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Wings Over Scotland

The difference between talking and walking

Posted on March 13, 2013 by

For the seasoned political analyst (and also for idiots like us), it can be hard to offer a rational explanation for why any thinking human being would ever believe a word the Labour Party says about anything any more.


It came to power 16 years ago promising to introduce electoral reform, then ditched it. (But still hilariously claims to be committed to the principle despite 100 years of failing to deliver it.) It also pledged not to introduce university tuition fees, then introduced them. It campaigned for re-election on a promise not to increase them, then increased them. It – well, we could go on all day, just about tuition fees alone.

But let’s cut to the chase and move up to the present day.

Yesterday we highlighted how for all Labour’s grandstanding in the press about the Bedroom Tax, the party actually implemented it first (for private tenants, in the form of Local Housing Allowance in 2008) and would not repeal it if elected in 2015. It rages against the coalition’s brutal welfare “reforms”, while more quietly admitting that Labour would continue the programme in power.

And this week delivered a strikingly clear illustration of how – entirely by conscious design – the party’s actions never match up to its words.

On Monday night, the SNP-controlled Dundee City Council passed a resolution committing the council to a policy of not evicting tenants for rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax. Labour have been agitating for some time for the Scottish Government to make such a policy law nationwide (ignoring the many practical problems such a move would create if imposed as a blanket rule).

Yet when the time came for the vote, the Labour delegation on Dundee Council rejected the policy their own party calls for, in favour of an amendment merely demanding that the Scottish Government take action instead. Given the choice between actually doing something to protect their own constituents or trying to score a party political point against the SNP, Labour did what wouldn’t surprise a single observer of Scottish politics – bashed the Nats.

Scottish Labour “leader” Johann Lamont called last autumn for more powers to be devolved away from central Scottish Government control to local councils. Yet when offered the chance to use the powers they already have for the benefit of the people they represent, by enacting a policy Labour themselves have loudly called for, Labour councillors elected instead to pass the buck to Holyrood. And here’s the kicker: they did so knowing that the Scottish Government had already rejected the plan.

So let’s recap. Dundee Labour’s choices were:

1. Vote for a plan which would actually ensure nobody in Dundee was evicted over bedroom-tax arrears (but which would involve co-operating with the SNP).

2. Vote for a different plan with no hope of success, knowing if that vote were to be carried people in Dundee might well be evicted over bedroom-tax arrears (but sod them, because they matter less than a chance to attack the SNP at Holyrood).

Which would they plump for? That’s a no-brainer if ever there was one. But of course, we’re being unfair. Labour knew they could have their Dundee cake and eat it, because the SNP majority would ensure that the poorest people of the city were protected, leaving Labour safe to snipe cheaply from opposition.

This site can only applaud the conduct of the SNP delegation in not having three of its councillors vote with Labour and sacrificing those vulnerable tenants, in the name of exposing Labour’s hypocrisy for party political gain.

But the problem is that Labour’s national strategy is no different to its local one. Whether in Scotland or the UK, it will strenously attack policies it has absolutely no intention of actually reversing in power. We wonder how long it’ll take its remaining members to realise it.

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26 to “The difference between talking and walking”

  1. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy)

    You could also write a similar article on the Lib Dems now and have a picture of a fruit cake…
    Supporting something for 100 years but doing nothing to achieve it – Check
    Making claims you will do one thing and doing another – Check
    Trying to pass the buck to others to pick up your mess – Check
    Its a sad state of affairs when the left in the UK have no-body that they can actually TRUST to deliver a left wing government.
    Its all Blue, Red or Yellow Tories now…

  2. Rod Mac

    Excellent article ,and one with your permission I will  do a little plagiarism with.
    Tragedy is nobody in MSM or Broadcasting media will show up this Labour double dealing

  3. Doug Daniel

    What exactly was stopping Dundee Labour from tabling a motion saying “aye, do this, but also demand the Scottish Government change the law”? If their concern is really about people affected by the tax, but they also strongly feel that it should be a national solution rather than a local one, then that would be the way to go about it.
    But no, they chose petty oppositionalism instead, as per usual. How pathetic can you get?

  4. Peter A Bell

    I would make the further point that the original proposal was more to do with gesture politics and seeking to embarrass the SNP administration that with practical help for council tenants in Dundee. The reason I say this is that it is extremely doubtful that Dundee Council could forego the option of eviction without running into some serious legal hazard.

