Radical Scot preparing to derail Tory Bill

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Indy Politics
WITH yesterday's debate, rail privatisation at last moved to centre stage in the political arena. It is an issue on which Labour is confident it can inflict serious damage on the Tories and Brian Wilson, its transport spokesman, is determined to make sure that it does.

Mr Wilson was one of the bright stars of Labour's 1987 intake, taking only 18 months to become a frontbench spokesman. He is keen to use his promotion last autumn to No 2 under John Prescott, the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, to make his mark after four years of speaking on Scottish affairs.

He is a journalist and Parliament's unlikeliest press baron, being chairman of the company which owns the West Highlands Free Press. The weekly Press is a radical newspaper which he helped to found 21 years ago and to which he contributes a column. It is a mix of local information and radical issues, like the neglect of land by absentee landlords and the impact of the oil industry.

The future of the Highlands was his political motivation and he still feels passionately about it, arguing that 'landlord-blighted' estates should be taken away from absentee owners who neglect them. Perhaps a bit radical for a man known for using his sharp tongue as much at the expense of his own party's left wingers as the Tories? 'I realise it won't be easy, but there's no opposition to the idea in the Highlands, except from the lairds. You could start by giving tenants the right to buy.'

His disappointment at Labour's failure to win last year's election is still acute, as he had his heart set on getting a ministerial job at the Scottish Office. 'It would have been exciting to have gone from campaigning on issues involving the Highlands to actually becoming the minister responsible for policy on them.'

The MP for Cunninghame North is not actually a Highlander but comes from Dunoon on the west coast, although his wife, Joni, a Gaelic speaker, is from the Isle of Lewis. Mr Wilson went to the same school as his party leader John Smith and the foreign affairs spokesman George Robertson.

He is deeply loyal to Mr Smith and angry about rumblings within the party from those dissatisfied with the leadership. He singles out the left for criticism. 'They call themselves left wing but their actions allow the Tories to stay in power. I don't call that very radical. I'll take every action needed to bring about a Labour government.'

The Rail Privatisation Bill should be published next week and Mr Wilson is convinced that Labour is on to a winner. 'The intellectual arguments are on our side. The proposals are unworkable and a lot of Tories know it. The analogy with the poll tax is unavoidable. Maybe some kind of Bill will eventually get through but the project will be so discredited that it's hard to see how anybody in the private sector will be interested.'

Mr Wilson will be working hard over the next few months to ensure that that is the case. 'I'm going to make it very hard for Tory MPs. When they start realising that it's not an abstract issue, but will involve cuts in railway services everywhere, they are going to be very reluctant to support it.'

(Photograph omitted)