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The condensed Lamont

Posted on December 20, 2012 by

We don’t often get to see Johann Lamont on the telly, so when she made one of her rare appearances in a five-minute interview with STV’s excellent Bernard Ponsonby this week we couldn’t only do half a job. As we’re still stuck in the house fighting off this year’s unusually-horrible and persistent germs – and as Lamont repeated most of the speech at today’s FMQs – we steeled ourselves, sat down with a large medicinal hot toddy and transcribed the rest of the piece.

What with it being Christmas and everything, though, you’re probably busy, so if you’re in a rush we’ve condensed all of Johann’s umming and aahing and stumbling and waffling down to its essence, where there is such a thing. The parts highlighted in red below are all you really need to read.

BERNARD PONSONBY: On the issue of funding for universities, you said in the speech that “a no-change system is essentially regressive”. Can I take it from that that whatever Labour proposes at the next election, it will involve a graduate contribution?

JOHANN LAMONT: Well it’s very hard to see how it could be otherwise. We have said that we’re not in favour of upfront tuition fees, but currently we’ve got a situation where a policy of no tuition fees in higher education is essentially being funded by cutting college funding, with the consequence that has actually for the quality of education. That’s unsustainable, and I recognise in these tough times it may be those with the broadest shoulders can bear… bear the cost.

BP: You were asked a specific question by a Labour student, I didn’t think that you gave him a straight answer. He said “Are fees on the table?” Are they?

JL: Not upfront tuition fees, but a graduate contribution, a way of funding higher education, is being examined. This is part of the review process, testing policy against both its benefits and its consequences. We’ve, as I highlighted before, this is something that we want to do. What we have currently got is a closing down of that debate, and not a recognition that there are consequences, and I want to open that up.

BP: Will you bring back tuition fees if elected?
JL: Yes, but a graduate endowment rather than upfront fees, even though our website still promises “No up-front or back-end tuition fees for Scottish students”.

The problem with this strategy is that the graduate endowment simply doesn’t work either as a funding method or of placing the burden onto the “broadest shoulders”. For a brilliantly informed explanation of why, see this superb piece from the Jimmy Reid Foundation from earlier in the week.

BP: In a sense haven’t you been guilty of perpetual oppositionism in the last year? I mean, you’ve constantly pointed out that the government have been cutting the college budget – 24% over the last two years – but you haven’t actually been making firm pledges. Are Labour committed to restoring the cuts which you say the SNP are making?

JL: Well we will certainly argue in the budget for them to be restored. We know that the, the, the Education Minister is presiding over a situation where £75m a year is funding access to Scottish education for free for students from across Europe. We know that they’re making other funding decisions too, and we will certainly argue –

BP: Will you reverse the cuts if you’re in power?
JL: I don’t have a clue. We haven’t done any sort of work into finding out whether or not it would be economically or politically feasible, we’ve just reflexively attacked the SNP, because perpetual oppositionism is our only actual policy.

See the same JRF piece linked above for an explanation of why the £75m cited by Lamont wouldn’t be saved if European students were denied free tuition, even if such an arrangement were possible under EU law, which it isn’t.

BP: 24% amounts to approximately how much?

JL: Well, I won’t give you the exact figures just now, but what we would certainly want to do is to highlight the fact that, that that cut should be restored.

BP: How much is this sum that you’ve made the centrepiece of your criticisms?
JL: I haven’t the faintest idea. It never occurred to me that you might ask.

In fact, five seconds on Google reveals the figure. It’s £74m.

BP: What would you cut to restore that?

JL: Well, we’re fortuna- unfortunately not in government, we don’t have access to the figures –

Nor apparently the ability to use a computer. We like the Freudian slip, though.

BP: No, but you’re “a politician of tough choices”, and therefore what you want to do is to say, if we’re not going to cut the college budget, you’re going to have to tell the government what they’re going to have to cut in order to protect college budgets.

JL: No, no, no, we don’t have to tell the government, the government has produced a transparent budget, which has not been properly scrutinised, and what we’ll say to them, we believe it is possible to restore those cuts. They should be looking at, you know, end of year monies and so on –

BP: But if you attack the government’s plans, presumably you must be offering an alternative?
JL: No. We haven’t scrutinised the budget (for some reason), but I nevertheless feel sure it must be the case that there’s an extra £74m in it somewhere that the Finance Secretary hasn’t noticed.

