PETER MCFARLANE tells Scottish Labour to reassess its priorities in the build up to the referendum.


Change. Every election this word gets rolled out as the central theme of almost every parties’ manifesto. It is clear that as long as there is poverty, inequality, and injustice in society, the majority of the electorate will favour those who offer the most substantive change. The kind of change that needs to be brought about, however, is the point of discord.

It would be facile to suggest that the SNP see the solution to all Scotland’s problem as putting up a border at Berwick. Even as a staunch Labour supporter I know this is not the case. I would go as far as to say I’m getting a bit fed up that this is constantly suggested. Whether we are willing to accept it or not, the SNP have done some good things for Scotland, the Scottish people have recognised that and it’s time to ditch the embattled rhetoric and move towards more constructive debate about the future of this country. Equally, I am wary of policy being formulated without broad support and populism reigning over sensibility.

When I say this, I don’t mean a debate about its constitutional future. I think it’s a sad fact of this session of the Scottish Parliament that it is being dominated by the constitutional question. People in this country are suffering from more immediate problems and it’s not because of the Act of Union or the threat of independence. There are real issues that affect the Scottish peoples’ everyday lives that need to be addressed. Hounding Alex Salmond about the date of the referendum at First Minister’s Questions is no panacea.

Indeed, The Electoral Reform Society last month called for change to the electoral system in a bid to steer Scottish politics away from its current state. The concentration of our primary decision making process around only two parties so antipathetic toward one another is not good for democracy and should be subject to re-evaluation.

That being said, when it comes to the independence issue Scottish Labour’s biggest problem is that the SNP make them look like advocates of the status quo. Given that life is extremely problematic for a lot of people at the moment, this is increasingly difficult to defend. There have been a lot of comments on Labour Hame about Labour in fact being a right of centre party. Personally, I don’t believe that this is true at all. I certainly would not have joined the party if that were the case. However, when it comes to the constitutional question and the very rhetoric the Party uses on this issue, the SNP have been very clever in portraying themselves as the agents of change, while making Labour look as though they are conservative rather than progressive.

So, how can Labour win when people want change? Richard MacKinnon alluded to this in his post last month. There is a lot of time between now and when we assume the proposed referendum will be. Instead of pushing the SNP on the details of their plans, Labour should be doing more to present how it wants to change this country by offering an alternative to both the current system and outright independence. Whether that means ‘Devo-max’  or not, there is great deal to be addressed before any referendum, no matter how it is worded, and it’s time for Labour to realise this and move forward accordingly.

The kind of change the party presents needs to be meaningful. I think the biggest mistake the party made going into the last Scottish Parliament election was on the kind of change we presented. The last minute u-turn on the council tax freeze and tuition fees made the party look weak, confused, and almost like a poor version of the SNP. It struck me as sadly ironic that the party spent almost 4 years lambasting the SNP in parliament only to adopt SNP-lite policies in the sprint. Whatever we offer must be substantive, different, radical, and in touch with the realities it is supposed to alter. That is how you capture the minds of a public disillusioned with the political process.

Earlier this week,  it was announced that unemployment in Scotland is up again. What we need to hear from Scottish Labour is more about its plan for jobs, more on how we stimulate the economy, and less about the threat of independence. Scotland wants to know what the Scottish Parliament can do to ease the cost of living, lift people out of fuel poverty, deliver meaningful employment, and create a more equal society. Tomorrow we find out who will be the next leader of the party. If they can answer these questions in the meantime, fighting an independence referendum, whenever it may be, might not turn out to be as hard as it is feared.

Peter McFarlane is a Labour party activist and works in media research and analysis in Edinburgh.

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102 thoughts on “Let’s push things forward

  1. Peter, thoughtful article and I for one welcome your contribution to the debate we are having over our constitutional future here in Scotland

    Here are a few points which may add something to your thesis?

    The referendum may be less than 24months away

    The SNP and Labour currently don’t have it in their remit to offer Full Fiscal Autonomy or a watered down Devo Max option on a ballot paper as no one knows what it means and it hasn’t yet been defined

    Alternatively, Independence does what it says on the tin

    The Devo Max/Indy Lite/ FFA options, and there are MANY definitions of what they mean, would require to have gone through the internal machinations of the individual parties before moving to the negotiation/consultation/committee stages of the HOC and HOL and in all honesty the chances of cross party consensus being reached in these time scales is stretching the realms of imagination and optimism a wee bit.

    Given the nature of the vote, ie. the constitutional future of our country, the option wont be there to say, ‘yeah we’re not sure what we mean, we require more time, we promise to do something, at some as yet unspecified time in the future, and we’re going to call it Devo Max’

    If you consider how long it has taken the Scotland Bill to progress to this stage and all it contains are unworkable 10p Income Tax raising measures, the power to legislate over drink driving limits and air gun possession, and it also intends to re-reserve planning to Westminster, to enable the building of future Nuclear plant north of the border, without us retaining the ability to object…

    You agree that the debate and the Scots people have moved on and that the Scotland Bill is a dead duck in the water.

    Given that no other party will be able to offer a second question on the ballot paper for the reasons outlined above, in my opinion, it’s going to come down to a straight yes or no for independence

    For Scottish Labour that presents an opportunity

    Throw your weight behind an Independent Scotland and campaign for it and be part of the positive message and be there at the party when the old country is being divided up politically at its inaugural election, or alternatively back the broken status quo, which could ultimately sound the death knell for your party and leave room for a new left of centre/left wing party(ies) to emerge post independence

    There is a lot of thought and debate to be had, but time is moving on and there are opportunities to be grasped, or status quos to defend….

    1. I was listening to BBC Scotland on the way home tonight and they were talking about the leadership results tomorrow. They made the assertion that “not only will they be the leader of Labour in Scotland, they’ll also be at the forefront of the battle against independence” (I’m paraphrasing slightly but you get the idea).

