Well, she started it

First, an admission.  I like Johann Lamont.

I might not always agree with her politics but there is a robustness there which means you can say you don’t agree with her and she won’t flounce out of the room.  She’ll even listen to your opinion.  And throughout her time as an MSP and even, as a Minister, there was a real attempt to stay true to who she was.  Which is why every day, she’d be on the train at 5.30 heading home to have tea with her family and when they were younger, help with homework and bath time, before heading out the door for an evening shift of politics.

I admire her too, for many of the unfashionable causes she has championed over the years – carers are an obvious one – and for the fact that she led a backbench rebellion against her administration’s opposition to Tommy Sheridan’s poindings and warrant sales bill.  Indubitably, there were base politics at play here:  Sheridan was, after all, snapping at her heels in her Pollok constituency.  But that too is worthy of respect.  When it came to it, she put the people she represented and what she believed in before party.

She is a fully paid up member of the scary Scottish wimmin in politics club and I like that.  Takes one to know one after all.

And even though I like the fact that over the years, she has demonstrated a welcome ability to do the political street-fighting bit, I cannot understand what possessed her to attack Nicola Sturgeon the way she did at FMQs this Thursday.  To try to make a wider political point, about the unfairness, perceived or otherwise, of Scottish Government policy by attacking the earnings of the Depute First Minister – AND HER HUSBAND! – was shameful.

As a woman who has represented one of the most impoverished constituencies in the country for thirteen years, she knows that very few women ever get to earn big sums.  Indeed, a while ago, she was one such, having taken home a Ministerial salary herself.  And she also knows how demeaning it is for a woman to be treated like a chattel, lumped in with her husband’s earning capacity.  What Nicola Sturgeon’s husband earns – indeed, what Johann Lamont’s husband earns as a longstanding Glasgow councillor whose salary comes directly from the public purse – is an irrelevance in this day and age.

For every woman who needs not to care what their husband earns and how, there are thousands more who live in economic dependency, constantly reminded – yes, even in this day and age – that without him and his earnings, they’d be on the street.  It’s that imbalance of economic power which compels many women to stay, with their children, cowering in fear and putting up with the abuse and the violence which still define far too many modern marriages and relationships.

So, for a woman so steeped in traditional politics, who has climbed to the very top of her party, by making a virtue out of pointing up inequalities for women, to attack another female politician in this manner in order to score a cheap point, is low.  About as low as you can go.

Such tactics diminish the debate that Johann Lamont purports to be trying to create in Scottish politics, about what kind of public services we can afford.  It is a debate which is welcome and overdue – which is not the same as saying that I agree with her contention, before the SNP supporters bray at my betrayal in the comments section.

And actually, to fall into simplistic party lines on this one is disingenuous.  There are as many SNP folk who have muttered about whether free everything for wealthy pensioners at the expense of poor children – for universality appears not to apply to them – as there are Labour ones.  I know, for I have muttered with them.  Free allsorts makes for good short-term politics:  it helps wins elections after all, but it does not provide a coherent base upon which to fashion a nation.

But if we are to have a grown-up debate – some of us cling to the prospect of such a concept – let’s first attempt to offer some balm to a few troubled middle class consciences.  The council tax freeze probably does disproportionately benefit the better off.  If you are one such, who frets at spending your financial filip on fripperies, give it away.  If you are so bothered at the idea of that money burning a whole in your pocket, resulting in poor pensioners and single parents struggling, then donate your ill-gotten gain to charity.  There are plenty of good causes which would welcome your largesse.

This one does have to be stripped out of the debate on the great government give-away.  As Kenny Farquharson pointed out on twitter, prescriptions and bus fares and the like are benefits:  a tax freeze is different.  In any event, Johann’s thinking on this one is muddy.  It is economically illiterate to claim that the council tax freeze is costing local government jobs, resulting in incomes being lost to the economy.  The solution to that problem is not to take more tax out of other people’s pockets to keep folk in the public sector in work, for that also removes vital income from the economy.  Or do these earnings, because they are made in the private or third sector, not count in Scottish Labour’s view of all things economic?

Johann Lamont is indeed brave for wanting to kickstart this debate at all, particularly in its efforts to define a place for Scottish Labour in our political future.  I don’t buy the lazy SNP line that she is simply aligning her party with the London lot, though Ed Balls’ proposal for zero-budgeting is a bandwagon upon which she should jump.  Indeed, I’m sure it’s something I’ve heard John Swinney champion in the past.

And the SNP while making political hay in the short term about Scottish Labour stealing away everyone’s supposed freebies, should welcome the debate.  For, whatever is discussed and divined in the next two years, the conclusion is already inescapable that Scotland needs more powers to deliver the policies it wants to.  Johann Lamont appears to have conceded this point by moving at last, to set up a Labour commission on devolution.  She suggests that we must learn to deliver social justice on scant resources, yet she cannot ignore forever the fact that if we had control of all fiscal powers and levers, we would be better placed to decide how much we spend and on what.

