Whose votes matter most to Labour? Clue: it’s not ours

In Scotland today, over 1 in 5 children are growing up poor. And over 1 in 10 adults are growing old poor. And one in five adults in work are poor.

That’s a lot of people.  That’s 250,000 children, over 100,000 pensioners and at least, an astonishing half a million people who go out to work everyday.  Here in Scotland. In the 21st Century.

If ever we needed a reason to get rid of the Tories – and indeed, the Lib Dems – they bring us one, on a platter, today.  Because today in the House of Commons, they are bringing forward proposals to potentially increase poverty and to make the lives of those of us who use public services – that’s us all then – worse.

The motion today on the Charter of Budget Responsibility will increase the ratio of cuts to tax rises from 4:1 to 9:1.  Which means more austerity, not less.  More attacks on people’s benefit entitlement.  Less for Scotland to spend on all its public services – education, health, transport, social care, children.

The Charter is a wheeze of this Tory-Lib Dem government designed, apparently, to introduce more transparency into how public finances are managed and also to govern how the Office of Budget Responsibility operates. It is a creature of statute and consequently, it is a powerful thing indeed.

One of its dual purposes is to set out the UK Government’s fiscal policy framework – how it will manage the debt, what it will do with our money in the annual budget and so on.

That fiscal policy contains a clear cut commitment to manage our national debt levels down to ensure “sustainable public finances”.  What this means is that they are going to cut, cut and cut again.  And just in case we were in any doubt about whether this was political pragmatism or because they actually believe in a smaller state, the Charter makes this a key objective:

” a target for public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP to be falling at a fixed date of 2015-16, ensuring the public finances are restored to a sustainable path”.

Which brings us to the motion before the House of Commons today, which proposes to accelerate the level of cuts.  Because despite four years of austerity, our debt levels are rising.  The Tory-Lib Dem coalition for cuts hasn’t worked. All those people – poor and vulnerable people – hammered by bedroom tax, by benefit sanctions, by frozen wages, by zero hour contracts – suffering and it ain’t working.

So they are turning the screws and they have legislation to help them do it.  And an ideological belief that this is what we need. Less for the likes of us, more for the likes of them.

Which would all be fine if we had voted for this in 2010.  Except here in Scotland, we didn’t.  We voted Labour, in big numbers.

And what are Labour going to do today?  They’re going to traipse into the government lobby to support more austerity.  Why?  Because the party – of the people, don’t forget – cannot be seen to be supporting what will be presented as economic profligacy by the right wing press.  Because in the marginal constituencies that count in this Westminster election – the ones down south – they like this sort of thing (or at least the voters they need to win over like this sort of thing).

If we had a direct say in today’s vote, would we opt for more cuts, for less spending on public services?  I think not.  So can we rely on our MPs to vote for what we want and what is in our best interests?  Will our lone Tory outrider and his 11-strong Liberal Democrat posse ride to our rescue?  That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

But what of the 40 Labour MPs?  Nearly all of them represent constituencies where public services matter – as employers too.  Where significant numbers of their voters are poor, or struggling under this relentless campaign of cut and counter-cut.

Can Scotland rely on its Labour MPs to protect its interests at Westminster today?  Will Scotland’s Labour MPs choose people or the potential of power? Whose votes matter most? The ones that put them in the palace or the ones they hope will keep them there?

What say ye, Jim Murphy?  And more importantly, how will you vote today?

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SNP’s policy pants are wearing thin

That’s what happens when you fly by the seat of your pants and put policy formulation off until tomorrow.  Eventually, the pants wear out and tomorrow arrives.

And so it has come to pass for the SNP which is, according to the Scotland on Sunday, shying away from the Eurozone.  Eddie Barnes’s piece suggests the Scottish Government is opposed to proposals from Germany and France to harmonise taxes such as corporation tax.  Apparently, “SNP sources” have also ruled out the idea of a separate Scottish currency post-independence.  Keeping the pound is now cited by SNP Ministers as the “stable position for an independent Scotland to adopt”.