      Now, I thought, we don’t even know who the new leader is but we know what they’re policy will be on the constitutional future of Scotland. Just why are Labour fighting so hard to retain the Union that it’s now ingrained into the very soul of the party, regardless of who the leads the party?

      Are we really in for more of the same after tomorrow? Is it yet more proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

  2. Peter, the failure of Labour to accept that the constitutional issue (how we are governed and, therefore, how participative our representative democracy truly is) is a key to tackling social issues, is the reason they are out of step both with a large section of the grassroots and the public. 68% of the public, in a recent poll, indicated support for devo-max. It seems to me there is a connection between that figure and the low figures of 8% support for the Lib Dems and 12% for their Coalition partners the Tories, as well as the low 26% poll for Labour. The problems for Labour will not disappear with a new leader; it will take a new approach to the constitutional issue, seeing it as key to how we participate in representative democracy and use political change to tackle social change. Currently, neither Johann Lamont nor Ken MacKintosh support further extension of the devolution settlement other than through the Scotland Bill, putting them out of step with party members such as Malcolm Chisholm and former First Minister Henry McLeish (and others on Labour Hame). I wonder if either of the potential leaders support Lord Foulkes’ amendments to the Scotland Bill and his call for greater “fiscal responsibility”? Again, Labour’s problem is not simply a question of leadership – it is a question of whether or not we can achieve social change within the current powers, or whether we need further powers. Labour either need to embrace further powers, or explain why we don’t need them. How would Labour bring about social change with the powers we have? (Their record in government at Holyrood may not convince many that they are capable of achieving change). Labour has no over-arching message to sell at the moment and have, instead, indulged in pandering to sectional interests within the wider Labour movement. To my mind that is preaching to the converted and you don’t win elections that way. Labour, at 26% in the polls, may not be back soon and could, like the SNP before them, spend years in opposition. The message from the public is clear and constant – 68% want the Scottish Parliament to have greater powers. Alex Salmond and the SNP have the confidence of the electorate (again, look at the polling evidence), and that is because they offer change. I suspect there are a few more hard knocks coming for Labour next year; how the party responds to the desire for greater control over finances and decision-making will be crucial to whether or not it emerges from the doldrums.

  3. Peter, you quite rightly say that Scotland wants to know what the Scottish Parliament can do to change and improve our lot. The truth, of course is, with the present lack of fiscal powers, it can tinker a little but not a lot more. Whoever wins the Labour leadership seems to want to fight the referendum on CALMAN and not much more. They will be in league with the Tories who are determined to keep all power in London, and the LibDems with their bogus HomeRule waffling. I hope that Labour change their stance but I cannot see it so it will be Independence or keep things the same.

  4. Thanks for a good article, Peter.

    “by offering an alternative to both the current system and outright independence”

    Why? The Labour Party, once proud of its home rule roots, now offers no place for people who are minded to support Independence. At any time Labour can consider Independence as one way forward, but for the time being, has chosen to adopt a hard line unionist position.

    “comments on Labour Hame about Labour in fact being a right of centre party”

    You may not believe this to be true, but try a few empirical tests of what right of centre do (not what they say) and you’ll find that Labour continued many right of centre policies under Blair and Brown, such as caving in to “relentless pressure from the banks” and introducing light touch regulation.

    Labour in Scotland can’t separate itself from the “middle England” tendency of the party leadership in London; this is what Scottish Labour has to sort out first.

    1. People should try the political compass test:

      I recommend doing it first idealogically, i.e. what you would hope for an ideal world. Then do it practically, i.e. what you think you’d be ok with/agree too in the real world, taking into account there will be others who see things differently and concensus will be needed.

      I’ve got my arm around Gandhi in the first instance and I’m just left of centre economically/middle liberally when being practical. Very close in fact to the SNP it seems.

      Sadly, based on their election manifesto (2010), New Labour (UK) are popping up as authoritarian Tory Lite – a far cry from the proud days of Clement Attlee. There is still time for Scottish Labour to find those socialist roots again, but that will require independence from London HQ.

      1. Ah yes, the left of centre SNP which cut prescription charges, council tax and bridge tolls for the richest Scots, and say they would slash corporation tax if given the chance. That left of centre party. Aye.

        1. Please see post below on the political spectrum, which I mean to place here. To add to that:

          Duncan, correct me if I’m wrong but I believe ‘Scottish’ Labour (MSPs, activists, voters) are more left than ‘English’ New Labour. Certainly, the fact that England can swing so readily between ‘English’ Labour and the Conservatives suggests that either English Labour are quite to the right like the Conservatives, or the Conservatives are quite to the left alongside Labour. Somehow I can’t see the latter.
          I would like to see Scottish Labour go back to their roots as a definite left of centre – even Clement Attlee (who I admire greatly) type socialist – party. To do that however, I feel requires them to be independent of London. Otherwise, they will be tarred with the same brush each time the City of London Corporation or swing centre-right SE voters require pleasing. This may happen without Scottish Labour deciding to do it of course, if Scots vote ‘yes’ that is.

        2. Gordon Brown friend of the city bankers allowing unlimited hypothecation creating the situation we are in now, some left wing policy that.

        3. Hi Duncan,

          Replace ‘richest’ by ‘poorest’, and that would be equally true.

          Are you suggesting that a left-of-centre party should be increasing prescription charges, council tax etc? Or perhaps that the SNP should impose means-tested bridge tolls?

          1. Indeed. It’s a tragic mark of how far Labour have sunk, and how desperate their hatred of the SNP is, that abolishing prescription charges is now portrayed with a straight face as a “right-wing” policy. Why not take that to its natural conclusion and abolish the NHS entirely? After all, rich people still use it even though they could afford to pay – what a disgusting waste of money, right Duncan? Means testing for all medical care now.

