The Lady is for Turning

By Mike Small
The Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont last night delivered a speech that has put her on the front pages of every newspaper and set the Twitterati alight, itself an achievement for a leader who, one year in, has no discernible policies. She started by saying we ‘it was time to end a “something for nothing” culture.’ Everyone assumed she would be talking about the culture of corporate greed, fat cats and tax evasion that’s surrounds us. Lamont has after all built her reputation as the no-nonsense Old Labour straight-talker protecting the core vote. She has set herself as the Honest Jo against Sly Salmond. But it wasn’t the wealthy she had in mind but the concept of universal benefits which sees people receiving tuition fees and prescriptions for free.
It’s a massive shift for Scottish Labour. A huge gamble. Possibly a death-spasm for the party. The likelihood of quite a few major, and thousands of minor defections over this is high indeed. The message to the residual core voter seems to be: “Vote Labour and lose your bus pass. Vote Labour and lose your education. Vote Labour to raise council tax.”
You are left scratching your head and wondering who sanctioned this speech? Lamont’s sad disaffected utterances represent a tragic lowering of the bar for the once proud Labour tradition. Is it really too much to ask to live in a society where we have free prescriptions and our elderly relatives don’t spend five hours on a hospital trolly? Do we really consider it impossible for us to have free university education and have high educational standards and access to further learning? Is this ‘old’ Labour clientelism gone mad? Has some focus-group spat out this policy detritus?
It’s the end of a bad week for Labour’s No campaign. Ian Duncan Smith came North to preach that the unemployed should work for nothing,  and what Martin Sime of SCVO called ‘the biggest assault on the poorest people in living memory ‘ and was utterly demolished. Then Labour lost their general secretary Colin Smyth in an internal feud described by Labour loyalist Michael Kelly described as ‘savage’. The same writer informed us with some glee (and sense of imminent revival) that “Constituency Labour parties are being rejigged to reflect Holyrood, rather than Westminster.” 13 years in to devolution you might have not thought that would be a breakthrough strategy.
By mid-week a former friend of Donald Dewar, the veteran commentator Ruth Wishart came out in support of the Yes campaign on the eve of a huge independence rally in the capital. Wishart explained: “The over-riding reason why I will come out loud and proud today is because I truly believe this to be a historic opportunity to shape the kind of nation we want our children and grandchildren to inherit and grow up in. The de facto privatisation of the English health system, the willful fragmentation of their education sector, and, most damaging of all, the imposition of appalling tax and benefit “reforms” which will hit the most vulnerable while protecting the wealthy are all anathema to a large majority of Scots of all political persuasions.” Her speech at the rally was widely thought to be the best. Senior Labour figures are said to be appalled.
Sadly at the end of the week, the question: “What are Scottish Labour for?”  remains unanswered. Trident and the Union is about the closest you could get. They’re certainly against Alex Salmond and universal benefits but have no clear alternative policies to speak of.
Commenting on Johann Lamont’s volte face The Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie said: “If policy reform means ending the free education Johann Lamont’s generation enjoyed, or charging patients for NHS services, or continuing to court the support of big business donors for middle-of-the-road policies, Labour are free to continue their decline.” He continued: “They will leave the debate about Scotland’s future to those who already have a sense of direction, and who see 2014 as a positive opportunity to take Scotland forward.”
This isn’t off the rails rambling like Wendy’s ‘bring it on’ though. This is a carefully scripted note left on the table. This is an effort to demonstrate ‘maturity’ and ‘credibility’ through loud expressions of pragmatism, but it’s vastly undermined by her inability to say anything – at all – in its place. This might actually work if you were a consummate communicator or a charismatic leader. It might work if Scottish Labour were a hive of inspiring policy creativity. Lamont and Labour are none of these things. Yes Pat Kane said: “I think indicative of something dying off, and something new being born, in terms of the political gravity in Scotland.”
You are left with the realisation that Lamont and her advisors really think people will be motivated to vote to remove free bus travel for OAP’s. In Cameron’s austerity Britain that appears to be the most pressing issue for the Labour Party in Scotland. As Robin McAlpine sugests: “This is a sharp turn to the right, an outright rejection of the universal welfare state and a relaunch of the doctrines of Blairism.”
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23 replies

  1. The labour party was destroyed when Blair arrived on the scene so what policies they have now will be irrellevent to the majority of true labour supporters who have left to join SNP. Labour is now seen as a second tory party in most respects.

