Yesterday we pointed out a pretty disgraceful misrepresentation by Labour of the findings of an impartial, non-political research study which found that an independent Scotland would be far better placed to reduce inequality. But it wasn’t the only one.
Here’s the party’s deputy leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, speaking at yesterday’s interesting two-hour BBC Radio 5 Live debate (for some reason that link only shows the last 50 minutes, although the earlier part had been televised too) at the Fruitmarket in Glasgow on the subject of child poverty.
We say “speaking”. We mean “lying”. In Sarwar’s case the words are interchangeable.
“Victoria [Derbyshire, debate host], important point about child poverty? An important point about child poverty is, look, don’t take, don’t take my word for it, don’t take the SNP’s word for it, don’t take any politician’s word for it. Why don’t we look at the independent, non-political Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which has already said that all the powers to actually address child poverty already exist in the Scottish Parliament…
…and around housing, around education, around health; read the report, Fiona, I’m happy to send you it; the Joseph Rowntree say – but sadly they say, and this is crucial – that we have a Scottish Government that’s obsessed with the referendum and not actually changing Scotland.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a serious and very highly-respected campaigning anti-poverty organisation, and it would be a heavy criticism indeed of the Scottish Government if it had said those things. But did it?
Dr James McCormick, Scotland Adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said the welfare reforms currently being undertaken by the Westminster Government might be better delivered by Holyrood. This would allow Scotland to implement welfare to work policies that are based on its own distinctive needs and make for a more joined-up approach with related devolved policies like childcare, he told Holyrood.
“If welfare reform powers were devolved to Scotland as they are, for example, in Canada, I think we’d be making quite different choices on welfare to work than is being made by the coalition government.'”
Dr McCormick didn’t say that independence was necessarily required – he noted that merely devolving welfare, a move backed by 60% of Scots, would make a significant difference. But he made absolutely, unequivocally clear that the Scottish Government does NOT currently have those powers.
That is, quite plainly, the exact opposite of how Anas Sarwar represented the Foundation’s position. Sarwar asserted that the JRF said Holyrood already had the powers but was too obsessed with independence to use them.
We’ve scoured the Foundation’s website for more recent reports (the one above is from 2010) which might make such a claim, but have drawn a blank. The JRF’s most recent commentary on the subject of poverty in Scotland which mentions the independence debate appears to be one from the 21st of January this year.
It correctly notes that the Scottish Parliament has control over SOME aspects of policy which relate to poverty (including health and education, areas in which the Scottish Government is already acting by protecting free healthcare and tuition), but categorically does NOT state that it has, in Sarwar’s words, “all the powers”.
It makes absolutely NO suggestion, explicit or implicit, that the Scottish Government is “obsessed with the referendum and not actually changing Scotland”.
And interestingly, it also says this:
“Cuts to benefits are on the horizon and we should be under no illusion the outlook is ominous. We report estimates that some 20,000 people will lose their disability living allowance, and 65,000 people claiming employment support allowance will move off benefits altogether. The effects of these cuts will make some already poor people even poorer, while plunging others into poverty and hardship.
But there are opportunities to make life better for people. The political discourse is understandably dominated by next year’s referendum on independence, but there is a lot to be said for using this political landscape to improve matters. A discussion on poverty and how to reduce it must be central to independence: the referendum is, after all, about the kind of country Scotland wants to be.“
(Our emphasis.) The Foundation’s opinion appears to be that rather than a dangerous distraction from tackling poverty, the prospect of independence is a welcome opportunity to force the subject of poverty to the forefront of political debate.
We invite Anas Sarwar to send us the report he offered to send Fiona Hyslop allegedly backing up his claims. Otherwise we invite him to apologise publicly for what appears to be a flat-out and despicable lie. But either way we won’t be waiting by our inbox with bated breath.
Seems pretty clear to us – Sarwar’s assertion that “all the powers to actually address child poverty already exist in the Scottish Parliament” is a lie. We don’t expect the JRF to word it any more strongly than that, because frankly people like us would use it for political ends. But we’ll be watching Anas Sarwar’s Twitter feed closely for the clarification and apology that must surely be imminent. Yeah, right.