          2. Wilfully missing and misrepresenting my point as is typical. I would *love* to abolish prescription charges as part of the universality of the NHS but I think nursing and midwifery jobs are more important. The SNP takes the opposite view. Defend it if you can.

          3. Defend what, exactly? Your ridiculous false dichotomy? Sure, as soon as you tell us whether you’ve stopped beating your wife. (Okay, husband, but it just doesn’t sound right that way.)

          4. Haha, I subvert the very vocabulary of political debate with my sexual orientation!

            Okay, forget the prescription charges. Do you think it’s right that the SNP are choosing to cut nurse and midwife numbers?

    2. I quite agree with you there Farrochie, and although we are supporting differant parties (I take it you support the SNP?) we are thinking in parrallel.
      Labour in Scotland does have the opportunity to advocate home rule, or federalism, but by trying to make it a toxic idea, we are simply making ourselves toxic.

      Lets face the truth.
      The SNP is not supported by the media, they get ripped to pieces daily, yet they are gaining ground over Labour and everyone else!

  5. Peter

    If you care to indulge me I have one particular bone of contention which to me at least highlights left of centre or right of centre parties.

    One policy above all others goes to the core of my convictions, that is the tax on being sick, ok lets put some spin on it and call it a prescription charge.

    Let us assume someone has been unlucky in the lottery of life and have contracted cancer, MS or any other horrendous ailment. At the time you are at your lowest ebb, have had to take time off work and have much reduced income, you then present your prescription to the chemist and you are taxed at the rate of £7.40 per item (England only) As the average prescription has three items that is £22.20 tax to come from your already depleted income.

    Why should any government tax anyone for no other reason than the fact that they were sick? Is that a left wing or a right wing policy?

    But I hear people shout, what about the millionaire who in Scotland also gets his prescription free. Yes he does, and to introduce any mechanism to make him or anyone on a higher income pay costs more in bureaucracy than it saves.

    No mater that the millionaires get their prescription free, I for one would rather have twenty people who could afford to pay, get their prescriptions free, rather than one person who desperately needs the medicine being denied it because they could not afford it.

    I would also hope that in an independent Scotland the principle of no tax on the sick is enshrined.

    1. No need to introduce a mechanism for it, the mechanism was already in place! Bizarre bit of revisionism.

      In an ideal world I’d like free prescriptions for everyone. But if we can’t afford it, then I’d like millionaires to pay for theirs if you don’t mind, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

      1. If Labour and the Tories were rid of their addiction to foreign wars and Trident submarines, that might help pay for free subscriptions.

        Your assertion that there were mechanisms for free prescriptions before is only partially true. My M.E would not have got me free prescriptions, nor would my depression. Fortunately (?) however, I am also diabetic, and that did qualify me, although I consider it to be the least debilitating of the three conditions. The three together don’t convince ATOS that I qualify for ESA, another Lab wheeze, but that’s another story. Tell me that Labour are the only true friends of the ill and ther poor, and I’ll laugh in your face.

      2. I personally never really understood why people had to pay for prescriptions in the first place. The founding principle of the NHS was healthcare free at the point of need. It never made sense to me that you could see the doctor for free but had to pay for your medicine. As though medicine was somehow not healthcare. Obviously it is as much a part of healthcare as seeing a doctor is and therefore should always have been free at the point of need.

        If milionaires should have to pay for their medicine because they can afford to, why should they not also have to pay to see a doctor? They can afford that too. But if you go down that road what happens to the principle of the NHS as a universal service free at the point of need?

        1. Indy

          Taxing anyone no matter who only on the basis that they are sick is repugnant to me and has no place in a caring society.

          Now I can understand it being in the Tory party DNA, the party that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, and that is probably why a large part of Scottish society will never ever vote for them.

          That Labour happily tax the sick is something I just cannot comprehend. I cannot for the life of me see where that fits in to a socialist party. After all did Gordon Brown, when in opposition, not brand prescription charges “an immoral tax on the sick”

  6. Wasn’t me that put the parties on the spectrum; you’ll need to complain to the site owner if you disagree.

    You do realise that:

    -1 (left of centre policy) + 1 (right of centre policy) = 0 (centrist overall)

    It is the sum of all policies that place a party on the socio-economic political spectrum. I would suggest that maybe the quite centrist stance of the SNP is the reason for its success? I’ve certainly always believed the best government is one which is supported by people from across the spectrum. To do that, you need to be somewhere in the centre; i.e. try to cater for all with your policies, some more right, some more left….

  7. Before free prescriptions were/are about to be introduced i think that it was found that 91 per cent of people did not pay anyway.

    It seems that poverty and illness go hand in hand.

    What a waste in admin costs to have all that pen pushing re-introduced.

    Is it now labour party policy that hard working men and women should now pay for prescriptions?

    Another vote winner from Labour.

    As has been said the SNP attract support from all social classes.

    Labour have operated the politics of envy and fear for years

    It is not beyond Scotland to have a fair, just society where enterprise and innovation is also encouraged and helped.

    To have folk in Glasgow dying in their 50s is a sad indictment of generations of Labour rule. Scotland is a fabulously wealthy country, yet parts of the West of Scotland have lower life expectancy than folk in Kiev.

    Go work that one out?

    I look at my near neighbour, Norway, and see what Scotland can and will be like in 25 years.

    I cant wait.

    1. Free prescriptions for the rich cost us around £40m a year, which could pay for 1,500 nurses and midwives – a figure very similar to the number of nurses and midwives laid off in the same period by the SNP! We don’t have enough midwives now to keep certain maternity units open at the busiest times of the year. Do you really prefer free prescriptions for those who can afford to pay rather than keeping enough staff to keep wards and maternity units open? I don’t.