    Councils are under a legal obligation to pursue debts owed to them by all legal means. Failure to do so would almost certainly lead to charges of malfeasance. It could readily be argued that by refusing to use the option of eviction or the threat of eviction the Council would be derelict in its duty to manage the city’s finances responsibly.

    The whole business of campaigning against evictions is fraught with problems and is, in any case, a distraction from the real fight, which is to abolish this abhorrent measure altogether and not to find ways of making it more palatable.

    Whichever way you look at it, Dundee City Council’s Labour Group, and the British Labour Party in Scotland, are playing petty political games with this issue in a way that is utterly shameful.

  5. Macart

    Labour once again have reached a level and limbo danced under it with inches to spare.
    This is not rocket science – People before party.

  6. Luigi

    They would soon forget the Bain Principle if they were asked to support an increase in councillor expenses.

  7. Stewart Hunter

    As one of Dundee’s SNP councillors thought you would be interested in the background to this debate. I should point out that it was a Labour motion calling on us to write to the Scottish Government. our amendment, which surprised Labour, was that we called on the UK Government to abolish the bedroom tax, re affirm Council policy which we passed last month calling for welfare to be devolved to Scotland and stating that we would take all measures to recover arrears but not to evict tenants.

    Almost as soon as we tabled our amendment Labour councillors were on their feet asking questions to officer imploring them to concede that our amendment was foolish and impractical. I think they were a bit stunned when the chief exec described the choice as the Labour motion which meant help for tenants might happen but only some considerable time in the future – pointing out how long it would take for Scot Gov to change the law – and our amendment which would definitely help tenants and help them now.

    We were accused by one Labour councillor that we should stop playing party politics and listen to the real people, one labour councillor couldn’t support us because we would “only be helping council tenants” and therefore we should do nothing.

    The sole Lib Dem councillor stated that if our amendment was solely about not evicting and got rid of the part about the UK Government he would have supported us but wouldn’t because we criticised the UK Government.

    The Tory said he couldn’t back either motion and the independent suggested exactly what has been suggested writing to Scottish Government and the no eviction policy. Labour refused to take that option despite initially suggesting that they would.

    Sadly, we are all too used in the Council of the Labour group blaming everything on the Scottish Government and spurning several opportunities that we have given them to work together for the benefit of the people of Dundee who elected us.

  8. The Man in the Jar

    @Stewart Hunter
    Thanks for that, a very good insight.
    The bit that I find jaw dropping is “We were accused by one Labour councillor that we should stop playing party politics and listen to the real people.”

