JEREMY Corbyn has launched a blistering attack on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by warning that “flags don’t build houses” and accusing the SNP of wearing an “anti-austerity badge” without pursuing economic policies to match.
The newly-elected Labour leader hit out at the Nationalists yesterday for what he said was simply playing at class politics as he opened his first conference since winning the party leadership.
Mr Corbyn’s comments came ahead of two visits north of the Border to try to make good his promise to help win Scotland back for Labour. He will be at a party gala fundraising dinner in Glasgow on Friday and the Scottish Labour Party conference in Perth next week.
Last night the SNP hit back by saying that the Labour conference in Brighton showed that the party is “out of ideas” for Scotland. A spokesman said Mr Corbyn’s comments were “ill-informed” and “betray how little he knows about Scotland”.
Mr Corbyn said that “anti-austerity” was only a “headline” for the SNP. He claimed that in reality the Nationalists had a Conservative privatising agenda. He pointed to the SNP “privatising CalMac .... privatisation of ScotRail, also cutting college places, also privatising services, also cutting local government funding”, while campaigning under an anti-austerity banner.
Mr Corbyn said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “Yes they [the SNP] have an austerity badge, but where is the economic strategy behind it which doesn’t either continue the austerity that is happening now, or if they go for fiscal devolution it is going to be even worse in Scotland because of the price of ol at the present time.”
The SNP immediately hit back, pointing out that the rules on tendering for the ferries and rail were put in place before the party came to power in 2007, and said it was powerless to change them,.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said the new Labour leadership was “still running scared of the Tories” after pledging to match Chancellor George Osborne’s new fiscal charter, adding: “Mr Corbyn’s comments show that Labour may have changed the messenger, but they clearly haven’t changed their dismal, negative message.”
There were also speeches at the Labour Party Conference from shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, who won cheers for introducing himself as the “last man standing” in Scotland after the near wipeout of Labour MPs in May.
Paraphrasing Rabbie Burns, he accused the SNP of being “sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beasties” in government.
New Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale declared it was time for the party in Scotland to “stop just listening and start acting”.
Mr Corbyn’s line of attack was also taken up by Ms Dugdale, who said the intense focus on the constitution in Scotland meant public services were not what they should be.
She said: “Scotland needs a strong Labour Party an a strong opposition to the Scottish Government.
“Because for eight years, the SNP government have had the chance to change our schools, change our hospitals, change our country for the better. But the truth is they haven’t.”
The Edinburgh and Lothians MSP vowed to campaign for better education ahead of the Holyrood vote in May and said the NHS was creaking at the seams”.
She added: “In Scotland, we have a government that is presiding over falling standards in our schools and hospitals.
“A government who have governing as a second priority, opting instead to carry on an argument that the vast majority of Scots don’t want to have.
“And this has consequences. It means difficult decisions delayed, progressive choices dismissed and, tragically, a lack of political will to use the powers we have in the Scottish Parliament.”
In his speech Mr Murray highlighted what he said was a lack of ambition by the SNP in government.
He said: “They claim to campaign like lions but they govern like mice: sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beasties!”
Mr Murray also turned his fire on the Conservative government in Westminster, calling on the party to accept Labour’s proposals to improve the Scotland Bill on devolution.
He said: “We need the Tories to stay true to the spirit and letter of the Smith Agreement to ensure that we have the power in Scotland to create the welfare system we want, with no threat of interference from Iain Duncan Smith.
“So if the Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary [David Mundell] are serious about powers for Scotland, I say this to them today. Accept Labour’s changes. Don’t break your promises.”