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Scotland: lament Lamont?

Johann Lamont, the Labour leader in Scotland, has established two commissions. The first was a means of forestalling a motion that called on the Party to explore other options for constitutional change in Scotland rather than settling for the status quo. The second arose out of a speech Lamont made suggesting that all universal benefits should be questioned.

Commissions are a great way of postponing the flack that comes with unpopular policies. They allow the leadership to continue stating their own positions while preventing democratic challenge by saying… “well that is with the commission”.

It took six months for the members of the Devolution Commission to be announced. They include: deputy leader Anas Sarwar MSP, Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran MP, Holyrood finance spokesman Ken McIntosh MSP, Red Paper supporter Jackson Cullinane of Unite, and Duncan McNeill MSP who is identified with the Reform Scotland position of ‘Devo Plus’. The Commission has made little progress and an interim report to conference in April will simply serve to delay decisions for a further year.

The Commission on Welfare Benefits was announced in a massive furore around the speech questioning free prescriptions, bus passes and free tuition at Scottish universities. The Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament had not been notified, let alone consulted, about the content of the speech which was felt to attack those in need rather than the wealthy.

It was no surprise to those who have followed Johann’s rightward trajectory over the past ten years, but for some who had supported her leadership campaign it seemed to come out of the blue. She believes she is speaking for “hard working decent families” who should, in her view, resent better off people having access to universal benefits. The impact of her statement is however more likely to fuel the “strivers v skivers” polarisation.

Professor Arthur Midwinter, chair of the Welfare Commission, which has become known as ‘Labour’s Cuts Commission’, stated that “We are going to review everything. It’s not just the areas that have received most publicity. There is nothing off the table.”

We have two years ahead when the referendum will dominate political debate. Instead of a united fight back against government cuts – Scottish government as well as UK government – we are preoccupied with constitutional issues. We cannot ignore the referendum, but we should use it to ask how we create a Scotland with greater economic democracy and equality. That will not be delivered by independence, but by making class, rather than nation, the driving force for change.

This article first appeared in the LRC Briefing.

7 Comments

  1. jon kelly says:

    Lamont is crazy if she thinks the Scots will vote to get rid of free prescriptions, education etc.

    She has no chance of winning power if she persists with these policies.

    Has she lost the plot?

  2. treborc says:

    Well she is New labour, then again I do not hear newer Labour in London saying much to help the poorest, no free prescriptions , ah well perhaps she is closer to Miliband then you think.

  3. Alister Rutherford says:

    The article claims that greater economic democracy and equality will not be delivered by independence, but by making class, rather than nation, the driving force for change. Presumably this change is going to happen within the UK? So independence for the UK is good and independence for Scotland is bad. Why? If class is to be the driving force then at the very least this should be struggle involving the whole of the EU. Why not recommend the dissolving of the UK in favour of a single EU government? It seems that at bottom you are just another British nationalist.

  4. Pauline Bryan says:

    Thanks to all for their comments. Johann cannot be dismissed as simply “new Labour”. She would see herself as traditional Labour and there was always a section, well represented in Parliament, that did not believe in universal benefits. We have a job ahead to win the argument in the constituencies and trade unions.
    As far as Alister’s comments on class as opposed to nation. Unfortunately the EU is not a democracy and there is no sign of that happening. Of course, if it were a socialist bloc, it would be a more effective means of defending its population from the power of multinationals, but its not. The Scottish economy is run from the city of London and it is there where we need to have political power. I accept that the current Labour Party leadership are not committed to that approach, but neither is the SNP.

  5. treborc says:

    But you do get a better chance of getting some sort of socialism under the SNP free education, free prescriptions, free bus pass, what you will get under Labour in Scotland is a kick in the teeth.

    Not hard to see why labour were dumped is it

  6. Alex Bennett says:

    Paulin Bryan is correct the scottish economy is run from London and that is where we need to have political power united we stand divided we fall.All trade union victories were won with a united movement fom Scotland to Kent and Wales. Separation will not achive socalism that is why venture capatalist like Peter De Vink supports seperation as a former official of the NUM in Scotland i know that a divided labour movement will achive it will achive he haw.

  7. treborc says:

    Well then Labour has two votes then, sadly I will decide when I see the Labour policies.

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