ward, which I won under the Conservative flag. I still love the Scottish Conservative Party and the principles for which it stands. The problem is, I don’t recognise those principles among the current leadership.
“It’ll truly hurt to walk away next year and not take part in the campaigns. But I have no choice but to speak out, because I fear for the party’s future while they are in control.”
(UPDATE: Stuart Randall tells me that one of the main local papers has received lots of election material from the other parties but nothing from the Conservatives.)