Martin Hannan: Let us pray that they think again

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IN RECENT times I have heard many pronouncements on such issues as gay marriage by the clergy. Simply because someone has the title of Archbishop or Reverend, they get prominence for their messages, however out of date or hypocritical those views may be.

Yet in essence their viewpoints, usually argued from a spurious basis such as interpretation of books written many centuries ago, are no more credible and should have exactly the same persuasive weight as any other citizen’s views on an issue.

With some of the more extreme pronouncements, they actually do their religions a disservice. The unholy homophobia of clergy in many religions is just another reason why a truly secular society appeals to so many people.

You do not have to be a Person of Faith, however, to agree that the planned introduction of Sunday parking charges in the city of Edinburgh is fundamentally flawed.

It is wrong on so many levels, not least because Sunday is still the day of worship in this nominally Christian country. It is not often I agree with them, but the points recently made by certain Reverend gentlemen are very valid – these charges are an abuse of Sunday, and it’s a fee too far in the advance of secularism.

For parishioners across the city to be asked to pay a parking charge to attend Sunday services is outrageous. You don’t have to be a Person of Faith to see how unfair that would be, especially for those who need to drive to, or be driven to, church because they are elderly or infirm.

What do pensioners do? Defy their beliefs or go without a meal or heating?

Even if you are not a religiously- inspired Sabbatarian, there are plenty more good reasons why Sunday charges are a no-no.

Sunday is still the day when most families can be all together and do something as a family. That might mean a trip to the pictures or the National Museum – a personal favourite in years gone by. But if you start having to fork out up to a tenner to park for a couple of hours or so, then that family outing suddenly becomes less of an option.

Think of another human cost. While they might not be the most popular of people, surely parking attendants are entitled to at least one day off at the weekend?

The most obvious point about parking charges on a Sunday in Edinburgh is this – they don’t have them in Glasgow or any other shopping centre which is a competitor to Edinburgh’s hard-pressed city centre retailers.

At a stroke, the competition would have an unfair advantage, and as Sunday is an increasingly important day for retailers, can the council really justify kicking them in the teeth after the disruption caused by the trams?

Let there be no doubt about it. This measure is about raising cash for a council that for many and varied reasons, but mainly the trams, has a hole in its budget as wide as the Forth.

We are told the income will supposedly be used to give a further subsidy to Lothian Buses to enhance its services – presumably First Group, Stagecoach and other operators will get their share, too, because we couldn’t have the municipal bus company getting an unfair advantage, could we? And last time I checked, none of those big three bus companies operating in and around the Capital was exactly broke.

If you believe all the Sunday parking money would go on better bus services, then I respectfully suggest you are living on a different planet, never mind a different city, than the rest of us.

Since time immemorial, every such “cross-subsidy” scheme dreamed up by the city fathers and mothers has been dressed up as being “for” something. It’s all so much hype and hoopla. Not for the first time, a money-raising initiative is actually a money-grabbing scam.

We all know that for many years to come, the citizenry will be paying extra for the trams. That is simply a fact and we all better get used to it, however unpalatable it is.

So why can’t our politicians just tell us the truth? They need our money to pay their trams bill, so let’s have a grown-up conversation as to where that money is going to come from.

For instance, why not think the unthinkable and sell off Lothian Buses, with the income going directly towards paying for the trams? It would be unpopular, but so will years of reduced council services and increased council charges as the city struggles with the trams bill.

We are also told that one of the main reasons for introducing Sunday charges is because selfish drivers are “bay blocking” for hours.

I would like to see the evidence on that one – who carried out that survey, for instance, and can we see the data? And I would have thought that this CCTV-addicted council would have seen the obvious answer to that problem – put a couple of cameras on the streets where bay blocking is a serious concern and start charging people who park for, say, more than three hours at a time. It happens elsewhere on private car parks such as Cameron Toll shopping centre so why not George Street?

Charging for parking on Sundays is just plain wrong. Bin the idea now.