It is right that we hold the Scottish Government to account

OSheila Gilmore says despite the barrage of anger that greets even the slightest criticism of the SNP, Labour shouldn’t apologise for doing its job as an opposition.


When David Cameron gets up at Prime Minister’s Questions he attempts to refute Labour arguments, and tells the public Labour is wrong and that adoption of Labour policies would put economic recovery at risk. But he doesn’t tell the Leader of the Opposition that he hasn’t got the right to criticise. It was the same when the parties were the other way round.

However we are getting near to a position in the Scottish Parliament where simply to ‘oppose’ is seen as illegitimate. Labour’s Kezia Dugdale criticised the failure of the Scottish Government to raise educational standards in our schools, and the First Minister’s response was ‘You are talking Scotland’s children down’. On a more recent occasion her words were: ‘while we get on with the job all Labour can do is whinge’.

If you genuinely think a policy is wrong, it isn’t wrong to be critical. Even well intended policies can have unintended and unanticipated consequences. Healthy opposition is an important democratic safeguard and constantly framing criticism as ‘negative’ is unhelpful.

Certainly oppositions need to present alternatives – as Labour in Scotland has done on Tax Credits – but criticism and scrutiny is essential. All governments, no matter how generally popular and no matter how large the majority, need to be challenged from time to time. The last Labour government was rightly forced to rethink proposals on detention without charge, for example.

Scottish political debate seems to be getting stuck in a groove which goes like this:

“We do things differently in Scotland.”

“Our way is better.”

“To criticise is to criticise Scotland/the Scottish people.”

“Why are you always so negative?”

Close down discussion.

So it is on the issue of higher education and, in particular, tuition fees. One of the arguments against tuition fees is that to charge would put off students from more deprived backgrounds from going to university. Recently there has been data suggesting that more students from deprived backgrounds are going to university in England and Wales than in Scotland, and that there has been greater improvement in England than in Scotland.

There are several other reasons why tuition fees, especially at their current high English level, should be opposed; not least the way in which they add to the burden of debt. However what should be worrying the Scottish Government is the fact that they are making so little impact on the numbers of young people entering higher education from poorer backgrounds.

It isn’t enough to congratulate ourselves on free tuition as proving that Scotland has a better system. Is the reduction in bursaries a factor? The Scottish Government has recently increased funding for bursaries, but did that only after reducing it previously. Does the problem lie at school level , and if so what measures should we be taking to close the school attainment gap?

A similar complacency exists on social care. We are told we do it better in Scotland because we have ‘free personal care’. This only deals with a limited aspect of ‘who pays’ for care . Very short home care visits, outsourcing of care to companies which have poor pay and conditions, raising of the ‘bar’ for eligibility making it harder to get care – all of these problems exist in Scotland as much as they do in England.

As the SNP currently forms the government, when we ‘oppose’ any of its policies or its record, we are being critical of the SNP. Too often that is met with an accusation that we are ‘just anti SNP’, another means of deflecting the detail of the criticism. Labour shouldn’t apologise for doing its job as an opposition.

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26 thoughts on “It is right that we hold the Scottish Government to account

  1. SNP think they ARE Scotland, hence their delusion that any criticism is somehow illegitimate. They act more and more like a religious cult of happy-clappy true believers than a political party, and that is Labour’s problem in Scotland. Maybe the scales will eventually fall from people’s eyes and they will look rationally at the SNP government’s record and judge them accordingly – but it’s hard to be optimistic.

    1. No the SNP legitimately see themselves as the ONLY mainstream Scottish political party in the UK. They are truly a political representation of Scotland.
      Labour the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are all English political parties in comparison and are truly a political representation of England.

      And its because finally the wool is being removed from the eyes of the electorate in Scotland to this reality that the majority are moving towards the SNP and away from Labour.

    2. To be fair for decades it worked to Labour’s advantage that people in Scotland voted for one party no matter what. Even when Labour were completely unelectable in the rest of the UK, under Michael Foot in the early 1980s during the splits over Militant/SDP, Scottish voters remained loyal to Labour. The only difference is the voters have swapped one party dominance for another.

      1. Drew

        It is interesting to note however that Labour under Blair lost over 4 million supporters during his term in office while Labour under Kinnock increased its support of the electorate by over 4 million.
        The same has happened since Corbyn became Leader. people actually joined Labour in droves specifically to vote for Jeremy Corbyn for leader.
        Not so much in Scotland but certainly in England and Wales.

        There is a massive left of centre support in England and Wales just waiting for a REAL left of centre party to emerge again. At present they are known as the non voter.