      1. Free prescriptions for the rich cost us around £40m a year,

        Any links to back that up?

        1. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s a pro-rata figure derived from the amount spent on prescription charges across the parts of the UK where they are paid.

    2. Mark

      The reason that the did not pay figure is so high is that all the people who have a long term illness and pay for a season ticket (Another part of this I find bizarre) were counted as did not pay as these figures were used to reimburse the pharmacist who dispensed the prescription. The authorities were able to reclaim the £7.40 tax that each prescription item raised for the exchequer by counting the did pay.

  8. No need to introduce a mechanism for it, the mechanism was already in place! Bizarre bit of revisionism.

    What mechanism, where.

    Bizarre bit of revisionism. Just what exactly does that mean?

    1. Prescription charges were already only payable by those who could afford them. That was the mechanism in place. Revisionism is when you try to rewrite history to suit your argument, like you did. There would have been no need to “introduce” a mechanism – it already existed.

      1. What are your views on university tuition fees? Ability to pay or free for all if they have the academic merit? London Labour supporting £6k fees is very worrying and I’m confused how Scottish Labour can support no fees in Scotland in light of this. Surely this is at odds with a pan-UK socialist/egalitarian ideology?

        I see the argument behind means testing, but taking e.g. the prescription issue; my understanding was that those earning more pay more taxes, hence they would be covering their ‘free’ prescription charges in this way?

        If you are going to have universal free healthcare and education, then surely it needs to be universal? Making sure those better off pay more into the pot is achievable in other ways as noted.

        1. My view is that we need to radically overhaul the tax system so that instead of the take tailing off at the top end, the richest pay the most. That means instead of focusing on the £1 billion “lost” to so-called benefits cheats we focus on the £10 billion lost to tax avoiders. This is essentially the Nordic approach – high taxes for high quality services. Income tax is the fairest way to pay for universal university tuition and prescription charges ONLY if the system is fair to begin with, but it isn’t just now. So we end up having to ensure the richest pay their way on the individual things so as not to unfairly burden the poorest. Universality is a key aim for the welfare state, but we need to get the basics right first.

          1. £69.9 million of tax avoidance through the city of Westminster was the least number quoted and it is quite probably a lot higher.

          2. But as has been pointed out many times on this site, at present Scotland has no mechanism to change how the tax system in the UK works.

            Under the present system of government, which you and your party support, Scotland never will be able to radically overhaul the tax system to make it fairer.

            When do you think that the Torys at Westminster will ever change a tax system that favours their millionaire friends? how about never. Yet Labour would rather see Scotland ruled by Torys at Westminster than Scots in Scotland.

          3. So Duncan, why are Labour supporting the 10p income tax rate across all bands proposed in the Scotland Bill?
            It’s a regressive proposal which will hit the lowest paid the hardest and not a peep from Labour to oppose it

          4. Sorry? Are you talking about giving Scotland control over income tax by being able to choose to cut it across the board by up to 10% or increase it by any amount? In what way is that regressive?

          5. It is regressive because they are proposing a flat rate tax across all bands so a higher percentage of income will be paid by the lowest paid workers in comparison with the highest paid.

          6. Sorry, who is proposing a flat rate? I think you may have misunderstood. The Scotland Bill doesn’t remove tax banding or the higher rates of tax.

      2. Duncan, before charges were scrapped, I paid. Because my prescriptions are irregular and the number of items change every time, it was never worth while getting a season ticket. But if I had a bad period and needed 3 or 4 items at the same time, I had to choose which items I could get and which items I had to miss. The alternative was to go without food or heating.

        But heh, in your eyes, I’m probably rich so deserve my fate. Is that it? The politics of envy, anyone above the poverty line, even if just over it, are fair game for punishing extra taxes? Is that how Scottish Labour are going to fight the next elections? We’ll see how many votes that garners them.

        1. I say again, I would love there to be no charges for prescriptions, I would love there to be no charges for higher education, I would love it if we had effective tax system which could support such universality. But while the tax system doesn’t give us enough take to do that, and while means tested charges are a way to stop the redundancies of nurses and midwives and the loss of essential services, then that’s my least worst option.

      3. That is absolute nonsense and really offensive to all the organisations who campaigned for free prescriptions because of all the people with serious and long term health conditions who struggled to pay for their medicine. There are a whole host of charities and organisations down south,including the BMA, who have used the fact that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have free prescriptions to try and influence English politicians to do the same. Why would you want to undermine that?

        1. Of course people with serious and long-term conditions should receive state help with medicine. Free prescriptions for all is not targeted at those people though, is it? And it’s really offensive to paint may argument in the way that you have.

          Millionaires get free prescriptions while nurses are being put out of work. That, in a nutshell, is my argument. Nothing to do with those who need help – they should always receive it. It’s about those who don’t need it, and the cost of providing for them is the loss of real frontline services for the most vulnerable.

          Painting me as being uncaring about people who need help is unjustified and unfair. My point was very clear.

      1. No, lazy shorthand for anyone you think should be able to pay. Why not give us a breakdown of your £40 million claim, showing the income brackets of these so called rich recipients of free prescriptions?

        1. As I’ve said in multiple places (why do people keep starting new threads? Just reply at the third level and it will appear below the previous reply) the £40m figure was derived pro-rata from the UK paid prescriptions numbers.

          1. Whoa, hold the bus. Your assertion was that the RICH cost us £40 million in prescription charges. Now you’re conceding that £40 million was the cost of everybody who would have previously paid for their prescriptions. So you’re including people on very modest incomes and describing them as rich. As I’ve said, it’s lazy shorthand. Will it be Scottish labour policy that the least worst option is that low income households, households just above the threshold to receive free prescriptions, will have to choose between eating and the medicine to make them better? You’ve said that’s your preference, will it be official labour policy? Will it appear in the next manifesto? I hope so. I hope labour will be honest enough with the Scottish people to do so.