With no other clues as to where the extra revenue could be found, we can only assume that by “end of year monies” Johann means all the tenners in John Swinney’s Christmas cards from his aunties. We hope he has a lot of aunties.

BP: But where should they cut elsewhere?

JL: They should be looking, well, they should be look within their budgets to see what can be done.

Johann Lamont is the leader of Scotland’s second-largest political party and the Holyrood opposition, and wishes to be the country’s First Minister. No, really.

BP: That speech you made on universality at the [???] in Edinburgh those months ago has provided a very clear faultline in Scottish politics. I’m interested about the timing of this – why didn’t you delay it until after the referendum in 2014? Because arguably, what you’ve now done is that you’ve given Alex Salmond an argument for saying that you can either have cuts with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at Westminster, or cuts to universal benefits from Labour at Holyrood. It appears, really, that you’ve given him a stick with which to beat you.

JL: Well, it’s an essentially dishonesty to say that there aren’t cuts currently. What we have is a Scottish Government that says “We do these good things, but let’s not talk about the consequences of that”, and I think what I have brought into sharp focus in this debate is actually there are consequences to the current choices, and I laid out some of these today in my debate – in my speech on education.

So it is depressing for me that the response to my speech from Alex Salmond was simply to close it down. A debate that his own Finance Secretary wanted to take place – that’s why he commissioned the Beveridge report, that’s why he commissioned the Christie report, and there’re very important opportunities in those reports to address this problem.

Everybody who provides public services knows they’re a problem, everybody who’s receiving public services knows there is a problem. I don’t think, in the real world, when Alex Salmond says “You can have everything fantastic with me, or you only have the Tories”, people don’t believe that. But I also think, while we debate the constitution for the next two years, one critical job for me is to make sure that the rest of politics is not put on pause.

BP: Why did you make this speech now rather than after the referendum?
JL: Ed Miliband told me to. He can’t go around talking about “One Nation” when Scotland has such significant differences on major issues. He assumes we’ll win the referendum no matter what, so I’ve been ordered to align Scottish Labour policies with those of the UK party as a priority, and I’m doing what I’m told. 

BP: 12 months into the job, what’s been the high?

JL: Surviving! And it has been remarkably good fun, em, it’s difficult to say what was the most fun, but I think genuinely, feeling, probably the local government elections. Just that sense in Glasgow that people had begin, perhaps, to put their trust in us again, but we know we’ve got a long way to go, and we have to make sure that trust they again put us, em, in May em, is, is, em, merited.

BP: Are you amazed you’re still in a job?
JL: Yes. God knows how we’re going to pay for that free wifi in Glasgow, though.

BP: Johann Lamont, thank you very much indeed.

BP: Christ, what a diddy.

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23 to “The condensed Lamont”

  1. Ah’m no a diddy. Ah’m a cannae wilny dinnaereallywanttae.

  2. scottish_skier says:

    It is rather odd that some people would still consider voting for Labour in Scotland. I mean they don’t actually have any policies at all. None, zip, zilch. What on earth would they do if they actually won an election? Just stand there looking a bit silly and uncomfortable?

  3. Macart says:

    Great googly moogly, this person must never, ever be allowed near anything sharp, pointy or comprised of any moving parts.

    Labour’s idea of a First Minister…………………..(shudders). 

  4. Robin Ross says:

    I understand that Ms Lamont was an English teacher.  No doubt she prepared Standard Grade pupils for assessment in Talk.  The criteria are clearly defined, and based on your transcription I would be hard pushed to award her a Grade 4 – a low General grade.  

    I don’t know if she ever ran a debating or public speaking club, but if she did, she has clearly employed the “do as I say, don’t do as I do” method.  This interview reveals someone who is badly briefed, badly thought out and at times is essentially incoherent.

    And yet she is the figurehead for the process of scrutiny of government in Holyrood.  It is disappointing (but not unexpected) that the political parties have failed to reflect the consensual politics that the debating chamber’s semi circular lay out might have promoted, but if we are going to have a government and opposition as in the Commons, please let us have an opposition that is prepared, thoughtful and can speak English.

  5. Boorach says:

    Just goes to show the woman is incapable of thinking on her feet and flounders, totally, when not provided with the questions in advance

  6. Boorach says:

    Sorry, that should have been ‘providedwith the answers’ in advance!