  2. To be honest, I don’t think she has a clue what’s she’s doing

    • Lamont knows what she is doing – what she is told. Margaret Curran gave much the same speech – in February as I recall. Does Lamont have a single original thought? There has been no evidence of it since she was elected.

  3. D’ya know, I could honestly greet. I’m a middle aged man who saw the UCS sit in as a teenager and it made an impression on me that has marked me for life. Call it “the rules of fairness”; that’s my own dewy-eyed nomenclature. It stands for life in general where no one takes the piss, where the unfortunate are given a hand up and where really important stuff like healthcare and education are available to all, regardless of their wealth or poverty.

    Yes, the rich may choose to opt out and that is their right. But for the other ninety odd percent of us, we are all in this together and I bear no grudge to anyone who needs my taxes to make their life bearable.

    I’m genuinely troubled that the Labour Party, (really, is it really them?) are moving away from me…

  4. “She started by saying we ‘it was time to end a “something for nothing” culture.’” No she didn’t. She didn’t even say that in the middle of her speech. What she did say was that we can’t have Scandinavian spending without Scandinavian taxation, that that would be “something for nothing”.

    • It amounts to the same thing — she just gave an example of the ‘something for nothing’s who don’t deserve free education, health car and anything else people need to help financially contribute to in order to have a society fit for people to live in.

      Guess, you must be feeling proud of Labour right now, eh?

      I for one welcome the thoughts aloud of Johann Lamont — especially in that they so mirror the Tories (June 2012 – saying exactly the same thing) and Ed Miliband at the conference in England.

      This, incidentally is what Labour hinks — their London bosses dictate and they hop to it. And they wonder why Scotland is rejecting them.

    • Duncan, we don’t have anything like Scandinavian levels of spending so it is garbage to suggest that. If we did we wouldn’t have the decaying infrastructure, the miserable public services and the poverty which is to be found in almost every town and village in Scotland. Scandinavians arriving in this country must wonder if they’ve landed in some recovering part of the ex-Soviet empire. I can assure you as a tax payer in both the Finnish republic and the UK I don’t have the slightest bit of resentment at handing over 28% of my income to the Finnish state because it provides high standards of living for all but I grudge every penny I pay to the UK which squanders my money on nuclear weapons, vanity infrastructure projects in London and illegal wars. And Duncan, Norway pays its way by taxing its oil industry and investing the proceeds. Social Democrat politicians there haven’t spent the last 35 years pretending to their people that their natural resources are worthless, they’ve spent and invested and provided their population with the highest standard of living in the world.

    • I have collected together a quick comparison of Norway and the UK.

      Norway v UK tax rates (collated from multiple sources by wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_rates):

      Country/Region——Corporate——-Individual———Payroll tax
      Norway ——————-28%———— 0–47.8% ——–0–14.1%
      UK —————–20% under £300K—- 0%-50% ——–0%–12%
      ———————-24% over £300K

      Norway v UK by Human Development Index (UN 2011: http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Table1.pdf)

      Rank Country Index
      1st Norway 0.943
      28th United Kingdom 0.863

      Norway v UK by GDP per capita nominal (from IMF 2011)
      Rank Country GDP
      3rd Norway 97,255
      22nd United Kingdom 38,592

      Norway vs UK Government taxation & spending as a percent of GDP (Economic Freedom Index 2011: http://www.heritage.org/index/explore?view=by-variables):

      Country Taxation(%) Spending(%)
      Norway—42.1%——– 40.2%
      UK———38.9%———-47.3%

    • All right Duncan – she says Scotland can’t afford to have a certain level of spending without the taxation to pay for it. Unfortunately, we don’t have powers over income tax (don’t insult us with the Calman rubbish – without the power to change the top rate independently, the power will be worthless), corporation tax, stamp duty, alcohol duty, air duty, blah blah blah, so we can’t increase these taxes.

      A true socialist would want to raise taxes to fund public services. However, this would mean supporting independence (or FFA at least), so Johann supports spending cuts instead.

      Keir Hardie would be proud…

    • Stirring up resentment between have-nots and haves is not a new tactic – it served labour and some loony-left types quite well in the past.

  5. Mike — as always, fine on the pulse analysis — though to be fair, this was a bit of a Chrissy pressie from the grave-like swamplands of the zombie Labour flesh-eating depths to which they’ve sunk and must have left you thinking, ‘are these people trying to actually write this stuff for me’.