Proving the maxim that a week is a long time in politics, I bemoaned last Sunday that we still do not know what Labour is for.  On Scotland Tonight, I opined that Johann Lamont might well be committing political suicide with this venture.  If she is properly serious about this debate, she is unlikely to reap electoral gains from its outcome.  But the debate she has started has the potential to give Scottish Labour a purpose and a platform way beyond the next UK or Scottish elections, whether we are independent or not.

And if she can resist the temptation to deploy more tactical low blows, she could succeed in challenging the SNP to engage in a little more thoughtwork on the policy front.  Johann Lamont might well have started something which we can all engage with.


40 thoughts on “Well, she started it

  1. I earn £100k a year, I have a job in engineering in the private sector. I’m lucky. i worked hard for it, throughout school and university. I was supported by the state and I needed it as my family background was not so well off.

    I pay £30k in tax, £5k in NI. I pay high rate council tax and I send my kid to a private school. I have what savings I have in an accounts held in Scottish banks. I spend money locally, I try to avoid internet shopping and use my local high street.

    I’m happy to do these things, I genuinely believe that I try and help the state as it helped me. I’m happy to pay tax, after all tax payers of prior generations allowed me to go to university through getting a grant, I want to do the same. I want local tradesmen to get my money and I want what savings I have in a local bank because that helps that bank with deposits and their balance sheet. I donate to a couple of Scottish charities.

    I do these things, which I don’t have to, because I believe in community, I believe that we all try and help, or at least thought we did. I believe that goodwill goes a long way and that should not be overlooked.

    Then I heard Lamont’s speech. So I’m now a ‘something for nothing’, a parasite living off the state, taking advantage. Thanks.

    I think I pay or contribute something like £75k a year either towards the state, local shops, a Scottish school, local business and tradesmen, local charities and so on.

    Our family get free prescriptions, I don’t know, maybe 7/8 times a year. You know what, I’d be happy to pay. All I needed was the suggestion that maybe those that can pay may wish to do so. Change the prescription form to have a box that says ‘tick here if you would like to pay’, or indeed, the pharmacist may just ask me.

    Instead I get a tirade of abuse levelled at me through Lamont’s attack on Nicola Sturgeon. That could have been me standing in Holyrood that day when she decided to get dirty and sling the mud.

    And this is debate is it ? To name call, to attack personally, to ridicule, to harass, to point, to shout, to be blinded by anger and through all of that, not to name one single policy in her year in charge and Lamont wants to debate. If you are a bad politician, you are a bad politician – gender does not come into it, nor is gender an excuse to be used.

    • Very well said, sir! Good to see someone talking from the heart in this way.

      At the risk of seeming picky, I’d just pull you up on one little thing. It is very important that people like yourself support the principles which you have so eloquently outlined in your comment. Offering to pay for your prescriptions risks undermining those principles. Your remarks to that effect actually highlight just how massively wrong Lamont is.

      Far from declining the benefits of the fair and equitable society that you have contributed so much to building, you and those in a similar position should be DEMANDING those benefits. Every single one of them! To do otherwise is to tacitly concede Lamont’s slur that you are a drain on society and a grasping free-loader. You must not allow yourself to be “guilted” into even the smallest concession to her dishonest and insulting portrayal of your character and motives.

      Take your “free” prescriptions as an act of solidarity with the community Lamont and her ilk would destroy with their corrosive ideology.

      Allow your children the “free” education to which they are entitled as your way of defending that entitlement against the depredations of those who would make education a privilege.

      Wear your “free” bus pass as a badge of pride in the better society you are helping to create.

      You are right and she is wrong! Give her nothing!

  2. Peter A Bell;
    Reference your river analogy and the technical problems of diverting the river flow. And of course rivers run to the sea possibly passing through land beyond your boundaries.
    .The solution is to build a dam with sluice gates. The dam will store the energy of the water and its nutritional benefits, and the sluice gates enable the operator to manage the resource for the benefit of his land. Now a “beggar thy neighbour” attitude is not to be commended but nor is simply sitting and watching your water resource rush by in a river torrent onto your neighbour’s land for his major benefit.
    Money, like the stored water in the dam, is an energy, a means to do: lets call the dam independence; and the operator the government in power.
    Now you wouldn’t be given the position of the dam operator unless you could demonstrate a sound technical understanding and experience. Why so different in politics? I can well imagine Lamont at her interview for dam operator proposing the case that river management is all that is required – as you reference – rather than building a dam.

    • There is always the risk with analogies that they may become over-extended. But I take what I think is your point that, should a controlling structure be required, it should be the simplest system possible, and it should be under the control of those who are competent.

      With that, I think we may be wise to step away from the river analogy.

  3. Well Johann Lamont has now retreated to the 1970’s with her jibe about Tartan Tories. What former decade is to be verbally molested next by this inept Scottish Labour leader and her Back To The Future policies?

