Tom Peterkin: Labour closing ranks for long siege on SNP benefits
JOHANN Lamont’s bold, some might say ill-advised, decision to announce a commission to examine Scotland’s taxpayer-funded universal benefits has led to some scratching of heads at Holyrood.
Why pin your colours to an unpopular mast right now when Labour in Scotland needs all the support it can grab in the looming battle to be fought over Scotland’s constitutional future?
Lamont’s tactics have been questioned and her approach has led to the entirely predictable, but probably quite effective, cat-calls from the Nationalists accusing Labour of leaping into bed with the Tories.
There is little doubt that the Scottish Labour leader faces a stiff challenge to keep the cat-calling at bay and to convince the public at large that a tough, pragmatic approach to “freebie” personal care, tuition fees, prescription charges etc is the way forward.
Earlier this week, however, Lamont received a significant boost from her own backbenches in the form of a veteran politician with impeccable left-wing credentials.
Malcolm Chisholm may not have commanded many headlines recently, but he is recognised across Holyrood as a principled politician.
So there was an air of anticipation when he stood up to speak in the chamber during the debate on Lamont’s commission on Wednesday.
Perhaps the SNP benches were hoping for a denunciation of Lamont’s initiative from the Left.
Given his reputation as a free-thinking maverick and bearing in mind that in a previous life, Chisholm was the health minister who introduced free personal care, their hopes were not unreasonable.
There was also the fact that when at Westminster he resigned from the Blair government in protest a benefit cuts to single parents.
But the prospect of an embarrassing rift did not emerge thanks to Chisholm’s well-argued and thoughtful contribution.
Chisholm argued that SNP criticism of Lamont’s proposal was “fantasy”.
“For the avoidance of doubt,” he said. “we will consider, openly and transparently, contentious issues such as the continuation of universal entitlement
“The SNP is in denial about the real world of political choices and is failing to recognise that every specific decision has an opportunity cost. That is a central rule of politics, especially at a time when budgets are going in one direction and demographics in the opposite.”
Although he declared his personal commitment to free care, he reminded MSPs that “none of the universal entitlements that are being discussed was a linchpin of the post-war welfare state in the way that the NHS is”.
It was a speech that one felt the SNP took notice of and would have been welcomed warmly in Lamont’s HQ as she gears up for the battle ahead.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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