          2. I don’t make Labour policy. This is meant to be a forum in which Labour people can exchange ideas which can then be honed and just might feed into policy. Unfortunately it’s become yet another forum in which SNP folk try to drown out every other voice. I always try to engage with those who frame their objections decently, but increasingly this has become just another bit of Punch and Judy. I’ve made my position clear about ten times. In your disagreement you have consistently ignored the substantive point I’m making and tried to present me as wanting to push people into poverty. It really doesn’t help, either in formation of decent policy or in illumination of the topic, because I’m not arguing for what you suggest.

          3. No Duncan, I have not ignored the “substantive” point you’re trying to make, i.e. that the rich (read everybody not on benefits) should pay for their prescriptions to allow us to employ more midwives and nurses. This is your “preferred” option.

            The point I’m making, and one repeated by many others, is that for many, that choice comes down to being between eating and taking medication. How about you address that point?

  9. As someone who _just_ earns too much to get any help from the DWP, I can assure you that the 5 prescription items I have to get every couple of months were a real struggle for me until prescriptions became free. The cut in corporation tax may convince other companies to set up in Scotland and and I might get a better job. I’m more than happy with that left of centre SNP. I am rather wary of the avowedly socialist Labour Party that sent my young cousins to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of whom were lucky to return unscathed, at least physically. I am wary of the avowedly socialist Labour Party that was the first to assault my pension, that was keen to cosy up to the bankers and were a prime cause of the financial suffering I see all around me. I’ll take the left of centre SNP over the avowedly socialist Labour Party any time, Duncan.

    1. Of course all Labour ever did according to the Nats is start wars. The minimum wage, surestart, the new deal, lifting a million families with children out of poverty, fully implementing the DDA, LGBT rights, overall the largest redistribution of wealth from rich to poor since WW2 – none of that ever gets mentioned.

      And reducing corporation tax would not create economic growth. CT is of little or no concern to the SME sector which needs to be the engine room of growth in Scotland. It might help us attract the odd multinational, as long as we sweeten the deal as we recently did for Amazon, buying “up to” 600 jobs in Dunfermline for millions of pounds, only to find in due course that not all the jobs were needed and the company leaves once another small country bribes it enough. CT cuts would instigate a race to the bottom which we would lose.

      1. “overall the largest redistribution of wealth from rich to poor since WW2”

        Old Labour or New Labour?

        Old Labour I admired, New Labour I walked away from in 1999.

        The GINI index (measure of income inequality) of the UK grew rapidly under Thatcher. This slowed initially under Major into Tony/New Labour, before slowly starting to climb steadily again according to most studies; it was certainly not reversed.

        I might be tempted by a distinctly left independent ‘Scottish Labour’ – which is why I’m on here giving my views as a voter.

        I’d also like to know Labour’s vision for Scotland should Scots vote for independence too – something that is entirely possible.

        1. The idea that there’s an equivalence between redistribution of wealth and the gap between rich and poor is consistently used to discredit Labour’s achievements but it’s a nonsense. The fact that the rich got very rich did not mean that the poor did not get richer. That’s still redistribution of wealth.

          1. The idea that there’s an equivalence between redistribution of wealth and the gap between rich and poor is consistently used to discredit Labour’s achievements but it’s a nonsense. The fact that the rich got very rich did not mean that the poor did not get richer. That’s still redistribution of wealth.

            January 2008 according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies High Income Individuals: Racing Away?

            Even though the current Government has increased taxes on people with high incomes, this has not prevented them from them racing further away from the average level of living standards across the country

      2. You may not like it but the one thing that the Blair/Brown Labour years will be remembered for above all else will be Iraq.

        As was highlighted on the BBC at the American with drawl ceremony there were 4500 UK troops deaths. I do not know how many Scots but whatever the figure both 4500 and the number of Scots both are far too high a price to pay.

        That is and will be remembered for many years, not just by Nats as you allude to but by the vast majority of the men and women of the UK.

        When the last Labour supporter in Scotland buys the last copy of the Daily Record the headline will be “it was Iraq whot done it”

  10. You can buy 2 Trident missiles for 40 million. Of course, you still need the submarines and all the other gear – but it’s a start. So much better than frittering it away on medication for slackers.

    1. The Scottish government does not make that choice though. The Scottish government does make the choice about prescription charges versus making nurses and midwives redundant. So why not address that, salient, point rather than go off on a handy tangent?

      1. The Scottish government does not make that choice though

        Well its long past the time we did.

        1. Great answer. Unfortunately doesn’t address the point. Here it is again: the SNP government has chosen to make nurses and midwives redundant, resulting in hospital services being unavailable to Scots who need them, saving an amount of money equivalent to the cost of giving free prescriptions to all. Can anyone justify that choice freely made by the SNP?

  11. So you want prescriptions to be means tested?.

    More forms to fill in?

    What will be the cut off point be?

    Say you earn say £15 grand pa, should you have to pay?.

    1. You already have to fill in a form for a prescription. Silly, empty argument.

      1. No, the doctor fills in a form. I just have to sign it to show I’ve picked it up. So as regards a silly, empy argument…

    1. No. I don’t want anyone to have to pay for prescriptions. But I’d rather those that can afford to did so and we spent the money on essential NHS staff rather than us end up closing maternity units.

  12. What form do you fill in?

    I dont remember filling in any forms the last time i was at the doctor, it was a good few years ago.

    I got my prescription, handed it to the dispenser and then gave them money.

    Dont remember me having to fill in any form?