  4. I think to really gauge or understand what Labour are doing you need to look at it from their point of view. And from their point of view they are not Tories. What I think it is about is this:

    They calculate that the No side will win the referendum and the SNP will then begin to implode. At the same time Scotland will be in turmoil. Most of the wefare cuts will have been implemented by 2015 and the wider cuts will really be biting – the level will be higher and we will also be coping with cumulative impact of the cuts that have already happened. So it will be dark days. Their calculation is that people will say ah that woman Johann predicted all of this, she said the SNP were putting off tough decisions because they were obsessed with the constitution, how right she was, let’s all vote Labour in the Westminster election and go back to Labour in the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

    I think that is their strategy. It is one which depends on their being no escape from austerity and what Joyce McMillan described as the miserabilism of the boss class. So while I don’t believe that people like Johann Lamont are quasi-Tories – the cap doesn’t fit – they are guilty of defeatism in the face of that Tory agenda.

  5. To Peter. You have misinterpreted my posts. My first sentence on initial post states I am entirely in favour of the existing universal benefits Scotland has. I don’t need to be persuaded on their merits, in fact, I would like more but accept that this could only happen if independence is delivered. I don’t doubt your view of Johann Lamont’s level of understanding and capability is widely accepted, so I don’t intend to challenge it. I am however in favour of Scottish Government looking at its figures to see if any pruning down of “less essential” costs (whatever they may be?) and/or juggling the budget a bit could free up some cash for the next year. As you can see, I am not a politician, economist or professional commentator but have my own view based on managing my own affairs. I know – it’s not the same – that’s what politicians and the experts say! Nicola Sturgeon made it clear in the STV interview tonight that poverty in Scotland could not be addressed till after independence. I’m asking, why wait that long. If there is a will for change, money will be found. Without evidence of real change (however modest) will there be enough people voting yes? I have no idea of the statistics re low-income groups but I do have eyes and ears and know what they think.

    • When Nicola Sturgeon says that poverty cannot be addressed until after independence she is simply stating the obvious fact that such a massive problem cannot be tackled without the right tools. The Scottish Government can seek to mitigate the worst of the problem using its existing powers – hence the Council Tax freeze. But it will never be more than well-intentioned tinkering absent full control of the entire tax/benefit system.

      Another point worth making is that, being forced to use whatever tools it has, the Scottish Government can find itself obliged to resort to measure which may be far from ideal. It might readily be argued that the Council Tax freeze falls into this category. It does impact local democracy – although not to anything like the degree that some would claim. And it is unquestionably a constraint on local authority finances. Although, again, the effect of this is probably exaggerated.

      I am pretty sure that, if John Swinney had other options available to him, he would never have introduced the Council Tax freeze. So those who argue that the Council Tax freeze is wrong are effectively arguing that Swinney should have the other options that would only come with independence.

  6. “I like Johann Lamont.” Oh well. Nothing more to be said then? Except there is.

    Your defence of her in this piece is really quite extraordinary but I find the dragging in of all these poor Scottish women cowering in fear of bad Scottish husbands because they are dependent on their man’s wage to feed their weans really, really irritating Burdy. Do this one thing for me: name the companies who currently pay women less than men for doing the same job because, as far as I know, that is illegal.

    Secondly, the taunting of Nicola for daring to live in a household with adequate funds was inexcusable. Lamont’s tactics were disgusting.

    Lamont’s position, last week, as she chose to focus only on higher earners who will get free prescriptions, was well-dodgy. For she conveniently over-looked the fact that the vast majority who benefit from such a policy are NOT on high earnings. The same goes for the Council Tax freeze. Like me, they will in ordinary jobs with a very ordinary annual income. THAT is the truth and by presenting things as she did that makes Lamont very dishonest.

    On the issue of prescriptions I would not have a problem with returning to a charge but I would want a different approach to the one we had before.: What made me very angry before SNP policy brought a reduction in charges was that Lamont’s Party, along with the Tories, exploited prescription charges at every opportunity to pull in a bit more money when needed . That led to the situation where, before the reductions started in Scotland, the cost for a single item on prescription was about to hit £8. That was truly obscene and there were cases where, if more than one item was prescribed by a doctor, patients had to decide which one was more important. Lamont’s Party was responsible for such a situation coming about and she really needs to admit it. Medicines are invariably prescribed for the sick and Lamont’s Party, in exploiting the sick, needs to say very clearly now that they would never return to that particular policy of hiking prescription charges just to bring in some readies!

  7. I agree that the existing universal benefits are undoubtedly the right policy for Scotland, as did many of those who voted in the SNP in 2011. However they are not enough on their own to address the fuel poverty, child poverty, pensioner poverty, child care costs and the generally miserable existance of many people in the low-income groups. Whether or not Johann Lamont is sincere in her questioning of how the SG funds these and other policies, is irrelevant. The SG funding choices ought to be looked at in the interests of the general public.
    The need for independence to enable Scotland to raise its own revenue and make its own choices on how it is spent is not in dispute here (by me) but wih 2 years+ negotiation time, could existing money available be used differently? Nicola Sturgeon said she welcomes the debate, no doubt relishing the thought of a point scoring exercise with labour but the Scottish public is sick of being overlooked, treated as pawns in their games and displays of smug satisfaction on the one side and bumbling bluff on the other. So I say, bring on the debate, bring out the facts and don’t forget who is paying your wages (plus expenses) – all of you politicians of all colours. A similar exercise for local authoriies wouldn’t go amiss either!

