By George Kerevan
THE independence debate is resolving into a battle over who owns the soul of Scottish social democracy – SNP or Labour?
Both parties claim a passion for social justice, but Labour denies the SNP can be simultaneously nationalist and progressive.

Nationalists, on the other hand, see independence as the best guarantee of equality and an alternative to being shackled to a City-dominated Union in which the welfare state is being dismantled. Who is right?

At last weekend’s Scottish Labour conference, party leader Johann Lamont made her pitch: “Seven years of nationalism in Scotland and not one policy which distributes wealth from rich to poor – in fact, the opposite.”

Not one single policy, Johann? As regards wealth ownership, hasn’t the SNP government blocked the privatisation of the NHS in Scotland? In England, NHS contracting-out to companies owned by hedge funds is transferring public wealth wholesale into private hands.

As for income – which Lamont frequently confuses with wealth – in 2010 didn’t the SNP government introduced the so-called Living Wage for those workers under its direct control, and put pressure on local councils to follow suit?

The core of Labour’s attack is 
that the SNP government has maintained a commitment to universal benefits, claiming that free university tuition and free prescriptions are a middle class subsidy (no sympathy for her London counterpart Miliband’s “squeezed middle” from Lamont).

I’m of a generation of Scots whose parents and grandparents were scarred by the means test. To me, universal benefits are still the great benchmark of a common citizenship and civilised treatment of the less well-off.

It would be news to James Maxton, Gordon Brown’s political hero, that means testing is now a socialist virtue.

Where does Lamont’s re-definition of social democracy to embrace the means test lead? Not to more resources for the deserving. Witness: Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, announced last week that Labour will not oppose Tory plans to set an overall cap on the level of welfare spending, including pensioner benefits. Which means the next Labour government is going to set a financial ceiling on welfare spending regardless of need. How progressive is that, Johann?

But Lamont’s most specious argument is the following: “We have a nationalist government which refuses to reverse Tory tax cuts for millionaires.”

Alex Salmond as a champion of Scotland’s oligarchs?

Let’s deconstruct that claim. Chancellor Osborne has cut the top rate of income tax (paid on earnings above £150,000) from 50p to 45p. Ed Balls says he will restore the 50p rate. Asked by the pro-Labour New Statesman magazine whether he would reintroduce the 50p tax rate, Alex Salmond replied: “We certainly are not going to put ourselves at a tax disadvantage with the rest of the UK”.

All Salmond is saying, of course, is that – assuming a predatory Conservative government in England – he will not be ambushed into setting Scottish income tax rates that play into George Osborne’s greedy hands. That’s hardly the same thing as saying he favours giving rich people tax handouts.

Canny Salmond has a long memory. At the 1999 Holyrood elections, he endorsed the “Penny for Scotland” policy that would have seen Scottish income tax higher than in the rest of the UK. Gordon Brown immediately attacked this move, saying: “Hardworking Scottish people would be punished to pay for the SNP’s obsession with divorcing Scotland from Britain.”

Here’s what Johann Lamont is not telling us: Scotland has very few high earners. There are only 13,000 Scots earning over the £150,000 top rate threshold. The Institute for Fiscal Studies points out that even if Holyrood raised the current 45 per cent rate on these incomes to, say, a hefty 60p in the pound, it would only bring in another £200 million. That’s a meagre £2.50 a month for every person in Scotland – which won’t do anything for serious income redistribution.

It is not just the super-rich who are scarce in Scotland. Only about 8.5 per cent of taxpayers north of the Border pay the 40p rate – compared with 14.7 per cent in the UK as a whole.

The point Lamont ignores is that Scotland needs to grow more taxpayers before we can relieve poverty effectively. And that demands independence in order to seize control of the policy levers that drive the economy. There are two kinds of social democrat: the Lamont ones who try and spend without having the cash to do so, and end up cutting benefits. And the Salmond kind who want to grow the economy in order to create the wealth for redistribution.

Finally, what about Lamont’s claim that the SNP puts nationalism above social justice? Think back to the 2010 general election when Gordon Brown had just lost his majority. It was the SNP who immediately offered Labour the chance of a rainbow alliance with the progressive parties – including the new Green MP and the nationalists in Scotland and Wales – in order to keep the Tories out of Downing Street. The SNP would have stayed out of a formal coalition but voted support from the backbenches.

Labour’s response? In the words of Douglas Alexander, a key member of Brown’s campaign team: “Personally, I can’t envisage circumstances in which we would enter into agreement with the Scottish National Party.”

Alexander preferred a Tory government rather than to seek SNP support for a progressive Labour administration. True, any such progressive alliance might still have been in a minority, but it would have protected people better than the subsequent capitulation to David Cameron and George Osborne. And the top rate of income tax would still be at 50p.

I don’t believe grassroots Scottish Labour has lost its progressive soul.

The sad thing is the Labour leadership has to denigrate the SNP’s palpable social democratic credentials for base reasons.

A Yes vote on 18 September guarantees a social democratic Scotland. At very best, a No vote gives you Ed Balls and his welfare cap. At worst, it’s goodbye welfare state. Choose.

