Car parks: Things are not fine
Murdo Fraser was once a normal man. Well, he was a Tory, but normal in every other respect.
Until one day, Murdo got a parking fine he didn’t deserve. That was when it got personal. That was when Fraser took action.
Vowing vengeance, he took to the Scottish Parliament Chamber to open a debate welcoming a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) on private parking charges and how to fight unfair ones.
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That day was yesterday, though it is worth pointing out that Fraser’s intervention was not the first one seen by the Parliament. It comes up surprisingly often.
In fact around six months ago Cameron Buchanan suggested that parking attendants were playing a key role in the demise of Scotland’s town centres, claiming, “people frequently struggle to find a spot to park their car for long enough, without facing potential death threats from traffic wardens.”
Death threats? No wonder Fraser has taken the case to heart.
And actually, to be fair, not all of the problems with parking fines – like Buchanan’s – are fictional, with Fraser listing examples of companies using deliberately confusing systems to cause fines and sending debt collectors to intimidate elderly or vulnerable people.
“That is not on” – as Fraser put it – which is why CAS released their report, showing that parking fines should have a direct relationship with the length of time the car was left in the car park.
Apparently concerned he was coming across like he hated car parks – and therefore at risk of losing the car park vote – Fraser reacted swiftly.
He continued: “Having a car park is a legitimate business and provides a vital local service.”
This is sort of true, though in the long list of “local services”, owning a piece of land and then using gravity to ensure vehicles stay in the same place is not that impressive. It is more or less the same strategy as that pursued by a dump – though the opposite of the one used by airports.
Christine Grahame came next, revealing that she too had been a victim of the parking fine.
In fact so common was this experience that it began to appear as though a shared hatred of car parks could bring Scotland’s parties – unionist or nationalist, left or right – back together. A kind of parking reconciliation process.
Grahame said: “One of the other issues is that there is no right of appeal. If someone appeals, they are appealing to the very people who are putting the alleged charge on them.”
Scotland’s car parks, it seems, were devised by Franz Kafka.
Elaine Smith came next, claiming she was worried about parking fines before Fraser made it cool.
After listing some of the same issues raised by others about how firms prey on the vulnerable, she continued: “It is important to be clear that I do not condone irresponsible parking that causes a danger to other road users or pedestrians, nor do I condone selfish parking… and I certainly do not condone ignorant people parking in disabled bays when they are not disabled or parking in parent and child bays without children.”
Who said she did condone that stuff? She seemed suspiciously defensive.
Finishing her speech, she pledged, “I hope that those highway robbers can be stopped in their tracks, because it really is not fine.”
Was that a joke? Who knows.
Of course a critic might argue that a highway robber and a car park aren’t exactly the same thing, given one is a person and one is car park, but the image is a strong one.
Fortunately Derek Mackay was there to represent the Scottish Government. “Elaine Smith said that the practice should stop and it should stop now. I agree. If I had a magic button to press that would make it so, I would press it”.
Excitement rippled through the Chamber. Did Mackay have a magic button to stop irresponsible parking fines?
No he did not. Instead he planned to work on a “partnership basis” to stop it. It seemed a slight anti-climax.
Still, he was some help, continuing somewhat sneakily, “As a Scottish Government minister I cannot say, “Don’t pay the fine.” It would be irresponsible of me to give that message. However,” he continued, with a look of open cunning, “if people check their legal rights and responsibilities, many will realise that they have not breached what they think they may have breached.”
We get you Derek. Wink, wink.
So it seems there is hope. But until Mackay perfects his “magic button”, at least we have Murdo Fraser.