    • If you imagine Lamont genuinely wants a debate on the issue of universal benefits then I’m afraid you’ve badly misread her intentions. The back-pedalling had started almost before her speech ended. The only intention was to attack SNP policy. Lamont has not thought it through to the point of having some alternative ideas. And it is highly unlikely that she ever will.

      Watch the press for a spate of stories about how she “tried” to start a “debate” but her opponents wouldn’t engage. How do you engage with wind and pish?

      • Upwind?

      • Neither the SG nor the opposition want the debate – that was my point! I said “bring on the debate” meaning I want the debate, I want facts and figures, I want to know if more money can be squeezed out of somewhere “less important” to help people on lower incomes in the short term. But then I’m not a politician, so what does it matter what I think. Your last sentence sums things up better than you intended!

      • The Scottish Government or the SNP or any of those who have castigated Lamont for her remarks would be perfectly happy to debate the merits of universal benefits. I would be more than happy to do so myself. Because the case for universal benefits is very easy to make So easy, in fact, that eve Lamont would have been able to make it – up until she decided she needed a stick with which to beat the SNP more than she needed arithmetic and personal credibility.

        The reason proponents of universal benefits will not be able to engage in debate with the likes of Lamont is that Lamont and her ilk will not actually argue a rational case against universal benefits. What they are arguing against is not the economic viability of universal benefits but the willingness to pay for them. And they do this by being dishonest.

        You want to know if “more money can be squeezed out of somewhere”. That implies the source of government revenue – tax. But Lamont assiduously avoided mention of tax. She sought to promulgate the same myth as is peddled by the Tories. The myth that all the “more” that we need can be squeezed out of the benefit side of the system without any need for the political taboo of extracting more from the tax side. Virtually all of politics has been reduced to the question of who can make to most convincing promises about not increasing taxes.

        The reason is simple. Taxes are paid by the economically powerful while benefits are consumed by the economically powerless. And economic power equates with political power. A gross oversimplification, of course. But it serves the required illustrative purpose.

        When people claim that more can be squeezed from the benefit side the subtext is that we should target the economically powerless because there are fewer political consequences. They cannot argue an economic case because the figures just don’t add up. Think of it like a river. The more you try to control the flow – ensuring that it goes to some places while preventing it going to other places – the more complex the apparatus required. And the more expensive it becomes to construct and maintain that apparatus. Especially when others are constantly tinkering with that apparatus to maximise the flow of water to where they want it while trying to avoid getting their feet wet.

        It is why the entire tax benefit system is the over-complicated mess that it is.

        Universal benefits avoid all of this. As long as there is a truly progressive tax system, universality is the ideal, indeed the ONLY way to implement the benefit side. Rather than talking about doing away with universal benefits we should be looking at ways to move to a single, all-purpose universal benefit financed by a simple and genuinely progressive tax regime.

        In short, Lamont is just about as wrong as it is possible for a person to be. And she can’t even claim to be wrong for the right reasons.

  8. IAs a father grandfather and husband I have to agree with Gavin C Barrie above. Lamont and her whole nasty gang of Labour bootboys and girls have zero credibility, and falling in Scotland. When your message is one of lies, and yet more lies, such as Gavin C Barrie mentions above, why should she expect to have any credibility? She has done the cause of women in politics no favours what ever, like Thatcher the milk snatcher before her who she now seems to be to the right of. She reads from scripts that seem to have been knocked up in the pub by sniggery wee drunk neds. Her name calling, sarcasm, animosity, visceral hatred and general nastiness in Holyrood, and when she does appear on TV, is exactly what the voters are heartily sick and tired of. The thought of such an oik of a person, man or women, representing Scotland on the world stage as First Minister, fills me with horror. The whole lot of them apart from, Malcolm Chisolm seems to have been manufactured in some hellish London cloning experiment that went very badly wrong. Just look at the filth that McMahon has tried to smear Alex Salmond with, using the death of football fans in the most revolting example of shroud waving I have yet seen. They are all tarred with the same brush, the sooner they are all gone from the scene the better, they are an abcess on Scotlands face. If we do not vote for independence now, then we surely deserve all the shit and humilation that will descend on us.

  9. She’ll even listen to your opinion.

    Only in a negative way as to listening generally she only hears what she wants to hear as she prefers to tell her predetermined story. Incapable of ‘honest’ debate and must of been a dreadful teacher IMO.

  10. Quote, Burdzeyeview, “For, whatever is discussed and divined in the next two years, the conclusion is already inescapable that Scotland needs more powers to deliver the policies it wants to. Johann Lamont appears to have conceded this point by moving at last, to set up a Labour commission on devolution.”

