Neil Findlay MSP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, says the difference between the two big parties is more stark than it was five years ago.
The Scottish referendum was an exciting and exhilarating experience. The 65 public meetings and events that I attended and spoke at will stay with me all my political life.
However, since the referendum a very lazy narrative has emerged, where the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and Ukip push a convenient myth that that there is no real difference between Labour and the Tories.
They say that the ideological gap between the two main parties is now less than at the peak of the post-war consensus or during the new Labour period. This argument simply doesn’t stand up to even the most basic scrutiny.
The reality is that the financial crash, rather than bring Labour and the Tories together, has created a greater divergence, a chasm in ideology and policy that we have not seen for some time — something I warmly welcome.
This began on the back of the banking collapse, when the Tories opposed Gordon Brown’s rescue package, the fiscal stimulus and the increase in the top rate of tax from 45p to 50p.
Entering office, David Cameron’s green and cuddly image quickly faded — with privatisation and tax cuts for the rich and wages and benefit cuts for the poor.
At this election the differences are even more stark than they were then. Under Ed Miliband Labour has challenged the “big six” energy corporations and stood up to Rupert Murdoch.
He will redistribute resources in a way that no other party will — by restoring the 50p tax rate; introducing a mansion tax to raise £2.5 billion extra to spend on 1,000 extra nurses in Scotland in our under-pressure NHS; legislating a bankers’ bonus tax to raise £5.5bn, creating new jobs for our young people; closing tax avoidance loopholes and beginning to seriously tackle the huge wealth swindled out of our economy.
Labour also plans to repeal the pernicious Health and Social Care Act, and will protect our NHS from TTIP, take the railways back into public ownership, make work fairer through procurement and use borrowing to expand the economy and create jobs.
Meanwhile, the Tories will cut more taxes for the wealthy and benefits yet further for the poor; extend privatisation and, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, impose cuts to public spending 10 times more than any suggested by Labour — cuts that would amount to £50bn per annum.
They will sell out our public services via TTIP and allow the corporations free rein.
And what about the SNP? Well it still lays claim to be a party of the left, but without a single redistributive policy to back up that claim.
On second thoughts, they do have a redistributive policy. It is designed to redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich via their eight-year underfunded council tax freeze, rewarding those with the biggest houses most.
The nationalists can’t deliver a mansion tax, a bankers’ bonus tax, introduce a youth jobs guarantee or provide such an increased level of nursing staff. It is only through Britain-wide redistribution that we can achieve that.
So for our class this coming general election is one of the most important in our country’s recent history.
Do we want a return to the pre-1945 days of hunger, destitution, want and misery, or do we want a country where people are looked after, cared for, nurtured and educated? Where people have dignity and security at work with a sufficient income to enjoy their lives and not just merely exist.
If we examine our history the most progressive changes, the big material advances made for working people have come through the actions of Labour and the trade union movement.
The NHS, the welfare state, the national minimum wage and council housing were not handed to us on a plate, nor were they introduced by anyone else. They were delivered by our movement.
And I stress “our” movement — I am a very proud trade union member and do all I can to support a broad range of trade unions day-in, day-out in my work.
Many of the commitments in Labour’s manifesto will have come via working people.
We will see action to increase the national minimum wage and extend the living wage.
New laws will be introduced giving much greater rights to workers, ending abusive zero-hours contracts, plus we will see action to outlaw agency exploitation and bogus self-employment; the abolition of fees for tribunals; a more robust Health and Safety Executive; action and an inquiry into blacklisting; an inquiry into the miners’ strike and new legislation and guidance on a range of workers’ issues, starting with public procurement.
Some 39,000 people on public contracts in Scotland are paid below the living wage — we will end that scandal.
So when you vote on May 7, consider your options carefully — it will be a disaster for working people if Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and the like are returned to wreak their version of class war on our communities.