  13. Then you will have to tell us what the definition is of “someone who can afford to pay”

    Most folk have outgoings based on their current salary, mortgage etc.

    Is your definition of someone who can afford to pay based on salary or disposbale income and how are you going to administer all this unless you want to mirror what the English currently do re prescription charges?

    1. I’m saying I’d prefer a means-tested prescription charge to the mass redundancies of nurses and midwives that the SNP is carrying out instead. It’s a fairly simple point. I don’t have a specific figure in mind, I want it to be fair, and I based my estimated savings on the UK model.

      1. The next you’ll be saying that Labour didn’t start privatising the health service which the Tories and partners are speeding up.

      2. You are actually arguing for making people pay for medecine.

        Means testing is not the point.

        Healthcare is either free at the point of service or it isn’t. People pay money in NHS contributions already – the means testing thing is a sad direction that takes us inevitably to a private healthcare system.

        I was a student during Thatcher’s reign of terror and I was judged as not meriting free prescriptions – I couldn’t afford the prescriptions for a chronic condition. Free for all was Labour’s clarion cry – now it’s free for all who are means tested.

        England already has a private hospital – the English are about to have every single public service put out to private tender competition. The SNP can slow down the tide of right-wing politics but can’t stop it.

        You have clearly no intention of stopping it in your posts.

        The right-wing mentality is that if England can save money doing this right-wing thing or that right-wing thing then Scotland will have its budget cut accordingly to the level of assumed potential saving. You are promulgating this kind of society theory with the idea of means testing.

        Yet, Labour considered it important to spend £100bn on nukes – no means testing there, no actual proof that it is even necessary.

        We ultimately choose the society we live in – I choose a society that puts people first and right-wing apologising in the bin.

        1. Once more, I am fully in support of universal free prescriptions if they are affordable. If they aren’t, I rank them lower than keeping maternity units open. That’s all.

  14. Hi Duncan,

    Just a couple of points

    1 Free perscriptions were only for those on benefits, there are a lot of people above the benefits threshold who are very far from rich & they often had to try to figure out which parts of the prescription was the most vital as they couldn’t afford all the medicine the doctors wished them to take.

    2. New Labour may or may not have taken 1 million families out of poverty but they only targeted the easiest one, who were closest to the threshold, nothing what so ever was done to target the poorest 10% in society during 13 years in power.

    1. They did of course abolish the 10p tax rate Soairse….

      That managed to impact the poorest 10%….

  15. free prescriptions should stay and Income tax shoul rise sharply esp higher rate.

  16. Mr McFarlane,
    I congratulate you on the ability to behave like a real socialist should, instead of the usual Labour and Unionist, or Labservative nonsense we seem to get most of the time now.
    Henry McLeish talked on the wireless this morning, I thought we were going to get something new for a while, but, much as I respect him, it soon turned into the usual dribble.
    Labour should adopt a free stance on the referendum, but I think we are too protective of our westminster jobs.
    The SNP are populist and they have made Independence an attractive proposition, and as a socialist, I have no objection to a fair referendum, without media bias and if the Nats win, then lets get on as socialists to make sure Scotland is a better country to live in, we too in Scottish Labour can follow the Norwegian or Swedish model, but it will never happen on a UK level, with their tridents and lords and everything else that comes with it…right?

  17. “It struck me as sadly ironic that the party spent almost 4 years lambasting the SNP in parliament only to adopt SNP-lite policies in the sprint.”

    I totally agree with this point. We should have chosen totally different policies from the SNP, rather than imitate them.

    1. I think you will find that the late changes Labour made prior to May were due to the reaction on the doorstep. The reaction to the council tax freeze was almost universally popular, and not just the money people saved, which in some cases was quite modest. A big factor was that at last someone was trying to do something positive and help reduce bills.

      Labour could not afford to be left isolated on that which is why I think they made the late change.

      The minimum price of alcohol is another area were Labour could be on the wrong side of the argument. Most voters big local issue is anti social behaviour of youths, much of which people attribute to the availability of cheap booze. I think we can make great play round the doorsteps with the fact that Labours present policy is Scotland has a caffeine problem not an alcohol one.

  18. “peter

    “so how can Labour win when the people want change?”

    Should this not read ” How can the people win when Labour wont change ?”

  19. To get a prescription you don’t have to fill in a form detailing your salary, savings, outgoings family circumstances, wife’s earnings, savings et al…and bring along evidence of same for the chemist’s assistant to see.

    And what would be the cut off? Or would there be a sliding scale as there is with housing benefit. How much does that cost to administer? Who would do it? Additionally, it takes approximately 10 weeks for HB to come through (locally). Apply that to prescription charges and you could be dead for want of a beta blocker.

    I don’t really think that it is an irrelevance to talk here about how much it costs to purchase and maintain the nuclear deterrent which actually is not independent at all. We seem to spend a great deal more on killing people than we do on keeping them alive.

    I was a fan of Tony Blair. He was a breath of fresh air to politics. Not old and stuffy. Young and relevant. Then he fell in love with neo-con Bush, and it all went belly up. He did good things to begin with. It’s a pity that by the end that government brought in the foul Atos that the Tories so gladly embraced, killing hundreds f thousands of Iraqis on the way. He could have gone down in history as a good man.

  20. Mr McFarlane. Excellent post. The independence question is bound to come up as we try to find solutions to the problems in Scotland caused by a Tory government in England who are driving the economy into the ground, but you are 100% right: there’s much more to worry about right now, and it should not be dominating FMQs and the press in Scotland.

    We do need change, and one of the things we need to change is a Conservative government, wished upon us by English voters whose interests it may have at heart (well, the rich ones anyway).

    At the moment we have to try to put the enmity of our two parties on one side and work together to bring more jobs and prosperity to Scotland, to tackle the drink/drugs/health/crime issues and much else. Our roads are falling to pieces, our schools have huge challenges to meet, and we have to do it all on a small and getting smaller grant from David Cameron.