  7. MajorBloodnok says:

    Yes, I thought that Robin McAlpine’s article on the Jimmy Reid Foundation site that the Rev references is excellent and very informed and well worth a read.

    Actually that and Jeannie’s very interesting discussion a few threads ago about what was a ‘service’ and what was a ‘benefit’ has made this a great week for constructing counter-arguments to what Labour are saying (even if it’s not actually what could be described as ‘policy’).  Great stuff.

    By the way, I think she gave her initial speech at “The Hub” in Edinburgh (I recognised the wallpaper) – the Rev has it as [???] in his text – which I immediately saw as a diagram of what is generally between Johann’s ears at any particular moment in time.

  8. muttley79 says:

    I wonder what a lot of elected Labour members, MSPs, MPs, Councillors etc really think about Lamont?  I was reading Ian McWhirter’s article in the Herald and he mentioned Henry McLeish’s ‘icy silence’ to Lamont’s pronouncements.  I wonder how many secretly support independence, or are at least sympathetic to it?  Miliband’s praise of Thatcher can hardly have helped either.

  9. james morton says:

    Been scratching my head over this one for ages and in the end i remembered something called the Peter principle. Essentially individuals are promoted until they can no longer work competently. In Scottish labour you have a perfect storm, were people with real talent are sent to work in westminster, and folk below them who should have remained aides or councillors were promoted to MSPs. Then one of these people who are operating above their level of competence finds themselves promoted still further to that of party leader.

    So what we have is one party leader who should have been kept at below MSP level, being advised by folks who are clearly operating outwith their competence.

    I think when Dr Laurence Peter came up with the theory he imagined large organisations with a few people slipping through the net. Not an entire political party. There’s an article or two in this?

  10. EdinScot says:

    This rare interview with Bernard Ponsonby demonstrates why Lamentable is hidden week in week out except for fmq.  The msm know she will be toast if put in front of  the cameras for even soft questioning from the pravda press, her party knows it and now the Scottish public know it!
    That she threatens to take away these socially democratic and much needed policies whilst she remains a member of a party who spend billions on illegal and unjust wars and weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde shows she is out of touch with the people and what they require.  She knows no shame and so does not deserve to be in charge of our great country.  That is why she is and will continue to be on the losing side as the biggest vote in Scotland’s history looms ever nearer.  This woman and her party are an unfit opposition for a 21st century Scotland.  Can someone give this country an early christmas present and rid us the likes of her and her toryfied party masquarading as socialists.  Frauds i think is the word im looking for. 

  11. sneddon says:

    James Morton  
    I’ve been thinking along similar lines.  I honestly don’t know about JL.  Either she’s taking the piss or she’s on the pish.  Seriously, her lack of adaptability and articulacy during interviews  makes her sound like  someone at closing time after a session to be honest.  Also having anus leading the labour bitter together lot indicates there’s a recognition within labour JL isn’t quite right for the role.   Sometimes people in jobs beyond their ability try to cover it up with bluster but usually manifests itself as bullying and alchohol.  The lack of clear cut policies seem to me to indicate labour are in a holding action in Scotland and until 2014 or a change of leadership at scottish or national level it’ll stay that way.  Or alternatively,  they really are that hateful and mean spirited.

  12. Celyn says:

    replying to    Macart says:
    20 December, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Great googly moogly, this person must never, ever be allowed near anything sharp, pointy or comprised of any moving parts.

    Oh, but why not?   I would like to stand and watch.    Life is miserable and cold and we could all do with a laugh.

    It’s even more worrying that she used to be a school-teacher of some sort.   I wonder what subject she taught.

    Oh, I see. She taught English. That will teach me to read all posts before replying. 🙂 Oh ye gods, she taught English. Eek, eek and thrice EEK!


  13. DougtheDug says:

    There may be no reason for the “leader” of Labour in Scotland to be either smart or to have worked out budgets and policies for Scotland It may not matter to Labour in terms of Westminster success which is where their ambitions really lie.

    To be purely “oppositional” and to relentlessly kick the SNP government with no effort put into alternative policies may actually be the most efficient way to hold onto Westminster as Scotland’s ultimate parliament and to regain power there.

    If Labour can damage the SNP in the run-up to the referendum and win the referendum for the no side then they will most likely keep their Scottish MP’s in the next UK general election. Vote Labour to save Scotland from the Tories will be the standard call. (Labour will hope that the electorate will not wonder why Labour regard the real risk of Tory rule as preferable to independence.)

