The Scottish media is enthusiastically continuing to follow Labour’s agenda with regard to slashing universal services. Both of last night’s current-affairs shows led with the topic again, and it’s all over the press once more today, in particular the Scotsman and the Daily Record. The former runs one story that carries a telling quote from Scottish Labour seat-filler Richard Baker MSP:
While it’s been referenced in passing, the SNP oddly hasn’t really made much of the extraordinary hollowness of this demand, given than Scottish Labour have said their commission “investigating” the matter won’t produce a report for over two years.
We don’t know about you, readers, but our understanding of a debate is that two opposing sides both present their arguments and then there’s some sort of vote which determines who best convinced the audience that their view was the right one.
The SNP’s position is clear – universal benefits can be afforded, something that the Scottish Government has already demonstrated by balancing its budget since 2007, and it will prove its point by continuing to do so in coming years. Labour, however, want to somehow have a debate without having a position. It’s rather like demanding someone plays you at football and then not turning up for the match.
This feebly cynical ruse is all the more transparent for the fact that by delaying their report until after the independence referendum, Labour are refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room – the possibility of a Scottish Government with far greater control over its finances. An independent Holyrood would be able, if it so chose, to make vast savings in certain areas – most obviously defence – which would by themselves fund the entirety of universal service provision for decades to come.
Labour is attempting to hold a “debate” to which it’s not entitled in the first place – the Scottish people overwhelmingly rejected the party at the last election, entrusting government to the SNP alone until at least 2016 – and to dictate both the timing and the terms. The only thing possibly greater than the cynicism and the hypocrisy is the sheer arrogance. As far as Labour is concerned, the last two elections simply didn’t happen, it’s still in power and people still give a damn what it thinks about anything.
(Because even if they were right and universal services did become unsustainable at some point in the future, it would be the Scottish Government of the day which would have to solve the problem. The voters are currently showing no sign of bestowing that heavy responsibility onto Labour’s inept C-listers even at the next election.)
To nobody’s great surprise, the Scottish press is assisting for all it’s worth in this gross and anti-democratic delusion. But all Labour is likely to achieve is to illuminate in stark detail the only policy it currently has to offer the people of Scotland – fear.
We’re going to go out on a limb and make an early prediction here, readers. Scottish Labour’s “commission” will in fact never produce its report, much like the party never did manage to come up with an alternative to the Council Tax. It’ll sit around making occasional leaks to sympathetic journalists until the referendum, and then Scottish Labour will quietly produce a manifesto for the 2015 Westminster election obediently taking whatever line the UK leadership is pushing by then.
Whichever way the referendum goes, there’ll be no need for a distinctive Scottish Labour position on anything, because as we’ve already seen this week, the true purpose of Johann Lamont’s speech was to align the Scottish party completely and indistinguishably with its London parent. If Scots vote No in 2014, by definition they’ll be signing up to Ed Miliband’s “One Nation” state and will have tacitly accepted the same conditions as everyone else in the UK – tuition fees, soaring Council Tax and means-testing. And if on the other hand the Yes campaign has emerged triumphant, all Labour’s calculations will be instantly obsolete.
So the only conceivable point of Lamont’s empty call for “debate” was to sow fear and doubt in the minds of Scottish voters. It was, in effect, just a very slightly subtler respray of the tried-and-trusted “too wee, too poor, too stupid” line. There’s no other way to explain the enormous amount of time the supposed “commission” is going to take, given that – as Lamont herself tirelessly reminds us – the Christie and Beveridge reports have already done all the heavy lifting, and hapless amateurs like Ken Macintosh and former Labour councillor Arthur Midwinter are unlikely to add any great intellectual weight or insight to their learned and impartial findings.
Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt from a collection of self-proclaimed Federalists, Unionists and Devolutionists. Either way, readers, it’s a load of FUD.