Bitter campaign beckons as candidates wage war over bus travel and post offices

BORDERDERS were this week given a foretaste of the bitter Scottish Parliament election battle to come between the Lib Dems and the SNP in one of the local Holyrood seats, writes Andrew Keddie.

It came after South of Scotland List MP Christine Grahame accused Jeremy Purvis, the Lib Dem MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and nemesis in the 2003 and 2007 polls, of having “a major hand” in drafting proposals by his party to remove concessionary bus passes for Scots aged 60-65.

She went on to criticise the Lib Dems for the decision of the Westminster coalition to award a £20million contract to process giro cheques, currently undertaken by the Post Office, to US-owned Citibank.

She issued a scathing press release after Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott announced his party would press for a review of the concessionary travel system. He said raising the threshhold to 65 would save £30million, which could redress cuts in higher and further education.

Ms Grahame went on the attack, claiming as many as 20,000 Borderers faced losing their bus passes if the plans went ahead, undermining the independence and mobility of older people in the region.

“Everyone over 60 currently benefits ... and in a predominantly rural community like the Borders, it is a vital provision for many older and disabled people.

“It would seem the Liberals have completed their political metamorphosis in proposing this essentially Conservative assault on the elderly and disabled.

“As finance spokesman for the Liberals, it is clear local candidate Jeremy Purvis must have had a major hand in drafting these proposals which will hit thousands of local people if his party gets back into coalition government at Holyrood after the May election.

“The Borders and the rest of Scotland are in real danger if the Liberals are returned.”

Mr Purvis who will take on Ms Grahame in the newly drawn South Midlothian, Tweeddale and Lauderdale seat on May 5, responded: “The SNP have, as is normal practice, got their numbers wrong, but the most important thing now is that with the Scottish Government budget cuts taking effect, we have to be honest with people about how we prioritise spending.

“The key question is: can the £30million cost of providing free travel to people aged 60-65 be better invested? We would keep the concession scheme at 65 and above as it is in England. I think most people who have heard the dreadful news of staff being made redundant at Borders College will consider it better to invest that £30million to mitigate the impact of the massive reduction made by the SNP Government in our local college’s budget.”

The award of the Post Office contract to Citibank prompted another press release from Ms Grahame in which she blasted: “The Lib Dems have claimed they are helping defend the rural post office network in the Borders, but as usual, they are saying one thing locally and doing the exact opposite in government with the Tories. This is a decision, described as an act of vandalism by trade unions and the National Federation of Postmasters, that will erode the local economy and result in a poorer service right across the Borders.”

Mr Purvis responded: “What a cheek from the SNP, whose own government did not give its second class mail contract to the Royal Mail, so I won’t have any double standards from Ms Grahame.

“Only she could issue a press release saying I was pretty much single-handedly going to close post offices, a week after I re-opened one [in Walkerburn] because it gained directly from the £2million post office fund I secured in the Scottish budget.

“This is already making a huge difference and I am happy to stand on this record.”

Mr Purvis then rounded on his opponent.

“It’s obvious now that her tactic in the forthcoming election is the same old negative and personalised attacks on me, with faulty accuracy in her frequent grandstanding,” said Mr Purvis.

“There are serious issues facing the Borders and Scotland and she is already showing a distinct lack of interest in being serious.

“Perhaps that is why she has never won an election here, although at every opportunity she tries to claim she has.”