Confidence and clarity in the leaders debate

DH cropLabour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall says last night’s debate put Labour principles up against SNP calculations, and principles won.


It was a confident Kezia Dugdale who stood at the podium last night. And the calm, clear expression of how Labour wants to change Scotland for the better contrasted sharply with the calculated posing and somewhat harried demeanour of her opponent, Nicola Sturgeon.

There were four others on the stage, of course, but really this was the Kez vs Nic show. And it was notable that the former looked much more at ease than the latter throughout which, when you consider their respective positions in the polls, is quite something.

The contrast we saw on stage was, I think, largely the result of how comfortable each leader feels expressing the positions of their party. For Nicola this election campaign is a series of tricky compromises trying to keep her electoral coalition together: enough independence talk to retain the hardcore Yessers, but enough realism for those able to see that that ship has sailed; enough left-wing posing to keep on-side those who bought into the false image of a progressive SNP, but enough right-wing action to keep the wealthy ticking the nationalist box.

In contrast, Kezia has, since becoming Scottish Labour leader, united the party around a policy platform everyone is proud of, and one which has been setting the terms of the political debate for months. Also, to be blunt, she’s starting from such low polling that the weight of expectation is limited, all of which has freed her to find a real Labour voice again.

On top of all that, much of last night’s debate focused on taxation, and Labour has a clear, straightforward fair tax policy that is resonating incredibly well with voters across the country. Meanwhile the SNP desperately tries to look both ways, appeasing the rich and claiming we have no choice but to embrace austerity, and ends up only looking unconvincing.

How clear was it in Nicola’s anguished vacillation over the 50p tax rate that her policy to oppose it less than a year after endorsing it is based on compromise with right-wing colleagues, not her own principles? And how depressing to see, yet again, the end-point of an SNP demand for powers is for them to refuse to use them now they have them?

Here’s Kezia nailing that point last night:

There was another very telling moment in last night’s debate, and that one didn’t involve either Kezia or Nicola, but rather the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. On the topic of what we now all seem to call welfare (I prefer the term social security) Ruth attempted the sleight of hand which has served her so well in recent years – the pretence that her Tory party isn’t the same one that is slashing benefits and public spending across the UK.

Of course it is the same party, and for all Ruth likes to posture otherwise, she endorsed George Osborne’s cuts, she backed their ideological small state vandalism, and she is part of the marginalisation of the poor and the sick for which this Tory government is responsible. So, like many others I suspect, I gasped when she pretended otherwise, and I was very glad other panellists didn’t let her get away with it.

Patrick Harvie, as ever, had a decent night. But it’s difficult to see why a voter keen to stop fracking or have fairer taxes would choose Green over Labour. Willie Rennie started reasonably well but the Lib Dems have a long way to go to recover credibility and it showed in the latter stages. And the least said about David Coburn the better.

The critical debate last night was between Labour and the SNP. And the key dividing line from last night is the key dividing line in this election: faced with a choice to continue Tory austerity or use our powers to reverse it, Labour will use our powers. Kezia Dugdale put that across confidently and clearly. And increasing numbers of Scots are realising that Labour’s answer is the right one.

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14 thoughts on “Confidence and clarity in the leaders debate

  1. Why did Kezia flounder when trying to answer the question about ‘low earner’ tax rebate? Surely the councils will need full HMRC details of all of us to be able to do this?

    1. She was interrupted several times by Nicola, in whose interest it is to pretend that Kezia “floundered”. In fact she said very clearly that existing systems available to councils could have been used this year to issue a rebate – councils already administer similar schemes – and she said next year, when full control over tax rates and thresholds comes to the Scottish Parliament, she would change thresholds to ensure low paid workers don’t lose out. These are both very straightforward statements, and they are only being painted as complex because the SNP doesn’t want to focus on the central question of principle: use our powers now, or pass on Tory austerity. Sturgeon has chosen to pass on Tory austerity.

      1. Sadly, I have watched the video again and still feel let down that a clear explanation was not given. I was hoping for clarity on this very important issue, as I see it as over-complicating, when local councils are ‘overlapping’ with HMRC on my tax matters.

        Also, on a minor matter, do you think Kezia should stop saying “One pence” when the singular is “One penny” – it really grates on me, every time!

        1. Councils already administer schemes based on HMRC data on income. It’s how we do council tax reduction. It’s not new and it’s not complex.

          The pence/penny thing is a fair point though, I must admit. 🙂

      2. But surely it is new, council tax reductions are not based on income, are they? I though Council Tax reduction was only down to things like how many people are resident, whether it’s a holiday home, etc. I’m not aware of my income ever being involved with my council tax rebates.

        To be able to decide income tax reductions would need the local council to have full income, and tax due, information on all of us to be able to then work out deductions. I’m not altogether sure I’d like that.

        Good to see you agree with ‘penny’, now we just need to work on Kezia!!

        1. No, council tax reductions are calculated on the basis of income too. Details here: No additional information would be needed beyond what is already required for CT reduction.

          Bear in mind that the rebate itself would be separate from HMRC, and would be paid in advance at the start of the tax year by your local council. Again this is doable through existing council systems used, for example, for the Scottish Welfare Fund.

          1. It seems to me, having looked into your link, that it is up to each individual to complete what is, in effect, a ‘means test’ for the council to decide a rebate – in other words, at present, we fill in our own incomes, benefits etc. But this new system will have nothing to do with benefits, surely, it’s purely for income tax?

            If this is to be a ‘universal’ system then all HMRC records would need to be given to the councils in order to adjust income tax rebates automatically (without the need to personally apply). Seems to me a bit ‘disjointed’ and very bureaucratic.

  2. Good analysis. Kezia clearly has a bold vision for Scotland – she wants to invest in education to create a high skills/pay workforce. Yes please.

    Ruth Davidson’s vision was focused on low taxes to benefit the few… in the hope that the wealth trickles down. No thanks.

    But what was the SNP vision? Managed decline? Tinkering with education when it needs a bold vision? Fracking? Increasing tax revenue by not cutting the rate? It feels like Sturgeon’s policy platform was drafted by a bored focus group.

  3. As I understand it, the rebate scheme was to have been used in the current financial year, using existing powers. If the SNP had agreed to use their parliamentary majority to support it, it would have allowed low earners to be fully protected while raising more revenue this year. But the Scottish rate of tax has now been set for this year.

    With the new powers for future years, we can create a small additional 0% tax band which would have a similar effect, and would not need to involve rebates. A higher tax free allowance combined with a higher rate once the tax kicks in would take more money from higher earners, while not affecting those on low income – in fact, some would see their tax bill decrease.

    The very lowest earners – below the existing tax allowance – would not pay any more, but would not save anything either. The next lowest band – roughly £11K to £20K – would have small tax savings. For anyone over £20K they would pay more tax, and the higher their salary, the more they would pay.

  4. I suspect the audience was small. The media are not really wanting to “promote” Scottish election politics. This is a strategic mistake as a strong performance can engage people and enlist support. It’s how Nicola made her rep, but perhaps it’s too early for Kezia to emulate this.
    For all Davidson’s media backing, she is not a new face and Murdo will be waiting should she fail again!

  5. Didn’t the Labour Party “endorse George Osborne’s cuts?” Or at least, refuse to vote against them?

    1. No, Labour voted against the cuts. And then proposed a progressive, redistributive alternative to them. Which the SNP voted against. Alongside the Tories.

    2. Labour MPs do not vote for Tory cuts, they abstain instead because their terrified that the Newspapers would accuse them of profligacy again

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