    Lamont has conceded nothing on more powers, here what she actually said;

    Quote, Johann Lamont, “Now we will offer a fresh vision of where devolution should be renewed.But this thing struck me. The constitutional debate which we have had now for more than half a century – be it about devolution or independence – has meant that when we say change in this country, the only thing we mean is constitutional change. But we can change Scotland now. We have the powers in the Scottish Parliament now, to change radically education, health, public services.”

    When you look at the membership of Labour’s commission on devolution it is more likely they will argue for a less powers not more.

    I find it difficult for anyone to take seriously such a flawed politician as Johann Lamont who we discovered this week is just another mindless and brutish Labour politician, and unreformed Blairite to boot.

  11. Two things.

    Firstly, the Council tax freeze is fantastic for hard pressed families. Yes there are rich people saving money as well but that is a by product of a taxation system based on property. Surely the debate here should be moving towards a replacement for the Council Tax. With the SNP’s LIT proposals on the serious backburner, prehaps now is the time to look at either the Green Party’s own property proposals or the SSP’s Service Tax.

    Secondly, Lamont has aligned herself to the right of the London party – alongside the Blairites – at least. Personally I think she sounds more like a Tory than Ruth Davison. Her appologists in the media have pointed to proposals in the Beverage Report (and in other reports) that the SNP could have looked at. However there are a lot of proposals that would disproportionately harm many Labour voters – for example privatisation of Scottish Water. This looks like an opportunity for the SSP to actively target “Scottish” Labour supporters.

  12. Longshanger, if you are hoping for an honest debate, don’t hold your breadth unless you have a supernatural lung capacity.
    Reference your payment for materials at your daughter’s secondary school. Didn’t Lamont claim at FM question Time that schools were unable to do photocopying, the implication being due to a shortage of funds. A blogger in response later advised that the problem was schools breaching copyright not funding shortages as implied by Lamont. Not so honest of Lamont but maybe that’s just politics?
    Scotland is being subjected to reduction in her block grant, our earnings and taxes returned to us, in part by Westminster, are being cut further.
    Why returned in part? Well there is Westminster and the House of Lords upkeep to pay for. Think – Murphy, Davidson, Bain, Harris, Curran. And Foulkes in the Hof L. Then we have Trident, and wars. and much more you can figure for yourself.
    Why further block grant cuts? Well because Gordon Brown was Chancellor and made an almighty mess of the UK finances.
    To resolve Lamont’s grave and “honest” concerns over universal benefits the Scottish government could and is empowered to raise the income tax level in Scotland. Trouble is that Westminster would reduce the block grant proportionately, and charge for administering the difference in tax levels between Scotland and the rUK.
    in summary if you are hoping for honest information to help towards deciding on whether to vote Yes in the 2014 referendum you will need to become pro-active in sourcing the facts. Politicians, and experience shows, Labour in particular, will not be a reliable source.
    Vote No and the deceipt, lies and larceny exiting Westminster to Scotland will continue. I will be voting yes to aid my grandchildren’s future.

    • That’s just the problem Gagin – I don’t trust the figures any of the politicians hurl at each other.

      The materials I paid for were two notebooks, only a couple of quid, but the principle jarred nevertheless.

      Both sides of the debate, Nationalist and Unionist, are as trustable as the other. Both, only seem interested in what will bolster their power base.

      The recent report into the size of the Scottish cabinet’s pension pots, trousered over a short period of 5 years, is nothing short of scandalous – it’s what I would expect from Westminster politicians.

      Stil, I suppose it adds another dimension to the Scottish definition of ‘universal benefits’.


  13. Kate

    I agree that it is a debate well worth the airing. Some of the universal benefits are to the SNP’s credit and for that I could never be totally cold toward them.

    Speaking as a parent who recently had to fork out for standard materials at my child’s secondary school, it’s clear that there’s some clandestine fudgery going on somewhere.

    I totally agree with the principle of free University tuition fees and see it as a wise and just investment in the country’s future.

    But, if it’s at the expense of colleges and secondary schools – as it appears to be – then contingencies must be debated.

    As Nicola Sturgeon goaded, Lamont should “Bring it on”.

    If there’s any shortcomings to be exposed in the SNP financing of universal benefits then it should be revealed through open and honest non-polarised debate.

    It could possibly edge me toward a Yes vote come the referendum.


    NB: Can I just say that your style of blogging, debating and honest scepticism does more for the independence cause than the Rev Ian Paisley style tubthumping and fulminating exhibited by some of the other commenters here. 🙂

  14. You are being overly generous to Ms Lamont here, Burd, but I suppose that speaks well for you as it is fairly rare for women in politics to speak generously of each other (sexist comment, head and testicles to be chopped off ete etc).
    Actually I think she is exactly the leader of Labour that the SNP prayed for. She is the latest in a long line of Labour “leaders” in Scotland,,each one less able politically than his or her predecessor and today’s direction in the Sunday Herald suggest to me that she will very soon go the way of them all.
    Quote – Ian Macwhirter
    ” How did it come to this? How did Scotland’s greatest party,created by keir Hardie,end up with a leader who not only appears to lack elementary political sense ,but is unable to express herself?”

