September 28, 2012 by Nash Riggins
The Scottish Labour Party gambled on its future this week after the announcement of a major shift in the party’s social policy-agenda.
The leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont, brought forth the assertion that the continued provision of many universal benefits in Scotland – such as free care for the elderly, free prescriptions and free university tuition fees – is both unethical and unaffordable. Accordingly, Ms Lamont said that her party would go into the next Scottish elections in 2016 with a pledge to end some of these benefits.
“I believe our resources must go to those in greatest need. Alex Salmond’s most cynical trick was to make people believe that more was free, when the poorest are paying for the tax breaks for the rich,” she said. ”Scotland cannot be the only something-for-nothing country in the world.”
It cannot be ignored that, since 1999, successive administrations in Scottish Parliament have allowed the number of free benefits on offer to increase exponentially – in fact, last year the Scottish government spent a whopping £1,409 more per head on social benefits than Westminster spent on its English citizens. Yet Ms Lamont dismissed this rampant public spending as a manipulative political tool used in order to buy votes.
“I am withdrawing from the game where politicians look not at needs but at slogans and ask not how to improve the lot of the Scottish people but what we can bribe them with by claiming it is free,” she said.
In essence, the Labour leader’s driving argument behind the move is simple: it’s the idea that the taxes of Scotland’s poor are helping to purchase the medical prescriptions of citizens making well over £100,000 per year – meanwhile, services for the nation’s poorer areas are being substantially scaled back. Ms Lamont appeared to have gingerly forgotten the fact that it was a Scottish Labour administration that introduced many of these costly benefits – such as free care for the elderly, free bus travel for pensioners and free eye tests.
Yet just one day after the announcement, members of the Scottish Labour Party are already worried that Lamont’s statements may cost them quite a few votes – and unfortunately, they have every reason to worry. Scotland’s Deputy Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, was swift on the attack.
“At a time when people are facing serious wage restraint and rising living costs, the council tax freeze, the abolition of charges for prescriptions, support for higher education, apprenticeships and the elderly are all part of the support we in society give to each other,” Sturgeon said. “To destroy those shared social bonds, that we all pay for through our taxes, is a disastrous approach for Labour and one that will only increase support for an independent Scotland.”
If nothing else, Sturgeon’s words serve as a reminder that politicians thrive on cherry-picked numbers and purposeful misinterpretations. Indeed, it appears as if Ms Sturgeon would have the nation’s poorest individuals believe that the Scottish Labour Party is dead-set on making their lives a living Hell – whereas in reality, the Scottish Labour Party is merely attempting to scale back benefits for the rich, subsequently reaching a positive financial position in which the government is able to provide more benefits to the poor. That being said, the damage of Nicola Sturgeon’s misleading sentiments may already be irreversible.
According to the IPSOS-Mori poll – perhaps the most encompassing breakdown of Scotland’s voters and their political leanings – Scottish Labour supporters most likely stand to lose the most from any loss in benefits; however, the majority of Scotland’s poorest voters poll as undecided, meaning that Ms Sturgeon’s comments could have just potentially scared hundreds of thousands of votes away from the Scottish Labour Party in the run up to 2016.
Of all registered voters, the Scottish Labour Party has the highest number those living in the country’s most deprived areas, at 24% – whereas 27% of voters in these poorer areas are undecided. That being said, 41% of undecided voters claimed that they would vote Labour ‘if they had to decide tomorrow.’ Furthermore, Scottish Labour also boasts the highest percentage of registered voters currently residing in a council house or flat, at 26%. The party also maintains the highest level of support from foreign nationals, at 28% of the registered vote – whereas the Scottish National Party (SNP) only claims 4% of the immigrant vote.
In short, the Scottish Labour Party boasts the highest number of decided voters currently receiving welfare benefits, universal or no – and although Ms Lamont and her party have made absolutely no indications that Scotland’s most deprived will be negatively affected by their proposed cut in universal benefits, Ms Sturgeon and the SNP are more than willing to interject with vague and misleading statements that suggest otherwise.
As the Scottish people draw closer to making the UK’s biggest legislative decision in living memory, it truly is a shame that their politicians will go so far as to cite ‘unity’ as a reason for dividing a vast political collective of the Scottish population. Is cutting benefits for some in Scotland a smart idea? Only time will tell; however it seems that, for now, the Scottish Labour Party will be forced into doing some intensive damage control.