Benefits quandary

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What are the differences now between Labour and the SNP on universal provision of a range of benefits? Jim Murphy’s conversion to the principle of free tuition for undergraduates living north of the Border (your report, 4 March) poses a political quandary.

At the next Holyrood election there will be no clear gulf between these two main parties on free tuition, free concessionary travel and “free” personal care.

That leaves the question of free prescriptions but there would now seem little point in Labour continuing to press for this charge and no others. Mr Murphy has made it clear that Labour is committed to a freeze on the council tax.

Those who say there is little to choose between the main parties have an even stronger argument today. It would seem then that the arguments – between socialists and nationalists at least – about universalism are over.

The case for it, in a time of deep recession, was twofold: firstly, the cost of means-testing benefits was too high in relation to any additional income that might accrue for charges; secondly that the benefits did help many families, right across the social spectrum, who felt the impact of a fall in real incomes.

The case against, forcefully 
argued in this newspaper by former MP Brian Wilson, is that these benefits simply help the better off and, he has argued, do not help any serious attempt to tackle 

This debate would now seem to be over. The argument will now shift to how the new tax and borrowing powers afforded to 
Holyrood will help pay for the services. That should be an interesting enough matter in itself.

But the voters may find it difficult to distinguish between parties who now seem to have the same aims on the domestic front.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court