LAST Wednesday, Chancellor George Osborne announced £11.5 billion worth of cuts in government expenditure and there was barely a whimper of protest from the Labour Party. Given that a few days before Mr Osborne’s statement, Labour’s Westminster leader had announced that his party would not reverse Tory/Lib Dem cuts, the reticence of the Labour Party to condemn what their leader actually supports is perhaps understandable.
However, we now have the situation where a Labour leader in Scotland (Johann Lamont) openly opposes universal benefits such as free bus passes for Scottish pensioners, free prescriptions and free university education for our young people, and a Labour leader at Westminster who openly states that if his party is elected, it will stick by Tory spending plans. One mainstream party in Scotland, the SNP, is opposed to the Westminster parties’ planned cuts in public expenditure. That party now finds that as well as facing its unionist opponents on the issue of independence, it also faces the same three parties in their shared plans to implement the massive cuts announced on Wednesday.
The irony of the situation may not be immediately obvious to Labour members in Scotland, but when their party lines up in support with the Tories and Lib Dems to oppose the SNP in the referendum, they will also in effect be campaigning against the only mainstream party that is genuinely opposed to Westminster’s cuts. The logic of this situation is that by supporting the continuing sovereignty of Westminster, they are also in effect showing support for the expenditure cuts that all three unionist parties agree they will not reverse.
Baroness Thatcher’s passing this year sparked memories of the struggles of many in Scotland during the 1980s and early 1990s who opposed her economic policies. Who back then from the Scottish left would have believed that, in 2013, the Labour Party would be lining up with the Tories to campaign for the continuance of Tory cuts on the people of Scotland? Like it or not, that is the default position in which the Labour Party in Scotland now finds itself after the past week at Westminster.
Larch Tree Way
What should we make of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s decision to replace Ken Macintosh with Iain Gray as party finance spokesman at Holyrood (your report, 29 June)?
It is interesting to note that Mr Macintosh could be heading the Scottish party today if the last leadership election had been up to individual party members alone. In truth, however, his media performances in the finance role have been disappointing. There is more to the making of a politician than appearances on Newsnight Scotland and skills in the parliamentary chamber. But on those criteria he has failed to strike the telling blows that might frighten the SNP government. His replacement is understandable.
The ghosts of Mr Gray’s time as Scottish leader for four years and finance spokesman for a year under Wendy Alexander might be difficult to lay to rest.
That is particularly true over his attitude to the council tax. He had the opportunity to instigate reform and let it go. At the last election, he argued fecklessly for a one-year freeze, leaving the voters to wonder what might happen afterwards.
At one point he even argued that councils should have the freedom to increase the tax, provided it was for a reason he approved of. He will need to show a more decisive approach if he is to wrong-foot Cabinet secretary for finance John Swinney.
His revival will only be positive if he can overcome the perception that he has experience but at crucial times lacks judgment.
Shiel Court Glenrothes, Fife