Courtesy of George Kerevan and the Scotsman


2014-03-27 07:25

Lets hope that those who vote labour because their ancestors have always vote labour read this. The mess that is the labour party in Scotland, specifically, and labour overall has no place in a socially just and fair Scotland. Vote YES and get your party back from the brink.
2014-03-27 07:26

Good article George. I’ve been of the opinion for a while now that one key area where we are much luckier than the English voters is having had a viable alternative to the Labour/LibDem/Tory triangle. Not only has the SNP demonstrated that they are capable of running an effective government, but they have also proved that a balanced mix of left and right wing thinking is the way forward for a progressive society such as ours. I can understand why Labour and the Tories despise them so much.

The current Scottish Labour and Conservative parties are a meaningless rabble and it would be a disaster for Scotland, independent or otherwise, if either were to gain power anytime in the near future. They would begin reversing every positive improvement made by the SNP just for the petty-minded sake of it.
Ready to Start
2014-03-27 08:22

Press and TV blackout of Labour MPs voting for more Tory welfare cuts yesterday and as Iain MacWhirter says in the Herald they have lost moral authority over eradicating poverty.

Yet BBC Scotland etc going big on Farage and Clegg debate between two parties that will be in 5th and 6th place in the Scottish Euro elections.
John SJ
2014-03-27 08:55

Half a week is a short time in politics, since Scottish Labour’s conference and all these speeches about tackling poverty, equality, and fairness and only two Labour MPs from Scottish constituencies vote against the Tory blanket cap on welfare benefits.
Labour kept the Thatcher era UK wide anti worker laws, are to retain Michael Gove’s reforms in English education, introduced university tuition fees which were later increased by the Tories, thought up the bedroom tax so much extended by the Tories, started and no doubt will continue with the privatisation of the NHS in England, united with the Tories in Better Together, Scottish Labour is conducting a nothing in/nothing out revue of welfare spending, and in Westminster they have now voted with the Tories to cap the welfare budget.
The only thing stopping a full amalgamation of the Labour and Tory parties is the personal ambitions of their respective career politicians.
2014-03-27 09:18

Spot on article George

Its refreshing to read articles like this
2014-03-27 09:58

In pursuit of middle England votes,Labour will adopt any policies which they think will appeal to the Daily Mail readership.
As a consequence,soc  ial justice is no longer their driving force and as long as they see right of centre politics as being the only way to gain traction in England,that is where they are going to stay.
Unfortunately,i  n Scotland,too many people still cling to the Labour brand as supposedly representing their interests.
A Yes vote will see seismic changes in Scotland’s political landscape where,initially at least,parties are going to have to compete for the left of centre votes.
Otherwise,no change and no chance.
2014-03-27 10:20

Someone earning £100k a year pays roughly £33k in tax and NI.

Personally I think that person, while well off , deserves the same universal care as everyone else. Thats a whopping state contribution.

And then to be told by Lamont that they are ‘something for nothing’ – this from a woman who has lived happily off the public purse for the majority of her working life.

The failure we have in our society is what our government has done with that £33k in tax. Instead politicians like Lamont demonise these people to distract us from scrutinising her actions.
Auld Rock
2014-03-27 12:20

Sadly most ‘dyed in the wool’ Labour voters do not read the Scotsman so are unlikely to read George’s thought provoking article.

Auld Rock
2014-03-27 13:24

“Labour denies the SNP can be simultaneously nationalist and progressive.” Yet Labour fail to acknowledge that they, themselves, are rampant “British” nationalists. So, by Labour’s own criteria they cannot be a progressive party.
2014-03-27 17:28

I keep hearing about how independence will “free up” Scottish Labour to become true socialists again. Why can’t they do it now? If their careers are more important than their principles, what good are they going to be in an independent Scotland?
Jo Bloggs
2014-03-28 12:03

I agree Guitar Boy. I’m fed up with all this aginosing over the soul (long since sold) of the Labour Party. I wish they’d just die out completely. The SSP are far more credible as a left-of-the-SNP party. If they could just find a way to get Tommy Sheridan back, I’m sure they’d take off again. But perhaps dreaming of that’s just as pointless as dreaming of Labour going ‘back to its roots’?

2014-03-27 18:48

I see Owen Kelly of the Scottish Financial Enterprise parroting the unionst drivel!

am I suprised? well No!

Owen Kelly is an OBE, before joining SFE in 2008 he worked for the UK government and Labour when in power!
2014-03-28 11:36

I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, but one more anxiety I have about devolved power from Labour and Tory governments is the volume and diversity of powers already devolved to quangos. There is a lot happening under the radar without proper accountability.

We have Westminster Government, we have Holyrood Government, and we have government by Quango.

Time and again, Labour condemns the Scottish Government for all the ills of Scotland, but never acknowledges the Scottish Government’s diligent handling of our economy when they only have access to what, 14% of the budget?

Quangos are a sleeping dog being left to lie, but come the day, I want to see these organisations squirming under intense scrutiny. It is long overdue.
Dundonian West
2014-03-28 14:31

Constituency Child Poverty Table in Scotland.
It’s OT but I despair of Labour/Tory governments.
Waken up.
Look at this table and weep.

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