When policy is made on the hoof, when central tenets of the SNP’s case for independence have not been revisited and honed to keep up with the times, this is the result.  What seems like a sensible piece of the policy jigsaw for governing now – as the demand for control over corporation tax is (leaving aside the debate around whether reducing it is good economic policy or bad in the current climate) – creates a mismatch in the jigsaw pieces for governing in the future.  If, as has been SNP policy since the late 1980s, independent Scotland is to take its seat at the table of European nations, it will have to satisfy the Copenhagen criteria:

Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”

I’ve put this latter phrase in bold to emphasise its importance, for this implies – and indeed, has meant to new members – joining the Euro and signing up to European wide fiscal measures, such as tax harmonisation.

The latter has come to the fore because of the Eurozone crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposing greater fiscal integration as a solution to that crisis but also more prosaically, as the price the others must pay for their economies taking on much of the strain of bail-outs.  As well as harmonising tax rates for business, another measure proposed is the issue of Eurobonds which would enable, presumably the European Central Bank, to issue government bonds on all Eurozone members’ behalf, thereby allowing members to borrow at less punitive rates and tackle their indebtedness more effectively.

In a suitably ostrich-like statement, a Scottish Government spokesperson suggested that “the position on Eurobonds is an issue for the members of the Euro area.”  And with lancing insight, but a customary lack of detail, a solution was offered to those Euro area countries with “ongoing concerns”: “..promote growth and help individual countries take the necessary steps to restore their fiscal positions.”

But the position on Eurobonds is not just an issue for Eurozone members – if they come to pass, they will impact on everyone else’s economies too.  And with an SNP Government hoping to lead Scotland into independence in Europe, even if there is no comment to be made on current implications of such a policy, it would be nice to know what the Government – or rather the SNP – thinks of how Eurobonds might affect the economy of an independent Scotland, whether or not the Euro becomes our currency.

On one level this is all fanciful – who knows if we will even still have a Euro and a Eurozone by the time Scotland becomes independent.  But assuming there is still some form of central currency and economic union is still one of the central tenets of EU membership, the current muddy thinking on these issues by the SNP must be resolved, particularly as we move closer to the referendum.

If independent Scotland acceded directly to EU membership, there may be some scope for an opt-out from the Euro – as other existing members achieved, including the UK and Denmark when the currency was introduced.  Moreover, some new members were allowed to join the EU with everyone safe in the knowledge that their chances of satisfying the tests for adopting the Euro were precisely nil.

But continuing to fly by the seat of your pants in policy terms while hoping for a suitably soft landing is hardly likely to endear the Scottish people to voting yes for independence.  Folk want clarity on these kind of issues and the opportunity to make an informed choice.  They will want to know the implications of independence, big and small.  And they will want to know that all the pieces of the policy jigsaw are in place.

Perhaps not having to join the Euro might also result in not having to sign up for any other part of European fiscal policy.  Aye right.  A relatively wealthy member state seeking permission to do the economic hokey cokey is not going to go down well and Scotland lacks the political muscle to pull such opt-outs off.   And even suppose the other 27 member states – more by the time Scotland comes calling – agree to this, not joining the Euro and not signing up to harmonised tax rates surely undermines the whole exercise of membership.

If independent Scotland knocks on the EU’s door, asking to come in, but can we keep our own currency, not sign up to tax harmonisation and not have anything to say on things like Eurobonds, it’s not hard to imagine the other European state members replying with a puzzled look and asking why bother.

It all starts to look totally against the point of being part of a union.  Is this the intention of the SNP leadership?  One presumes not.  So why is it allowing woolly thinking on fiscal policy to create so many holes that they threaten to leave the policy of Independence in Europe utterly undone.  By accident or design, when we live in a world of global interdependence, how many Scots would be prepared to adopt a Little Scotlander approach to independence?  Indeed, how many SNP members would be happy with independence of that nature?

The SNP needs to stop flying by the seat of its pants.  Moreover, it needs to start repairing the policy holes that are emerging.  That involves stopping the day to day expediency required for government right now to get in the way of thinking through exactly why it is that Scotland should be independent in Europe and what coherent fiscal policy narrative is required to satisfy that aim.  One of the immediate solutions might be to start separating out Scottish Government positions and statements from SNP ones.

 

This is A Burdz Eye View’s 300th post.