    There appears to be deep misunderstanding abounding about the actual rationale for universal benefits. The provision of as many services as possibe on a universal basis makes perfect fiscal sense. We don’t pay different levels according to our prosperity or lack of it for the pavement or the tarmac on the roads outside our doors or the street lights. We don’t pay B&B for our stays in hospitals or our meals.But the foolish rhetoric against universal benefits suggests logically that we should.
    And why should a well off person who is prepared to pay high taxes to help provide universal benefits then have to pay again for the services his taxes is providing for everybody else ? This is just daft .
    A proper progressive taxation system sorts out the anomalies of universal benefits and the huge savings effected on the administration and distribution of these by no means testing apparatus probably means they cost no more than a means tested system would. The economies of scale is another huge benefit of universal benefits system.
    The Labour party in Scotland has just slit its own throat.

    Your warm andf generous description of the marvelous and generous Margaret Ewing on another site today is much appreciated. I thought of Margaret and Anthong J C and Douglas Henderson and many others as I marched down from the meadows last week.

  15. As a father and husband I doubt if I have ever raised my voice to my wife, have raised two fiesty daughters, and deciding to end the days work and catch the 5.30pm train home was an option never afforded to me.
    No more feminist sentiment please, champion Ms Lamont as you wish. I see her as a vindictive mean spirited Labour chancer. Strong enough? How many times has she come out with the “as a mother” jibe to Alex Salmon? And the fictitious claim of a rape case? The fiction about Scottish steel being available but not being purchased for the new Forth road bridge ( repeated twice on TV this week by that pillar of integrity labour’s Ken Macintosh).
    This week’s FM question Time was indeed class warfare, a dignified, astute Nicola Sturgeon versus a not-too-bright rabble rouser, Ms Lamont. Yes, class, not in social division but in respect of how to conduct yourself in a dignified manner.
    And to her speech this week the strategy of which was conceivably to defend labour’s last stronghold of power in Scotland, the councils. Yes the labour groups that form alliances with Tory councillors; overturn a referendum in Aberdeen: grab every fee paying position in South Ayrshire to the exclusion of the second highest voted party, the SNP. And Glasgow City Council – need I go on?

  16. The claim that she wants to encourage debate is singularly unpersuasive since she clearly believes she already knows the answers to the questions she raises and is confident that the other side is certain to be defeated.

    And it is this more than anything else that has led me in the last 24 hours to conclude that last week’s press conference was actually about replaying the 2011 election. Her aim was to tell us the wrong party with the wrong policies had won. Lamont’s speech wasn’t about the future; it wasn’t even really very much about the way in which a tight budget should be managed. It was first and foremost about the 2011 election and why the electorate made the wrong choice. The problem for Labour is that they remain fixated on this event, unable to move on from it and concerned principally with proving that voters shouldn’t have supported the SNP. Anyone waiting for Lamont’s trap to spring will be disappointed because the speech didn’t form part of some Machiavellian plan – it was merely the statement of the – to Lamont – obvious fact that the result was not correct.

  17. The claim that she wants to encourage debate is singularly unpersuasive since t she clearly believes she already knows the answers to the questions she raises and is confident that the other side is certain to be defeated.

    And it is this more than anything else that has led me in the last 24 hours to conclude that last week’s press conference was actually about replaying the 2011 election. Her aim was to tell us the wrong party with the wrong policies had won. Lamont’s speech wasn’t about the future; it wasn’t even really very much about the way in which a tight budget should be managed. It was first and foremost about the 2011 election and why the electorate made the wrong choice. The problem for Labour is that they remain fixated on this event, unable to move on from it and concerned principally with proving that voters shouldn’t have supported the SNP. Anyone waiting for Lamont’s trap to spring will be disappointed because the speech didn’t form part of some Machiavellian plan – it was merely the statement of the – to Lamont – obvious fact that the result was not correct.

    • Mike, sorry you had to wait. You just need to be moderated once to be clear to do so again and your comment should be uploaded immediately. So comment away!

  18. I note that a lot of commentators, here and elsewhere, are characterising Johann Lamont as a mere reader of the scripts that have been placed in front of her. Whether that is a service or disservice to her is a question that deserves an answer.

    • I feel that is the case myself. I actually know Johann Lamont slightly and I have heard her speak many times in the past. When I hear her at FMQs I think who is that woman? She just doesn’t sound like herself.

      The constant references to “as a mother”, the unpleasant comments about Alex Salmond being somehow in thrall to rich, powerful men and now this personal attack on Nicola Sturgeon because of how much her husband earns. You could see that Nicola was shocked at that and no wonder.

      Without wishing to up the ante in the feminism stakes cos I know that is a red flag to some bulls out there I personally feel 100 per cent convinced that these sorts of lines are written for Johann Lamont and moreover written by a man. She would be better off just being herself.

  19. Pingback: Well, she started it | Politics Scotland | Scoop.it

  20. The conclusion that Lamont is “aligning her party with the London lot” is hardly an “SNP line”. The fact has been acknowledged across the political spectrum, from Ruth Davidson to STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham.