    I’m an SNP man, but I’m also a socialist. I don’t think the SNP always gets it right, nor do I think that Labour always gets it wrong. Even Annabel Goldie got it right sometime. The Liberals of course no longer count as they have all but disappeared in Scotland.

    I’d like to read more of your stuff on the way forward and I’d be delighted if you’d write a post for my blog some time in the future.

  21. I have difficulty in deciding how far we should go on the Constitution, my head says Independence, my hearts says Full Fiscal Autonomy(ie we collect all our revenues and agree a price for reserved issues)
    The Status quo/ Calman makes me ask the question – What is England’s Barnet allowance? if they don’t have one why not?
    The current partnership is not balanced.

      1. Independence

        I do believe that there is an FFA alternative, but are Scottish Labour free to choose, that is the real. Question of this leadership.

  22. Such nonsense being talked about prescriptions. It costs less to make prescriptions free than it does to administer a means test based system and if the NHS is to be “free at the point of use” why should medicines connected with it be charged. And the biggest problems associated with prescriptions was not with those on benefits but the low and middle income families who very often couldn’t afford the medicine they needed. I’m surprised to see hackneyed Tory argument deployed on this issue by some posters who purport to be Labour supporters.
    As free prescriptions are paid for out of the taxes of the rich I don’t think it unreasonable that they should get the free prescriptions like everybody else. They already pay. Why should they pay twice (There is whole other argument about how much tax the very rich should pay. As Labour in government seemed to be perfectly happy with the Tory abandoning of a properly progressive taxation system and allowed massive tax evavasion to continue and did nothing to change it I would be interested in finding out what other posters think of this).
    In my opinion the Labour Party in Scotland has chosen to remain aboard a sinking ship. History will record whether I am right here. The function of the Labour Party as founded (and it was largely founded under Scottish impetus) was to provide a fair, a just and a caring society which would provide the apparatus to guarantee that social justice and health and welfare was available to every person . It was not founded to defend the union nor to defend the privileged position of those in the Labour party who see personal benefit from the union.
    I have just been reading about a great Scot – R B Cunninhame Graham – Liberal then founding member of the Labour Party and the ILP and the first socialist to sit in Westminster and then first president in 1934 of the SNP. He did the journey – the journey the Labour Party in Scotland needs to look at closely.
    I will finish with a (paraphrased) statement he made ” The English are not the enemy of Scotland. Our enemy is the Scot among us, born without imagination”

  23. I have sent off for my Scottish National Party membership.

    It’s time the real socialists here got the message – it’s a hard one to really swallow – socialism is only possible now in an independent Scotland.

    The joke Holyrood leader Lamont is a tiny but nonetheless relevant example of how Labour in Scotland has failed, continues to fail and will always fail as, for some reason known only to itself, it clings to the umbilical cord of a union that leaves the people in Scotland betrayed by politicians who prefer unionism to socialism.

    I imagine this will not be printed as it doesn’t enter the comfort zone that has developed here. That is Labour’s downfall.

    Labour is actually alive and kicking and doing magnificently well though in the form of the left SNP.

    I’ve met these people and have a great deal more in common with their socialism than the pro-nuke/pro-privatisation Labour that is (was?) the hegemony of Scotland.

    It’s time for Labour to fae reality and make the leap.

  24. About a decade ago, I think it was an OECD report, stated approximately 115,000 nurses in the UK were between the age of 45-65 and due to retire within the next 15 years.. In order to fill the gap Universities were funded (regardless of whether the student nurse passed ) and there was a large uptake in nursing then around the same time 1 or 2 things happened.The retiral age was lifted allowing( particularly in nursing) women to continue working and 2,the banking fiasco.
    Now ,as the emphasis is changing to a more community based Service and the demands and pace are greater ,some people having worked shifts for 30 years of physical hard work are saying time to retire.Lets leave aside the pensions for the moment.
    While you keep bandying about nurses being paid off Duncan, my point above is basically its not quite as cut and dried as moving prescription charges money to the wicked SNP making nurses redundant.
    It would be interesting to see a breakdown of what band is being paid off as don’t forget many managers ,still register themselves as nurses
    Finally as free prescriptions to me are more about the kind of society we aspire to be, I am disappointed that not once has the biggest drain on the NHS been mentioned-PFI .

  25. As one of many ex Labour members who has moved to the SNP, I’ve found this a fascinating discussion.

    The arguments of Duncan Hothersall on prescription charges seem to be so “Scottish Cringe” – That’s all the money we get back from Westminster, so how can we best manage it.

    That lack of vision (saving 1%+ of the money spent on defence by the UK by adopting a Nordic defence strategy would produce significant additional revenue for spending on people) is what condemns the current obsessively UK Laour Party to oblivion in Scotland.

    I’ll happily return to supporting the best centre-left party in Scotland, once the constitutional question has been decided. Unless Labour changes, however, they won’t be the party of choice.

    1. A quite fair point. I’d very happily save money on defence spending (I’m opposed to Trident renewal on that and other bases) but what I would not happily do is divide the country in order to benefit a small proportion of the people while abandoning the rest. Why shouldn’t the whole of the UK benefit? Why should the answer be to cut and run?

      1. People in the whole of the UK have votes, Duncan. If they want free prescriptions and no Trident, they can vote for a party that offers such a choice. That’s how democracy works

  26. Have you forgotten devolution? Those 18 years cannot happen again because of the major constitutional changes that have been brought in since.

    1. I am sorry Duncan that has to be your weakest answer yet.

      No we have not forgotten devolution, but by the same token many if not all of my generation will never forget the eighteen long years of Thatcherism and the feeble fifty who did nothing of any consequence for Scotland during that time.