    Labour will most likely not lose anymore Labour councillors in the next local elections especially after a successful No vote.

    The Scottish Parliament is important but Westminster controls the purse strings and Labour are already trying to bypass it and hand power over to the local councils in Scotland. They’d prefer to win it but power in Westminster is the real prize.

    So here’s their strategy:

    1. Knock Alex Salmond and the SNP all the way to the referendum in the hope it damages the yes vote.

    2. Don’t waste time and energy trying to work out alternative policies for the Scottish Parliament at the same time.

    3. Win the independence referendum for the No vote.

    4. Regain power in Westminster

    5. Hand over a lot of powers from the Scottish Parliament to local councils where Labour are strong.

    6. Try and win the Scottish Parliament as an afterthought.

  14. DougtheDug says:

    Of course my previous post assumes that Hanlon’s Razor doesn’t apply.
    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

  15. martyn says:

    Labour website is not showing the education page anymore


  16. MajorBloodnok says:


    I agree with Alex Salmond though that a positive campaign will always win over a negative one and also I do think that the vast majority of Scots are canny enough to vote on policy as opposed to tribalism (See me?  I’m an optimist).

  17. Aplinal says:

    IIRC wasn’t Lamont only elected leader because of the Union vote?  Didn’t she lose the MSP vote by a significant margin?  At FMQs I do see a few surly faces in the background when the TV pans around.  Although there is far too much tribal politics in Holyrood (something that the election system and the format of the chamber was supposed to avoid) I sense that JL is not well liked by all her “minions”.

  18. Arbroath 1320 says:

    I really feel genuinely sorry for all those Labour supporters who still believe in the old traditional values that Labour once stood for. For these people to be members of the current Labour party must be an absolute nightmare. I am sure a majority of these root and branch members must be hoping that all the disasters that are currently occurring on an almost daily basis are actually just one nasty nightmare and they’ll waken up in a minute.

    What I find absolutely bewildering is that the few Labour MSP’s who clearly can see what is happening and ARE in favour of Independence can’t bring themselves to step away from the Labour benches and join the Independents/Greens in the chamber. I am certain they would receive a great deal of support. Surely it is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens.

  19. Adrian B says:

    wasn’t Lamont only elected leader because of the Union vote? 

    I believe if memory serves me right, that this indeed was the case. I also think that of all of the trade union members that voted for her – many had also stated online that they had voted SNP at the 2011 election. Whether this is true or not and what the numbers were we will never know. One thing is without doubt – she was elevated well above her abilities and pay-grade.

    I wonder if she can survive through to the Referendum? 

  20. JLT says:

    Thanks Stu,

    To be honest …that is priceless !!!

    Johann must be bricking it, should the Referendum be a ‘Yes’ one. I mean, what the hell is she going to be doing the very next day. She know’s she’ll be sacked (if she’ not gone before then with this track record). With all the Labour, Lib and Tory MP’s to come home, she must know that she wouldn’t even remain within the cabinet should Labour win the Scottish General Election – she is that poor.
    In fact, I can see the blame game already. You’ll have the Westminster Labour boys coming home, and dragging her into a room, so they can scream the room down at her; asking her what the f*** she was doing these last 2 to 3 years. At the same time, they miss the point, for this is actually their fault. They put a clown in place to fight the most astute and cleverest politician within a generation. Lamont V Salmond…it’s like Imir Khan fighting Mike Tyson.
    It reminds you of that saying when Britain handed independence to some of the African colonies; ‘it was like giving a 10 year old, a cheque book, the key to the liquor cabinet and a gun all at the same time.’ This is exactly what Westminster Labour have done for the Labour Party in Scotland. They put an ‘uneducated and ignorant child’ in charge of the ‘No’ campaign…

  21. Luigi says:

    I don’t think they had much choice, JLT. The Labour A team disappeared south long ago. Even the B team were all but wiped out in the 2011 Scottish election. There was very little to choose from those that avoided the wipe-out in 2011.

  22. Douglas says:

    Yes, the Lamentable was an English teacher but not a very good one, apparently.  She couldn’t hack it in the classroom and can’t hack it at Holyrood.  She gives English teachers generally, a bad name and of course the human race.

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