    As so often happens, an otherwise interesting article is diminished by your inability to resist petty and pointless sniping at the SNP. Not that I agree with your assessment of Johann Lamont. I find no admirable qualities whatever in a politician who will so readily abandon fundamental principles for the possibility of political gain. And there can be no respect either for her abilities as a political operator. As Ian MacWhirter has very pointedly stated in today’s Herald, Lamont’s speech was bewildering not least for the political clumsiness involved.

    Neither is Lamont “brave”, as you claim. What we saw was not bravery but loud-mouthed bravado over-compensating for witless desperation. Lamont is as economically illiterate as she is politically inept. Not only did she not know what she was talking about, she seems to be unaware of what she said. From interviews given subsequently she is clearly oblivious to import and impact of her ill-thought pronouncements.

    And it is simply naive to imagine that she was seeking to open up some kind of debate. We’ve had the debate. Scotland voted for the policies that the current administration is implementing. Policies which, as MacWhirter also points out, Lamont herself favoured up until her recent lurch to the right. The people of Scotland have given their verdict on the principle of universality. They are for it.

    If Lamont was truly interested in a debate about provision of universal benefits, why did she seek to restrict that debate to the question of costs and how to cut them? Why did she so assiduously steer clear of the matter of raising revenue to pay for these benefits? Why is she not talking tax? I’ll tell you why! Because she cannot talk about the tax side of the tax/benefit system without exposing her own opposition to the Scottish Government having meaningful control of both taxes and spending.

    Listen to the language Lamont used. That stuff about “fantasy” politics and “something for nothing”. Is that the language of someone whose mind is open to debate? Or is it the language of a mind closed to anything but the latest puerile SNP-bashing sound-bite? Maybe that’s the real reason you admire her so much. She speaks your language.

    • A debate on benefits policy between Sturgeon and Lamont would be a mismatch of monumental proportion. Nicola has shown many times her mental agility when on her feet – and all we have seen from Lamont is the ability to read woodenly from her script, sticking to it doggedly, regardless of the response her previous question elicited.

      However, I think we would all love to see such a debate!

  21. Ooh, Kate there’s a couple of things in there that I don’t like.

    “The council tax freeze probably does disproportionately benefit the better off.” NO – can you not see this is the first step on the road to Lamont’s lamentable position? A saving of £100 at the bottom end is PROPORTIONATELY far more important that a saving of £1000 at the top end for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, the relative share of income being saved at the bottom end is GREATER and, secondly, the additional money can be directed to ESSENTIALS rather than additional DISCRETIONARY purchases. This is a basic in the debate – the Council Tax is REGRESSIVE (I have never even heard a Tory dispute that) therefore to freeze it is PROGRESSIVE. It may not be progressive ENOUGH for some of us but it still makes the system fairer than it otherwise would be. The really progressive idea for local taxation is LIT – and who was it that branded that as ‘unfair on hard-working families’?

    “As Kenny Farquharson pointed out on twitter, prescriptions and bus fares and the like are benefits: a tax freeze is different.” Well, not sure your source adds any weight to your argument here (:-]) but leaving that aside. This is only true up to a point, and that point is that unless a benefit is universal, it is precisely a negative tax because the amount by which you benefit depends on your income and/or circumstances. In these cases free prescriptions cannot be said to be universal because they are not available to everyone who contributes to the tax system which pays for them. The same is more obviously true of bus passes as not even everyone in Scotland gets them.

    So, in my view KF is entirely wrong on this matter. Free prescriptions and bus passes are exactly like tax freezes because the amount to which you benefit depends upon your level of income and or personal circumstances.

    Taxes and benefits are two sides of the same treasury coin. One is money flowing one way depending on a set of rules managed by the government, the other is the same money flowing the other way depending on a set of rules managed by the government..

    And here is the basic, unalterable problem with devolution; devolving only part of the tax and benefits system will never work in the long term because the part you’re not in control of ties your hands on the bit you supposedly are in control of. (and I am as critical of the SNP as anyone on this when they make their calls for devolving control of a single lever in isolation whether that be corporation tax or air passenger duty)

    This is important because it takes us straight back to Lamont’s inept position. If Scotland can’t afford these things then it is not because we don’t have the wealth for them, it is because we do not control the entirety of the system within which these things are delivered.

    It’s the Constitution, stupid.

  22. It’s also worth noting that some of the matters Ms Lamont put forward for debate are not properly matters of politics but matters of mathematics. It would be a waste of parliamentry time to exchange passionate ideological arguments about whether or not bus passes should be universal when, in fact, it would cost more to means test them than it would save.

  23. Good thought provoking article. There’s a lot in here I agree with; it’s a debate that is necessary. There are too many knee-jerk reactions that assume any discussion is a precursor to massive cuts to anything and everything.

    I don’t agree with your comments re the Sturgeon household though. No figures were actually used and the point was the position og high income households in relation to benefits. I don’t see the argument over women’s rights as relevant here.