  9. lumilumi

    It’s the Bain Principle, isn’t it?
    Anything the SNP propose – oppose, oppose, oppose, regardless of its merit, or, indeed, whether you’ve proposed the same at an earlier date. Wasn’t there a local council a year or two ago where Labour opposed its own amendment after the controlling SNP group adopted it in full? (I think it was Stirling Council and council budget but I’m not sure.)
    O/T I was just watching/listening to the Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament live online. They were discussing the NHS waiting times and the Audit Scotland report into them. Committee convener Iain Gray MSP (Lab).
    Now, I think it’s right and proper that the opposition hold the government into account, and that issues are given proper scrutiny in committees, that committees hear from a wide spectrum of expert and lay witnesses etc. However, this time I couldn’t help feeling that the Audit Committee was being used as a tool to flog the dead horse of NHS waiting times (Labour-manufactured) “scandal”.
    The witnesses included people from Audit Scotland, NHS boards and SG civil servants. Proper scrutiny of public bodies is right and proper, but, at times, this committee session sounded more like a political point-scoring exercise, especially when Ms Jackie Baillie began asking “Have you stopped beating your wife” -type questions in that smug, self-satisfied voice of hers. Earlier Bob Doris (SNP) asked questions of the witnesses and when he wanted to put something on the record, convener Iain Gray interrupted and tried to shut him up. Mr Doris persisted and had his say, thank god.
    Watching/listening to that committee meeting gave such a disheartening picture of democracy in Scotland within the UK. There’s one party that’s trying to do what’s best for Scotland, the main opposition party opposes everything on principle, the Scottish Tories actually often take a pragmatic and sensible approach on devolved issues, the LibDems are all over the place but basically descending towards the Bain Principle, the Greens do their own thing…
    I sincerely hope that Scotland becomes independent in 2016. It’s a chance to get away from Westminster-type yaa-boo two-party politics (in which all main parties are basically the same!). A written constitution and a PR electoral system could slowly bring about change in the British political culture north of the border, and, who knows, even south of the border!
    Actually, the Scottish Parliament and its mixture of FPTP and PR has already changed Scottish political culture, make it diverge from the Westminster-style. Under the present Holyrood system, Scots are more likely to get the government that they vote for than they are under the Westminster system.
    I hope that Scotland becomes independent in 2016, and soon after there will be several major parties and numerous minor parties contesting seats under a PR system. Governments will be coalitions, not one-party dictatures like Westminster governments usually are – the strange anomaly right now is that FPTP Westminster has a coalition and semi-PR Holyrood a one-party government!
    An independent Scotland will need a couple of big lefty parties (Labour for indedendence people, SSP, left wing SNP?), a couple of centrist parties (SNP, Scottish Liberals/Democrats/whatevers in a new incarnation?) and a couple of rightist parties. Well, one is enough. Murdo Fraser’s “NOT Tory” rightist party that he campaigned for when contesting the Scottish Tory leadership in 2011. Greens, to give the Parliament and government an environmental conscience. A generous sprinkling of minor parties, which might get some MSPs. The problem is that Scots will have to get used to a new political culture in which coalition governments are the norm and GOOD. (Coalition governments are the norm in the Nordic countries, we abhor one-party governments, such as the Westminster system; a one-party government sounds suspiciously like dictature.)
    Sorry, I seem to have written an essay again. 🙁  (Nobody probably bothered reading it through, though :-D)

  10. Yesitis

    As a Dundonian, I consider the Labour Party to be beneath contempt; and that`s all I will say, else I might really lose it…

  11. lumilumi

    @stewart hunter, 14.14 above
    Thanks for your insight – I was writing my rant/essay above so didn’t see it before now.
    The thing that caught my eye in your contribution was this:
    “one labour councillor couldn’t support us because we would “only be helping council tenants” and therefore we should do nothing.”
    Now, this “bedroom tax” only affects council/social housing tenants, Labour already put the squeeze on private tenants when they were in power in the UK before 2010. Now it seems that Labour, the self-awoved party of the “working man” doesn’t want to help the working poor, nevermind the non-working poor, such as the disabled. All they can do is a load of hot air and blustering, with an eye on SE England.
    In a way I like the Tories more than Labour because they don’t much pretend to be other than what they are, whereas the Labour party is so corrupt, so far removed from its original ideals, so hypocritical, so full of lies and deceit that it really disgusts me. The Labour brand has been totally besmirched, soiled, sold… People who still hold traditional Labour values have left (or been made to leave) the party. I hope that in an independent Scotland there will be a healthy left.

  12. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy)

    “one labour councillor couldn’t support us because we would ‘only be helping council tenants’ and therefore we should do nothing.”
    Ah, the old solidarity narrative again…
    If we cant end all the worlds ills in one go then its wrong to try and do what we can when we can.
    If they were to Reverse that thinking they would be looking at an independent Scotland as an opportunity to develop real social justice… but no… ‘if we cant end all of the UK’s ills in one go then no-one should benefit’
    The solidarity of misery!

  13. Doonfooter

    O/T sorry but The Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland  Conference (currently happening in Glasgow) had a debate scheduled this morning on “The Implications of Greater Powers for Scotland” with Linda Fabiani, Willie Rennie and Johann Lamont all scheduled to appear together with Martin Sime Chief Executive of SCVO.
    The latest update on the CIH Scotland website doesn’t list Johann Lamont among the speakers so I surmise she was a no-show! Anybody any idea if anything interesting was said?

  14. Rod Mac

    The latest update on the CIH Scotland website doesn’t list Johann Lamont among the speakers so I surmise she was a no-show! Anybody any idea if anything interesting was said
    Well if Johann was a no show ,it would be more interesting.
    Incidentally was Willie there as a Stand Up act or has he been given a script to read out blaming SNP for all the problems?

  15. Scott Macdonald

    According to Johann Lamont’s Twitter account, she was there.

