Anas Sarwar calls for focus on poverty

Anas Sarwar. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Anas Sarwar. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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LABOUR will seek to claim Scotland’s centre-left mantle this week, accusing the SNP of abandoning social justice and insisting it is time to prioritise “redistribution of wealth” over “retail politics”.

In a speech in Glasgow tomorrow, Scottish deputy leader Anas Sarwar will attack social democrats in the SNP, saying they “talk left but act right” putting popular policies on free services ahead of poverty and injustice.

He questions the value of flagship devolution policies such as free care for the elderly and free tuition fees, which benefit all households regardless of wealth, saying at a time of cuts, those in the greatest need must come first.

Sarwar’s comments come with the Scottish Government facing a gaping £3 billion financial hole over the coming five years as a result of the continued freeze on public spending and amid warnings from economists that many of the popular policies championed by successive Scottish administrations will result in deeper cuts elsewhere.

Criticising a speech by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last month on social justice and independence, Sarwar will call for more redistribution of wealth, saying this backs up the case for staying in the UK. “How can you talk about social justice without talking about wealth redistribution? Not only is it that the SNP talk left and act right, although that’s certainly true, but that redistribution is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the United Kingdom,” he will add.

Questioning the policies that were enacted by previous ­governments, he will say: “At what point did we think that winning the showcase of retail politics was more important than winning the argument on righting the wrongs of poverty and inequality.

Sarwar will also warn that moves towards social justice in Scotland have been in paralysis due to the independence debate and the lengthy run-up to the referendum.

“In Scotland, some have become trapped in the belief that change only means constitutional change. We no longer debate how we want our country to change. Now, I recognise that if having such a debate is difficult at the best of times then looking at the debate through the prism of an independence referendum might well be nigh on impossible.” Sarwar’s intervention comes after party leader Johann ­Lamont warned that the ­Scottish Government needed to look again at its spending priorities.

Last week, a report by the Centre for Public Policy and the Regions predicted that the Scottish Government’s £28 billion budget will fall in real terms by a further £3 billion over the coming four years, as public spending across the UK continues to be squeezed.

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “Labour are so wedded to the Westminster system and the Tory austerity agenda that their cuts commission now wants to axe popular universal benefits like personal care for the elderly and university education – and increase taxes at the same time, something which voters across Scotland will look askance at.”