Letter from Edinburgh 19.09.08

I AM sitting in Southampton airport waiting for a Flybe plane back to Edinburgh as I write this. I’ve been at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Bournemouth. The last time I came here for a federal conference was as Jim Wallace’s research assistant so it wasn’t yesterday.

Bournemouth is a sleepy town known by some as Costa Geriatrica.I can’t say I found many local people, old or young, as I walked between the conference venue, numerous hotels where fringe meetings took place and the odd eatery. Just hundreds of Lib Dems enjoying a few days of endless political chatter and intrigue.

The big stories of this week were Labour’s internal war and, somewhat more importantly the enormous international pressure on stock mar­kets, banks and insurance companies. The party’s annual get together is often so dominated. The year Nor­man Lamont pulled the pound out of the long forgotten ERM amid inter­est rates of 15 per cent all happened during a Lib Dem conference. I don’t think it was a deliberate attempt to overshadow the party conference. What I remember from that was a young David Cameron as Lamont’s advisor appearing in the TV shots looking shifty and no wonder.

Flybe of course becomes our airline in a few weeks. So I had a good look at the quality of the service to and from Southampton. You can check in online but not choose your seat. I am usually by myself up and down from Sumburgh, but if the kids are in tow then I would object to paying £6 extra per person to sit together. That’s particularly the case with younger children. So Logan­air need to ensure the check in system, whether online or using self-service machines, allows fam­ilies and people travelling together to sit beside each other.

The other issue that has emerged with the bankruptcy of airlines such as Zoom and XL as the credit crunch has hit home, is paying for tickets. Airlines including Flybe charge more for the use of a credit card. But if the airline does go bust the credit card is one way you get your money back. That makes the extra charges that airlines levy on using a credit card compared to other forms of payment quite wrong. There can only be one explanation. That it makes them money.

Everyone understands why Lloyds TSB and HBOS or the Bank of Scotland have merged. HBOS was targeted by city traders who knew that were they to be forced into bankruptcy, the government would have to step in and nationalise the bank. No government could allow a major UK bank to fail.

But the other end of this debate is the customer – the account holder. A merger would mean branch closures and less competition on the high street.

It’s difficult to imagine Ler­wick keeping two branches of the same bank. Is that in the con­sumer’s interest?

Tavish Scott MSP


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