  16. lumilumi

    @doonfooter at 15.32 above
    Isn’t it obvious that the wooden puppet Johann Lamont is only wheeled out at FMQs every Thursday when she, robot-like, reads a script to bash the SNP, Alex Salmond, and now, increasingly, Nicola Sturgeon and/or Alec Neil.
    The Bitters NO tigithers have twigged to the fact that yearnings, endevours for Scottish independence aren’t just a one-man show – so they’ve decided on ad hominem attacks not only on Alex Salmond but also other front-line Scots politicians. As if independence was about some politician. Labour, and other unionist politicians forget the most important thing. As per the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320, the Scots people are soveregn.  (The English make much ado about their Magna Carta of 1215, which was a lot less democratic than the Arbroth declaration. If we want to go deep that way in history.)
    It’s almost amusing to see how the ‘no’ lot move. I was expecting an attack on Nicola Sturgeon a year ago, so they were late in my reckoning. Could MI6 be so late? Do they know something we don’t? Like, there’s nuthing to know.:-D
    MI6 of course knows and does a hell of a lot more than we ordinary people know. For all we know, we all commenters at WoS are given files. 😀
    Still, it cannot be wrong to hope that Scotland will be independent in 2016.

  17. Triskelion

    I know this is beside the point, but IS there any substantial reason that the for Scottish Goverment not pass it as law?

  18. Heather McLean

    I live in Dundee and heard about this on the local radio station. It should have been front page news, but no chance of that in the Tory Dundee Courier. I would doubt if the ordinary Dundee man in the street would even realise that the SNP had saved the day for them and will continue to vote for the same treacherous labour councellors when the local elections come around again!
    This needs to be shouted from the rooftops in Dundee and all over Scotland. I’m posting this on my Facebook page, as I do with all Wings articles, but unfortunately it will only reach my like minded friends.

  19. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “I know this is beside the point, but IS there any substantial reason that the for Scottish Goverment not pass it as law?”

    There are several arguments against making it law. One is that it would just lead to people building up huge debts which would still have to be paid at some point. Another is that it would deprive local authorities of much-needed money, which would have knock-on effects elsewhere. Doing it for a year as an emergency measure while people try to sort things out or get the tax repealed is one thing, writing it into the law of the land is a whole other can of worms.

  20. cath

    Exactly. Can you imagine the howling and shrieking from Labour run councils if the Scottish government forced through a law making it illegal for them to evict council tenants for rent arrears?

  21. dundee bloke

    cath, it’s only the tenants on benifits that s lab want on the streets. over the years the poorer and less advantaged in our communities have been voting slab less often and in smaller numbers, now slab wants to make them pay to be allowed to die early

  22. lumilumi

    Hmmh… As to housing benefits in general…
    I’m a bit lefty, socialist, but I think that the UK HB system is thoroughly rotten and in need of a major overhaul. Paying huge HBs directly to private landlords just accelerates rents and the (UK)  property bubble, neoliberal ideology, playing with everybody’s monopoly kiddie play money and getting grumpy and tantrumy now that you didn’t do so well. Oh, these bankers are so pitiful, on a human scale.
    I think that single/couple after the kids have flown the nest ought to move into something smaller. (My parents did.)  Of course the problem is that if no smaller accommodation is available within that council area, so people willing to downsize are penalised because the cannot because the council has no smaller homes, so through no fault of their own, these social tenants are suddenly “undesirables”, or, I think this is the phrase the Bullington millionaire cabinet likes to use: “the undeserving poor”.
    I have a theory that there will never be enough homes. People always want bigger and better homes. When I was a student (1990s), I lived in a tiny flat, original WC (toilet) & shower room (built afterwards), kitchenette in the corner, loft bed above it. Table, sofa, bookcases, desk&computer. I lived there alone. Originally, a family of 5 or 7 would’ve lived in that flat. If social housing had ever asked them, they would’ve been happy with about 37 sqm (kitchen, room, separate bedroom) instead of that 27 sqm.
    Middle-income middle-class Finns now think they need a garden,a large, open-plan kitchen/dining room, livingroom, study, utility room, mudroom (separate entrance for bringing in muddy kids), sauna, dressing room, at least two toilets(WCs) and one bathroom for the master bedroom and another to share by all the other bedrooms, ideally one bedroom per kid.
    My parents were quite well off but when I grew up in the 1970s, I shared a room with a brother until I was 11. We only had the one bathroom. All my friends shared rooms with sisters/brothers, everybody’s home had just one bathroom.

