Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Good Word for the Leadership

I've never seen my role on this Blog to be to act as a cheerleader.

One of the privileges of having been in the Labour Party for so long is that no matter what you say you can't be accused of disloyalty to the cause even if you might from time to time be legitimately accused of being less than enamoured of some of its fellow adherents.

So, when I say that I unconditionally welcome Johann's speech on Tuesday nobody could say that this is but yet another example of sycophancy on my part. I've been very critical of the direction of travel of the Party since Wendy's fall and I am still sufficiently cautious to say that for Tuesday's speech to have a real impact on Scottish politics it will, over the next few months, need to prove to be more than words.

But, in the first blog I ever wrote here Ten Reasons Labour Lost , the very first reason I gave was that Labour had nothing relevant to say about why we should be running, particularly, the Scottish Parliament. Johann's speech on Tuesday was finally an attempt to start answering that question.

For too long our whole appeal to the electorate as to why they should choose us to govern at Holyrood has been that "If it's not us, it will be the SNP" and that's been it. It's not much of an argument and indeed it has had a steadily declining echo of support.

It has however been largely reciprocated by our principal opponents: "Vote for us and nothing much will change". That sentence used to go on "until we get Independence" but increasingly it appears to finish: "even if we get Independence!"

The problem is that things are changing whether either the Labour Party of the SNP like that fact.

We have a crisis in the public finances. For what its worth that originally at least was undoubtedly the fault of the Labour Party. Not because our pre-crash levels of public expenditure were unsustainable; indeed pre-crash, the Tories were committed to matching them, but because the crash was caused by our failure, as the governing Party, to properly regulate the banks. It is no excuse that our principal opponents, both in Scotland and Britain, actually complained at the time that the banks were over-regulated. We were in power and we cocked up.

But, real life is not a computer game where, when disaster strikes, you can go back in time to an earlier saved version and start again. We are where we are and any British Government (or, for what it's worth, independent Scottish Government) would need to address the current gap between expenditure and income. And while, macro-economically, that need not  be at the current speed of reduction of public expenditure (where I stand); or as dismissive of increasing government income by higher taxation (again where I stand); or, least of all, whether it should be as dismissive of growth as a key part of the equation (above all, where I stand), even accepting all these other possibilities, public expenditure is going to shrink. And Scotland cannot magically escape that. At current levels of expenditure, over the next sixteen years there is a £39bn funding gap (not my figures, John Swinney's) Therefore if we here in Scotland want to look at where we might wish to increase public expenditure, or even defend particular expenditure from an across the board cut, then we need to look at what might be cut instead or where additional income might be raised within the current powers of the Scottish Parliament.

In terms of the current challenges facing Scotland, any Constitutional change is irrelevant to this. Even if the Nationalists succeed to the extent of their wildest dreams, Scotland will not be Independent till 2016. And, even then, if that does lead to some miraculous explosion of growth, any additional income will not filter through for at least another two years beyond that. If anybody thinks that period can be managed by slashing local government expenditure and expecting that in turn to be managed by "efficiency savings" then they are living in cloud cuckoo land. Yet that is precisely John Swinney's current strategy.

So choices, proper choices, should be being made. And that is what Johann was saying, no more and no less.

The idea that universal benefits, once awarded, can never be taken away is an absurd one. Free bus travel for the over sixties dates from 2006, before which Scotland was hardly in a state of barbarism or indeed, the over sixties even notoriously housebound. Free prescriptions date from 2007, since when the country hardly seems obviously more adequately medicated. There seems no evidence at all that the abolition of the Graduate Endowment has improved willingness to participate in higher education and while no one is more keen on free personal care than I, everybody truly accepts that the current funding model is unsustainable against the anticipated 61% increase in people aged over 75 in the 25 year period from 2002 to 2027.

And finally, on the other side of the ledger, there is, how shall one put it politely, an inconsistency between asserting that Scots uniquely value these public services while at the same time ruling out any of the means available under the current system to raise revenue to continue to fund them: not just local government taxation but the variation of income tax rates or even modification of the small business exemption from non-domestic rates! That again however is Swinney's position.

Now the Nationalists are crowing that Labour is making a terrible mistake. No-one will ever vote to give a perk up. I'm not so sure. The electorate aren't stupid. They know as well as anybody the realities of the age. And, anyway, the current budgetary orthodoxy is unsustainable. So when it falls apart who's likely to get the credit: the woman who predicted that as inevitable or the people who accused her of talking rubbish at the time?

Well done Johann. Right call. And that's not something you hear me say every day.


  1. The problem I have with Lamont is she does not act like a leader. She acts like a facilitator for debate. Everything is "WE NEED TO HAVE A DEBATE ABOUT or SCOTTISH LABOUR ARE COMMITTED TO HAVING A DEBATE ABOUT Tuition Fees, Scotland's Powers, Bus Passes, Free Personal Care, whatever it may be. Surely, it's about time she actually added to the debate with her own opinions on them? It's a political leaders job to take people with you. Nobody follows somebody that says "we need a debate".

    Also, surely nobody - apart from the incredibly partisan - are against having a debate? She's a political leader...she needs to inform that debate. We're having it now.

    The fact is all Lamont has done is say, yet again, that we should have a debate. I'm still none the wiser as to what she actually thinks should be the POLICY.

    As Patrick Harvie said it astounds me Labour are getting so much coverage for essentially saying "we don't know what our policies are"...

  2. Interesting read as usual, Ian, but as I recall it the UK had built up a huge structural deficit long before the financial crisis, thus not so sure if your claim that pre-crash spending was 'sustainable' is entirely credible.

    As regards the Tories' commitment to matching Labour's spending at that time, indeed that was a surprise, but as I recall it that was done for crude electoral purposes, thus to a large extent simply endorsing Gordon Brown's incontinent approach to spending.

    Of course, the financial crisis put the whole sustainability thing in a different light, but plenty of people were sounding the warning bell long before that.

    Thus perhaps a bit like Alex Salmond and the euro - he claims the facts changed so he changed his mind, but the reality is that the naysayers were just proved right about the single currency and its unsustainable nature.

  3. I love the new video I’m sooooo progressing to do all of these fun things!Disposable medical drapes

  4. "everybody truly accepts that the current funding model is unsustainable against the anticipated 61% increase in people aged over 75 in the 25 year period from 2002 to 2027"

    No they don't. Because in Scotland, there's an alternative to the three-party neoliberal consensus that insists on wasting billions of pounds every single year waving our cocks around on the world stage and making enemies.

    You may - and indeed you do - oppose independence. But to pretend it isn't an option available to the Scottish people is deeply dishonest.

  5. Thanks for this amazing list of blogs! it'll create sorting out CommentLuv enabled blogs manner easier!
    Lafayette Orthodontist