        The Conservative vote barely increased at all and is still around 35% across the UK but because the FPTP system and constituency boundaries are so warped and one sided in favour of Conservative leanings in the SE of England Labour struggles to keep parity with them in seats.

        UKIP are also a factor in England now. Taking much of the Labour support because of their xenophobic propaganda regarding immigration and the EU which seems to appeal to those most deprived and looking for a scapegoat to their miserable right wing politically induced existence.
        They don’t see UKIP as the right wing extremists they clearly are they think they are some kind of working mans army against foreign intrusion into the workplace because the media tells them so.

        Labour seem to forget that Blair only gained power because he promised change from the last decade of Thatcher and Major. He hemorrhaged support during his term in office because he failed to deliver on those promises and moved Labour to the right.

        Now Labour are lost in the wilderness where nobody knows who they are or what they stand for anymore. Not even those in office.

        1. I’m not so sure. I agree with some of what you say but Tony Blair won 3 elections in a row and in my opinion might have won enough seats to go into coalition with the Lib Dems in 2010 had he stayed in office, instead of Brown.

          As well as some of the improvements the Labour Government made on reducing poverty, bringing in the minimum wage, ending violence in Northern Ireland, devolution in Scotland gave us more autonomy than we have ever had before. Some powers are better than none at all.

          In relation to the article, I think Labour have been poor in opposition because they have taken a blanket approach to opposing the SNP rather than picking and choosing their battles.

          Their big problem is a lack of thinkers in the party. They have plenty of passion and commitment but have lost some talented MPs and MSPs through the years because the party overall hasn’t looked electable.

          1. Yes he did but with decreasing support each time. He won only because nobody wanted the alternative. His last election saw him win with only 35.2%, the lowest of any majority government in British history. Where would he have found the support in 2010?
            Labour didn’t reduce poverty in its time in office we all know that’s pure Labour party rhetorical mince. The wealth gap in the UK increased exponentially during Labours time in office.
            The minimum wage they brought in was heavily emphasized with the minimum. It was no where near enough to survive on let alone live on.
            Labour cannot lay claim to ending the violence in NI as it took years of negotiations between several parties including the US Government.
            Labour gave Scotland Devo bare minimum because the EU applied pressure to the Blair Government to decentralise more power across the UK.
            Labour cant oppose the SNP in Scotland because the SNP are doing everything Labour needs to do in order to win support.
            I hope they can successfully oppose the Conservatives in England though but only if they adopt their founding principles of socialism as a consequence. The UK as a whole has had more than enough destructive right wing idealism and cannot survive anymore of it.

    3. Comrade Dave the SNP are a listening party and welcome constructive criticism and new ideas from any other parties and to suggest they are a cult is laughable the problem you have is like so many of the Scottish Labour section your rational thought and judgement are clouded by a biterness and a deep hatred and loathing for the SNP, and until you can either get over this or at the very least park it you will make no progress because the only time that the SNP may be beaten will be in a post Independent Scotland until then normal rules of politics have be suspended, the SNP and can do no wrong newspapers, polls, media can criticise and highlight whatever the SNP are doing good or bad it does not matter because the people are supporting something bigger than politics and any political party which is a cause and that cause is the inevitable Scottish Independence and supporting the SNP is their ways and means to getting to Scottish Independence.

      1. Will, you illustrate my point perfectly, thank you. Your cause – independence- trumps rational argument, even though by any objective economic measure we will be worse off, as 55% of the Scots electorate understood in September 2014.

        1. The economic case for this union is to claim Devo anything less than Max = More than Devo Max.

          The Economic case for Independence is to point out the folly of this ludicrous deceitful nonsense.

          What “objective” economic measure have you seen on the subject? The IFS? The OBR? the UK Government? The Treasury? The House of Lords? GERS?

          Delusional and deceitful still.

  2. “If you genuinely think a policy is wrong, it isn’t wrong to be critical.”

    agreed – but when there is no alternative offered by Labour we can only base our predictions on what labour would do, on how they perforemd pre-2007 and it isn’t good.

    “Certainly oppositions need to present alternatives – as Labour in Scotland has done on Tax Credits”

    What…Propoese to not decrease a tax that isn’t devolved to 2018 to help people in 2016 and the “additional” money generated? (in the same way not spending £12bn on the NHS generates and “additional” £12bn) will be far below the £400m needed. Coupled with the fact that Labour voted against full devolution of Tax credits which would have shifted the £3bn from reserved budgets to the DEL increasing the Scottish budget and allowing more scotp for mitigation – as an alternative it is way below substantial.