  23. Derick

    Triskelion says:
    13 March, 2013 at 5:09 pm
    “I know this is beside the point, but IS there any substantial reason that the for Scottish Goverment not pass it as law?”

    A Housing Association perspective here. Many reasons, and one big one. Social Housing Landlords have one source of income, and one only: rent.  Local authorities are legally forbidden from subsidising the Housing Revenue Account from the General Account (although they can cream off rents to use elsewhere). Housing Associations only have rent.

    If some people don’t pay, then the rents will have to go up across the board.  All social landlords have assumptions on arrears losses built into their business plans already. Lenders look at how realistic these are and price our borrowings accordingly.  Change the financial viability of the organization negatively, and the cost of borrowing goes up.  Which equals fewer new homes built, fewer existing homes upgraded. 

    The Govan Law Centre (a Labour front if ever there was one) campaign is deeply disengenuous: just the Bain Principle in action.   How would we tell ‘Bedroom Tax’ arrears from ‘other’ arrears.  Nobody wants to evict for rent arrears, not least because of the hassle and expense.  Nevertheless it is the final sanction and needs to stay.

    We have been downsizing people as quickly as we can, although it’s difficult as there are only a fraction of the smaller properties, and people perfectly understandably don’t want to move from family, friends, support networks.  A deeply invidious position to be in.  But we have to deal with it practically.

    This morning we were discussing the issue of not evicting for bedroom tax arrears and the point was made that those most likely to develop them ALREADY have very substantial arrears due to not managing their money, not having enough money, not having the cushion for unexpected events.  Again – how are we to distinguish Bedroom Tax arrears from more general arrears? It’s not possible.

    For all the fuss made about the Bedroom Tax, it is not the most pernicious of the welfare reforms.  The changing of benefit uprating from RPI to CPI is the largest. The ending of direct payments (where, at present, housing benefit is paid direct to the landlord) is a disaster waiting to happen.  Various obscure changes to ‘disregards’ are also massive. All tending to remove money from the poorest.

    Once Universal Credit comes in HB will be paid to tenants, monthly. And they will have to manage their money on their own.  Bairns need shoes, or the rent? electric bill needs paid, or the rent? A ‘normal’ assumption for arrears levels that a landlord (or more correctly other tenants) can carry without difficulty is 1-4%.  The DWP piloted UC with handpicked ‘responsible’ tenants and saw arrears go to 8% of total rent due.  That is going to cause some landlords to collapse.  Want repairs done? forget it. 
    Scotland can, must, do better.  Shift subsidy back to bricks and mortar, so rents are low and work always pays. Massively simplify the benefit system with a guaranteed, universal income.  That’s my take on it.
    Apologies for length.  Could say a lot more but dunna want ta bore da tits affa aabody

  24. Toots Capoot

    lumilumi @ 2.42pm
    Fab post.

  25. molly

    So when do the ‘leaders of the Councils ‘go in front of a Holyrood Committee to explain why they ‘ve not built the housing required -especially as certain councils are sitting with reserves ?

  26. Heather McLean

    “Middle-income middle-class Finns now think they need a garden,a large, open-plan kitchen/dining room, livingroom, study, utility room, mudroom (separate entrance for bringing in muddy kids), sauna, dressing room, at least two toilets(WCs) and one bathroom for the master bedroom and another to share by all the other bedrooms, ideally one bedroom per kid.
    My parents were quite well off but when I grew up in the 1970s, I shared a room with a brother until I was 11. We only had the one bathroom. All my friends shared rooms with sisters/brothers, everybody’s home had just one bathroom”

    lumilumi I’m a wee bit confused by the point you’re trying to make here?? Are you saying that we should go back to the way things were in the ‘good old days’? Are you saying that people should just be content to take a backward step put up with what was good enough 30 years ago?? Are you saying that people have no right to aspire to better housing and a better standard of living??
    Or maybe they do as long as they are not social housing tenants??
    Thank goodness the SNP are all about a fairer society for ALL the people of Scotland!!

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