      Those eighteen years can and will happen again under the present constitutional settlement that is devolution, with or without the equally useless Calman.

      How will Westminster still have the ability to harm Scotland under devolution? Easy, under the Barnett pocket money settlement, Scotland gets the Barnett share of UK spending. The education system in England is being slowly privatised, meaning less UK government money spent, meaning less Barnett for Scotland. The same is happening in the NHS again less UK spend, less Barnett for Scotland. How many other areas will they have to privatise before Labour wakes up?

      Now it is clear that the people of Scotland do not support and do not want the wholesale privatisation of their vital services, but the inescapable conclusion is that more and more of Scotlands services will have to follow the English model as with less and less Barnet money that is the only way we will be able to fund them.

      Maybe you can tell us what the now even feebler fourty Scottish Labour MPS are doing at present to stop this happening with all its consequences for Scotland?

      I also see you said you are opposed to Trident. What is your estimate of the time-scale when Scotland will see the back of these expensive white elephants under the present devolution settlement that Labour wholeheartedly supports, no matter the damage the Torys will do to Scotland.

  27. Duncan

    The logic of your argument escapes me. You think that devolution protects Scotland from the Tories, yet you seem to be happy to accept a system whereby they decide the Scottish Budget (albeit through some tinkering with the basic rate of Income Tax under the Scotland Bill).

    You are actually a very conservative chap. The system that is in place now should be conserved, simply “because it is there”. Logic would suggest that you advocate a greater union with other countries, not be content with the remnants of Empire that is the current UK.

    Why are you not advocating a total union (with some devolution) with all our neighbours, on both sides of the Atlantic? Why are you so selfish as to fail to show solidarity with American workers, when UK voters could add their votes to those of AFL-CIO members, to bring much needed reform to those benighted lands?

    I presume that you opposed the break-up of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and any other state created by the Imperial Powers?

    The trouble with arguing from a “principled base” is that you need to ensure that your principles are consistent. I don’t think yours are/

  28. Yes, Oldnat
    Duncan does come up with some strange stuff. I though for a while that he might be an SNP mole putting up easy stuff for target practice. Now I’m wondering if he might in fact be a genuine Tory. If that is the case he might well believe some of the stuff.
    In a earlier post he suggested that England should have a vote in a referendum about whether Scotland should choose independence. Try telling the Ukrainians or the Latvians or Estonians that Muscovites should have had a vote on their independence!
    (England would, of course, have a vote on Devo Max or any other similar if hazy and complicated extended devolution concept. I look forward to the reaction of Joe Public down south if anybody suggests more financial power to the Scottish Parliament – which is exactly why no meaningful Devo Max will appear on any referendum ballot).
    However Duncan’s enthusism in joining the debates is to be commended. It is only be putting the various propositions up for debate and having them stripped of spin and nonsense can the reality be exposed.
    It would be useful of Duncan and others on this site were to contribute to the debates going on continuously on Newsnet Scotland. It is an independence site but a bit of livening up or opposition wouldn’t go amiss.

    1. “In a earlier post he suggested that England should have a vote in a referendum about whether Scotland should choose independence.”

      No, he didn’t. I don’t know why you would make something like that up, but it’s simply not true, and I’d appreciate a withdrawal.

  29. Can’t find it but I seem to remember that you suggested that the whole of the should have a vote in a Referendum if Scotland had one. If it wasn’t you I withdraw my remark unreservedly.

  30. My first post since Tom enlivened the leadership debate and Kesia became a shadow deputy minister (but surely not deputy shadow minister, as billed), so congrats to both. This piece by Peter is super, not least because it’s brought in so many passionate politicos who may not have the best interest of Labour at heart (ahem!). Meant in a nice way. The killer for Labour would be if we’re the defenders of a stultifying status quo. So we simply mustn’t be.

    1. Fair comment Eric.

      However I would say that the vast majority of passionate politicos who may not have the best interest of Labour at heart, certainly do have the interests of Scotland at heart.

      If Labour only want to talk among themselves they will always hear the answers they want, but that will not be any use on the doorsteps.

      There quite obviously many ex Labour voters who are posting here, and the vast majority it would appear to me are looking for reasons to reconnect with Labour. It would be interesting to hear your view if you think anything they may have read on this site would have them rushing to reconnect.

  31. Well said, Eric Joyce.

    The boottom Line is that despite my 51 years in the SNP I would like to think that what is in the best interests of Scotland is what matters.
    I know that that is what motivates the SNP. Does that motivate any other party?

  32. Sorry to be so late in adding my tuppence-worth here but am I wrong thinking nurses & midwives working within NHS Scotland are directly employed by each individual NHS Hospital Boards? If so, it is rather disingenuous claiming any particular political party for cutting their numbers. Most NHS Boards seem to have an eclectic mix of all shades of political opinion. However, are not several of the larger NHS areas much overloaded with Labour Councillors? I seem to remember a news item about a row to that effect over NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.

  33. Cameron seems to be in control of the NO campaign already. Does this not send alarm bells ringing in the Labour Party? Johann Lamont has been posted missing in most of the media, though she is quoted in the Herald today as saying “We’re on the same page as the Tories” Time to re-stock and wrest control of the referendum away from London as it will be Scottish voters only taking part in 2014.

  34. Wake up somebody in Labour! Henry McLeish has just demanded a rethink of Labour’s referendum strategy on the front page of today’s Herald. He makes more sense than the King Canute’s in charge of today’s referendum plans. Has it ever dawned on you that the interests of Scotland’s working folk might not be the same as the privately educated Wallahs incharge of British Labour? Who’s side are we on? Who are the real enemy? If ye dinna ken I winna tell ye – juist dinna expect me tae chap doors for ye!!

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