When we wrote a story earlier today about another piece of embarrassing evidence falling off the Scottish Labour website, we thought it was nothing more than the latest in a long line of attempts by the party to clumsily cover its tracks over policy U-turns. But when we did a little digging, we found something altogether more interesting.
Because when we typed the page’s address into The Internet Wayback Machine for fun, we fully expected to find that the line about continuing free prescription charges had been deleted yesterday, or at least in the weeks since Johann Lamont made her infamous “something for nothing” speech.
Instead, however, TIWM listed only one previous version. While it’s not the sole factor, pages tend to show up on the archive site when they’ve been amended, and the only time the Wayback Machine had been called on to notice this particular page since its creation in November 2010 was on Friday the 6th of May 2011 – the day after the Scottish Parliament election delivered a historic landslide victory to the SNP, and an unprecedentedly humiliating defeat for Labour.
Results were still coming in on the 6th of May, but Scottish Labour had clearly already decided to eradicate mention of their promise to maintain free prescriptions. Now, it seems rather unlikely that the party convened a meeting of its executive committee, debated the policy, decided on a change and dutifully edited a page of its website while everyone was still digesting the scale of their defeat and/or catching up on some much-needed sleep after a long night of results.
(Indeed, it’s possible that the web page was changed even earlier than the 6th.)
The only reasonable conclusion it’s possible to draw, then, is that the policy was already internally a dead duck before election day. The party’s manifesto pledge (which can be found on page 41) that “with Scottish Labour, there will be no reintroduction of charges for prescriptions in Scotland” must therefore have been a deliberate and cynical lie, set to be abandoned even if the party won power.
It took almost 18 months from that day before Johann Lamont announced her “review” of policy to consider whether universal benefits like prescription charges would be retained under a future Labour government at Holyrood. The review isn’t due to publish its conclusions for almost two more years, and some prominent Labour MSPs have already suggested that free prescriptions will “probably need to stay” (despite the same member also describing them as a “right-wing policy”). But in the light of this evidence, we think it’s a reasonably safe bet what the final verdict will be.
Were readers to further conclude that it’s rather unwise – and perhaps even literally damaging to one’s health – to accept a word of anything Scottish Labour ever says at face value, we’d find it hard to disagree.