    I am left smiling at the sad attempt to grab the non-existant Tory heartlands in Scotland. This is a plan to unite with Ruth Davidson in Holyrood against the FM and the SNP — to what good? Bless the Brit nat Labourites for their apparent willingness to simply admit that all this socialism and progressive politics thingymajiggy that they used to think was relevant doesn’t concern the voters of Scotland anymore. The end of universal benefits is nigh, long live nukes and cuts.

    BUT… is this the end of Labour? can anything actually puncture that large dinosaur shaped balloon of gas to free the political consciousness of the Scottish people? Well, we’ll see — Labour are certainly trying hard all by themselves to send Scotland Brit nat and right-ward — in the end, they may win the YES campaign for us by simply being so repulsive to the sensibilities of the Scots.

  6. She’s lost the plot.

    Let’s keep funding Trident, getting involved in illegal wars, lining Labour MP’s pockets with Westminster expenses, paying off the ever growing cost of PFI deals so that the Labour Party can suggest we sign some more, funding London Olympics, being laughed at by other independent nations for being a pretendy wee country, slashing Holyrood’s budgets, lets attack the poor and vulnerable in our society, lets take away hope from our young by taking away their apprenticeships…

    Of course, there is another way.

    Vote YES.

  7. This looks suspiciously like an early suicide note for Scottish Labour in the next election.

  8. Incidentally, they’re doing U-turns, sommersaults and cart wheels to try and extricate themselves from this self-created Armageddon — Twsitter is alive and kicking with furious Labour people. Hey, if you’re reading this, join the Labour Voters For Independence campaign. Take the leap — it’s a big one but you can do it. Labour left you, not the other way around.

    QUESTION: what is so absolutely wonderful about the Union that they absolutely, totally have to hold onto it by the finger nails at all costs?

    ANSWER: I don’t know either but the jobs and pensions are awfully attractive — that’s all as a socialist I can think of.

    Being generous, one might suggest, they support it mindlessly because they always have done… doesn’t work for me as a socialist who sees an independent centre-left Scotland as being better than a Tory–controlled British region.

    QUESTION: Why is Labour holding on to a Union that prises nukes and fiscal cuts over the NHS and economic growth?

    ANSWER: They have swung to the right to court the Tory heartlands in England who don’t see the benefit to them personally of ‘universal benefits’.

    And none of this is made up or terribly difficult to understand.

  9. The world’s worst economic crisis for 80 years rumbles on. Empires crumble, currencies collapse, there is a run on the banks. In the face of these world changing events politicians need every resource at their disposal to make sure the people they serve are protected against the economic storm. Creativity, imagination, determination and resourcefulness have to be employed. New ways of thinking, better ways of doing things and creative budgeting are all part of the required mix.

    What then do we get from Scottish Labour leader, Lamont? Do we see any signs that she and her party have grasped how serious the situation is? Indeed not. Instead we are told cuts and tax rises are the answer. And higher taxes for what? To fund Labour cooncils like Glasgow and Aberdeen, the first mired in debt as a result of Labour’s own PFI schemes, the second -despite protestations of funding shortfalls – determined to refuse an injection of private cash from local business. Lamont prescribes a direct transfer of resources from the hard pressed productive sector to her spendthrift chums in local authorities.

    In a lengthy speech she explains why we must go down the UK coalition road of freezing less well off students out of higher education and means testing benefit recipients. But we hear nothing of significance about the economy. There are no ideas about how to create wealth, re-position the economy, encourage entrepreneurialism or build a better infrastructure. She doesn’t look f orward, takes no account of macro-economic conditions, fails to consider how we might use any of our vast natural resources to stimulate growth or create jobs and says not a word about small business. What tax hikes does she have in mind for employers; the tradesmen, retailers and service providers who are at the heart of our economy?

    The function of her announcement is to describe how to manage ‘poverty’, not change anything. Her proposals represent the mindset of m id-level local authority managerialism w here vision and aspiration are absent .

    I dread the impact that Lamont would have on small businesses. Surely there can be no possibility she will ever find her way into the corridors of power.

  10. Freebies no they are not I paid my dues,I worked from 1967 till 2 1/2 years ago when an accident in work made me unable to work can hardly walk I use a stick and get to use my bus pass about twice a month.No I paid for these “benefits.

    • Quite right Charles the whole narrative of ‘freebies’ is of course an insult to the idea of a ‘commonwealth’ or any kind of shared collective public good.

