As a woman with a strong interest in politics, and a once Labour voter myself, I was in utter despair at Johann Lamont’s appearance on BBC’s News Night on Tuesday 18th March to discuss the findings of the Devo Commission. It was nothing short of an absolute bumbling wreck of an interview, and I was embarrassed on her behalf. Here’s a woman who leads the Scottish Labour party – a once proud and noble party who strived to create a fairer society for the masses of working class voters who hung on their every word, and hoped for the positive change they were promising – she should be taking Scottish politics by storm, she should be a woman that I look up to and admire. Sadly, it seems as though Johann Lamont has forgotten the very foundations upon which Labour was built, and is now happily skiting along on the coat tails of Ed Milliband et al as they politically spoon their new bedfellows, the Conservatives.
What I’m not quite sure about, is whether Johann realises that she is flinging her political career and dignity out of the proverbial window as she goes.
The Scottish Labour Devolution Commission was set up two years ago, and many voters in the upcoming independence referendum have been waiting with baited breath to see what new powers Scotland could have coming her way as part of the United Kingdom under a Scottish Labour government. The document entitled “Powers for a purpose – Strengthening Accountability and Empowering People” gives the impression that what’s inside is going to be a strong proposal of how Scotland can be more responsible, stronger and powerful than we are now. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case; as on page four of the document Scottish Labour lay out the matters which they deem essential to be reserved to Westminster:
” For the United Kingdom to be an effective union, it is critical that certain core matters remain reserved to the UK Parliament. Those which are not should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Essential reserved matters include:
•Financial and economic matters–including monetary policy, the currency, regulation, debt management and employment law. Without these, we cannot have a single economy.
•Foreign affairs (including international development) and defence, both of which are central to what defines a nation state
•The core of the welfare state – pensions and the majority of cash benefits. These allow the social solidarity that helps bind the UK together.
•The constitution. Other issues which the Commission has reviewed and concluded should remain reserved are:
•Drugs, drug trafficking and related laws.
•Betting, gaming and lotteries.
•The civil service.
•Abortion and analogous issues”
So what’s left for Scotland to take power of? Well, there’s a wee bit of proposed tax powers, a smidgen of welfare powers, and some vague comments about a not-for-profit rail service. Let’s take a look at the tax powers Scotland could have… Actually, first let’s take a look at what we won’t have:
“We concluded that, for a variety of good reasons, VAT, national insurance contributions, corporation tax, alcohol, tobacco and fuel duties, climate change levy, insurance premium tax, vehicle excise duty, inheritance tax, capital gains tax and tax on oil receipts should remain reserved”
I guess we just need to take Scottish Labour’s word that these areas will remain reserved “for a variety of good reasons”, as they don’t actually outline what those reasons are. So, now that we know definitively what tax powers Scotland will not have, here’s some detail of what we might have power over:
TAX: Income tax – well not all of it, but three quarters of basic rate income tax will be controlled by The Scottish Government; who will also have the power to raise tax, but not lower it because lowering tax is a bad idea apparently and will just lead to tax competition according to Lamont – who seemed oblivious to the fact that raising tax could also lead to tax competition with the rest of the UK, thus putting Scotland at a disadvantage.
WELFARE: The proposed devolved powers in welfare are utterly confusing. With Universal Credit just around the corner, which will see all benefits united under the one umbrella payment – Johann Lamont is now arguing that it’s possible for Housing Benefit and Attendance Allowance to be separate payments within Scotland and not tied in with Universal Credit, which would make Universal Credit not really universal at all in Scotland. Interestingly, there is absolutely no mention of Employment and Support Allowance being devolved to The Scottish Government, and with Labour already having commented that nothing will change on a UK level when it comes to ATOS and work capability assessments under their rule; this is a heavy blow to the sick and the disabled in Scotland.
Sometimes the things that are left unsaid speak the highest volumes.
RAILWAYS: Daily commuters should rest easy knowing that Scottish Labour propose reforms to the rail system:
“We favour devolution of railway powers that could facilitate consideration of a “not for profit” option in terms of the Scotrail franchise. This will widen the powers of the Scottish Parliament over the rail system”
Yeah, I have no idea what that truly means either, and Scottish Labour offer no further information on the matter. I would be interested to hear ScotRail’s reaction though.
LOANS: Scottish labour propose to give Local Authorities greater control in order to stop the growth of dodgy pay day loan companies opening up shops. Considering this is out with Scotland’s control, I’m not quite sure how they plan to do this. Maybe they’ll just ask Westminster nicely.
FUEL DUTY: “We do support, in principle, a derogation to allow a lower rate of fuel duty to be charged in remote rural areas of the Highlands and Islands” Again, they’ll need to ask Westminster nicely if this will be allowed.
So there we have it, two years worth of work in a teeny wee nutshell. It’s not very impressive or empowering, it’s basically a list of things which Johann Lamont and her commission group think we stand a chance of Westminster agreeing to give us control over, rather than the areas which Lamont believes Scotland categorically should have autonomy over. It should have been titled “Powers we might be allowed”, because really this is all well and good in theory, but it does rely completely on a few “wee things”:
1) Scotland voting no in the independence referendum.
2) Scottish Labour winning the Scottish election.
3) The majority backing of further devolution for Scotland from The UK Government.
Perhaps now would be a good time to hear Scottish Labour’s plan when it comes to the outcome of a yes vote in September, as I highly doubt their devolution proposals will be winning anyone over anytime soon. Do they even have a plan, or are they sticking their head in the sand and putting all their eggs in a wonky-wheeled unionist trolley? With six months to go until the referendum, and the yes movement gaining momentum with each passing month, it looks as though Labour have some serious work to do.