    I do agree that the council tax freeze is a seperate issue. For me it is a simple democratic issue – a centralist government is dictating to local authorities and taking away their power to decide their own income levels. Ironic really from a government that attacks Westminster for opposing further devolution.

  24. Kate, your wrong. The woman is not strong or principled, just stupid. we’re not talking about freebies, we’re talking about something that is paid for through tax and the exclusion of certain people because of their income. Now the sad fact is, that even if they earn £100k or more, if they pay their taxes, they are infact entitled to that benefit – end of. The real question is, do people on £100k or more actually apply for these benefits – do they nip down to boots on a saturday to hand in their prescriptions? Chances are a lot don’t – because they don’t have to – they probably go private – but of course that does not prevent governments past and present, taking the taxes anyway. So from their point of view, they might get quite cross at being excluded and start demanding a tax cut or the right to exempt themselves from taxation.

    So what has labour achieved here…the only logical conclusion is absolutely nothing of worth. It’s been long reported that charging for prescriptions actually costs more money to maintain than what it brings in. It’s more cost effective not to charge an additional fees. And in the end, thats what a prescription charge is – an additional tax on medicine. It also breeds resentment of those with no incomes or low incomes who would need to rely on it being “free” – this is were that hoary old bromide of “something for nothing” comes into play. That old greeny eyed envy monster so gleefuly used by the right to attack anyone of reduced means – and its always easier if you can abstract them in someway – pictures of neds usually – I wonder how many folk would support it, if it was a picture of a frail silver haired old lady with the caption “time to hit these scroungers where it hurts”
    This sort of debate is pure poison.

    As for bus passes – come on – who thinks for a minute that someone who retired with a ton of money is going to apply for that pass – they are entitled to it – but do you imagine they would do it? Hell no – so again what is Lamont actually doing here – if shes not making hay for cheap point scoring, then she is intending something far worse – breeding resentment of anyone who uses it at all, and that is unpardonable.

    Students – now rich kids at the moment are usually maintained by their parents but get their educations paid for. If you are going to clock rich parents with full fees on top of this, then you face the reality that these people are paying taxes for this. is it fair to tax and then withdraw service? probably not so tax cuts for the rich as they have to pay, loss of tax income offset by transferring tax burden to the poor? two tier education perhpas – rich kids get three year degrees, the poor get one year degrees? Or do you deter low income groups from education, cause a funding crisis that is met by increasing fees on those who pay – oh my this isn’t looking good at all.

    Council tax – not a popular tax as it is pegged to inflation and was intended to always rise. Intentional rises of this tax must been seen to pay for services that have been sadly lacking from our councils. There are still potholes in the road outside my house from the winter of 2010! Of course does this increase come with a revaluation or just a flat increase? Of course with people facing increased fuel and food costs, controlling council tax is one of the few levers left to governments who sold off their control of the energy markets. We also have to consider that if you raise the tax those on no incomes or reduced incomes will recieve a larger benefit to cover the short fall. In short no real decernible benefit from this, but maximum political approbrium.

    Essential services like home help, disabled benefits, carers and the like. You can try to target loafers and there will always be people who will take advantage. But as we have seen with ATOS, and A4E – they tend to hurt the people who really need the support.

    So what exactly is Lamont up to? She is either intending to scalp or exclude the rich from a service they don’t use, but could as they have paid for it. Target bus passes for the same reason and hammer students. As what? cover for something more unpopular? A council tax increase. So she intends to breed resentment to bring in regressive taxes. She may very well think shes principled and talking about issues, but unpopular politics no matter how principled they think it is, never wins votes – just ask the tories. But what was worse imho, is that she let it get stolen by the rightwing press as a glorious assault on the poor, and by the left as a vengeful spite ridden attack on the poor. How does she choose to defend it – by cheap point scoring on a rival who earns a certain amount of money. Confused. Dot. Com.

    This is the most shambolic, idiotic and amazingly imbecilic thing I have seen issue forth from this womans mouth. Seemingly nothing comes forth from Scottish Labour that has not passed through the back end of a cows bottom first.

    You feel sorry for her, because you think a strong woman is being villified. But in the end, its a self inflicted wound. And a scary woman is sometimes is sometimes just that – a scary woman. One you would cross the street to avoid and whose opinion on anything you would never seek.

  25. I like your very balanced analysis of this particular week in Scottish politics. You are perhaps more optimistic than I felt but I share your respect for Joanne Lamont. I very much hope you are right that this has started something we can all engage with. It’s vital that happens. As ever your thoughtful analysis adds richness.

  26. You are being far too kind to her, if she is/was as intelligent and ‘caring’ as you suggest, she would never have agreed to give that speech. The SNP Government has to manage within a constantly declining transfer of funds from the Treasury boys in London. They’ve done so carefully in my view without obviously being able to find money for everything. I doubt anybody in the SNP is against the idea of finding savings or working out the best way to spend the money available. But as you point out, the real issue is that a block grant is no way to run a country, full fiscal federalism is a minimum – but only with independence will we be able to stop spending Scottish money on nonsense like Trident and invest it instead in the future (children’s education, etc.).

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