    The tuition fees section is a ramble – are you for or against?

    There has been a 21% increase in attainment for the most able pupils from advantageous backgrounds…there has also been a 20% increase in attainment for students from a disadvantaged back ground – rather than address that as a success – Labour carp from the sidelines without offering any solution.

    With Care again a critique with no substance to how Labour would do it differently.

    Maybe if labour offered robust costed proposals as to how they would do it differently rather than just issuing a barrage of complaint – you would be taken more seriously by more people

  3. It’s all a bit rich …… by all means oppose! ….. but when the SNP oppose any cosy Tory /Labour consensus they are ‘grievance hunting’, apparently.

  4. Of course it’s Labours job to be critical. Kezia does this very well.Its all well and good for people to demand to know what Labour would do.I understand that,but it has to be remembered that Scottish Labour are in the process of developing a whole new relationship with the UK party.They are in the process of developing policy suited to Scottish needs.A little patience is needed while these policies are ironed out and a consensus found in the Scottish Labour Party.At Westminster,a new leader is getting to grips with the parliamentary party and pushing it in the direction he said he would prior to being elected in a landslide for the leadership.But this is tricky work.Again patience is needed while the UK Labour Party thresh out policies.

    1. “patience is needed while the UK Labour Party thresh out policies.”

      Comrade Kev can’t you see what’s going on in front of you well let me tell you the Labour Party UK is imploding Jeremy V Blairites so all this talk of policies is deluded what you need is a steel helmet and for the long term the Scottish Labour section would be better off breaking away from the Labour Party UK and forming a Scottish Independent Labour Party as soon as possible otherwise sorry to say it’s curtains.

      1. I think that’s taking a fairly pessimistic view of the situation.Things will get better once Jeremy stamps his authority on the party and gets rid of those who don’t want to move in the direction the membership want the party to go.Kezia will have some tough times ahead putting together lists for the May election,but that will settle down.There might be a bit of a punch up,but I don’t think there will be blood on the walls like some are predicting.

        1. “Kezia will have some tough times ahead putting together lists for the May election,”

          This looks like being a major test for Kezia as her deputy leader Alex Rowley has reneged on a high-profile pledge not to take an automatic slot at the top of his party’s regional list at next year’s Holyrood election, in a u-turn that effectively guarantees his re-election as an MSP see the link below. Kezia should insist that he stands by what he said in the election contest and if she does not get him to do so then she will be shown to be a weak leader and as for Alex Rowley he will be deemed to be a careerist with no principles who cannot be trusted, whatever people say about the SNP at least they stick to their words and are disciplined.

  5. Sheila GIlmour says

    Labour should not apologise for doing it’s job’ AGREED – action speaks louder than words and tend to be more truthful.

    Why not start next week by declaring your wholehearted support for the SNP motion opposing the renewal of Trident. Then simple folk about the place might start seeing you lot as the same of us, raither than opponents determined to do us simple folk down.

      1. Duncan Sheila is right when it comes to a vote on Trident the Labour Party UK will have one policy position and the current Labour Party UK policy position is to vote for the renewal of Trident, and as the Scottish Labour section is part of the Labour Party UK they will come under that policy position. The only way this could change is if the Scottish Labour section breakaway and form a new Scottish Independent Labour Party.

        1. I don’t agree.Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray is going to vote against Trident,as per Scottish Labour policy.

      2. Whats the point of Labour MSPs pretending to support the abolition of the Trident renewal program if their ruling comrades in England and Wales support keeping it?

        I don’t think there has ever been a time where the electorate was fooled by Labour saying one thing in Scotland another in Westminster and yet a 3rd option in Wales.

      3. That was last month Duncan and in isolation. Ahm talkin aboot next week and the SNP motion. UK Labour is going to to support Trident renewal as sure as there is shit in a goat. You prepared to condemn them and weather-vane Corbyn ( who I wasted £3 on)

  6. Reading the first couple of paragraphs of this article leaves you wondering when, if ever, Labour will wake up. The response from Cameron is in exactly the same vein as Sturgeon’s yet Ms Gilmore would have us believe they are completely different. She defends the Tory (which, sadly, is no longer shocking where Scottish (sic) Labour are concerned) but attempts to smear the Nat. Its getting to the point where I am actually feeling embarassed for Labour.

    Until Scottish (sic) Labour finally realise the Scottish people are not stupid, and will not fall for this SNPbad drivel, they will never be a force in Scotland again. They could easily become the 3rd (behind the Tories) or even the 4th (behind the Greens) party in Scotland.

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