  11. Charles is quite right – they are not freebies they are already paid for through taxation. You cannot exclude a section of society from access without cutting their contribution. Effectively a tax cut, with them paying for access. Since it is highly unlikely that any party would ring-fence a tax cut in this fashion as it would be costly to administer, the only option would be to remove access for everyone. So everyone would pay, but would still pay national insurance. Basically the system used for prescriptions prior to the change in policy by the SNP. The money *saved* would not be ring-fenced, this sort of thing never is, but what you would see is a greater transfer of public services into the private sector. This may sound fine to certain people, but whenever you engage the private sector at all – costs go up, not down. It’s just kept off the books so to speak via PFI, but if your looking to save money that would be crazy talk surely. No what she wants; perhaps, is to implement a series of unpopular cash raising schemes such as sponging off future students, saving the odd copper from granny and forcing her off the bus, and getting all of us to pay for prescriptions to help pay for everything else that we use. Rather than be upfront about public services needing to be paid for if we want to keep them, so Scottish labour would introduce these policies to ensure that that they are paid for, She instead chooses to go about it in a cack-handed fashion straight out of “in the thick of it” and piss everyone off by refusing to spell the future public services she envisions. This allowed the media to run wild with the story within minutes of it getting out. The screech monkies on the right are positively exultant at the beating of the poor they thing she intends to mete out, and hailing her cruelty as inspired. The Left are horrified at the seeming betrayal and are choking on it. She seemed unwilling or unable to spell it out in better detail when she had the chance on newsnight, and this makes her seem either stupid or vicious. What is worse for her is Ed Miliband comes out and states with conviction the need to keep these benefits. The leader of the Welsh assembly comes out and states the same thing. This leaves people like Duncan to try and hold back the flood by claiming she never said anything of the sort. But…Duncan…she kinda did. She may have intended to make some statement about viable public services but now as far as the media are concerned she is either mean spirited hater of the poor or a champion of the rich going forward to beat up on the poor. As the media simply reflect the inherent bias of their readerships, that means your leaders public brainfart is going to cost you dear.

  12. Adopting Tory policies and attitudes is bound to work in Scotland, isn’t it? It is working so well for the LieDems.

  13. Leave Duncan alone, guys. I know from Labour Hame that he’s just daft.

  14. Mike, Johann Lamont is playing Realpolitix by trying to further disenfranchise the poor ‘pleb’ faction of society by franchising the middle-class as ‘Petit bourgeoisie’; basically Labour’s divide and conquer politics again.

    Labour really have lost the plot; they now believe in their own deluded way, that they don’t want the ‘plebs’ as their core vote anymore, they are now trying to ‘franchise’ the council office worker, and public sector workers. Sorry, Johann, you’ve just shot the Labour fox; scots are not stupid, now you’ve further disenfranchised your core vote, and horrified the middle class with your agrssive Neo-con stance.

  15. In the very least this is a bizarrely timed move, one could see London Labour moving their party to the right on welfare and NHS reform over the course but to do it at a time of such constitutional uncertainty in Scotland? Scotland has a tradition of social justice and egalitarian politics that stretches back beyond the previous century. Socially and culturally the Scottish structure has always been much flatter than our Anglican neighbors and since the days of John MacLean we have respected the notion of social justice and the redistribution. To brazenly throw these principles out seems to simply be calling Scottish Labour’s base supports bluff. Do they truly believe SLP’s base in the central belt care more for the Union than they do for their traditional socially responsible principles? Do they believe they can afford to concede the centre left to the SNP so emphatically? After all it will only take a relatively small swing toward the YES campaign and the Union shall continue but minus Scotland. This shift would seem to hit them hardiest in the central and urban area. Parts of Scotland were this may be an easier sell Labour are less of a factor so it’s not going to benefit them much in rural areas such as the NE, borders or Highlands. It’s this same central belt that so long eluded the SNP and prevented them making the national break thru so recently achieved so conceding this ground seems all the more questionable. Have I been underestimating the love of the Union all these years? Shirley not! Small nations, small energy rich nations who wisely invest in their infra-structure, people and country can retain a social concise in the face of “I’m all right Jack” policy. Free education, universal health provision and compassion for the weak and elderly in our nation is not something we as Scots should apologize for, its something that we should trumpet and use to put clear water between the YES campaign and the “hoodies that cry doom”. The choice in 2014 will be stark and simple thanks to this London driven stake thru the heart of Scotland’s Labour Party.

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