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Midwinter sends Scottish Labour into the freezer

If you want to know what a future Labour government at Westminster might look like, the leader of the party in Scotland, Johann Lamont, has given the game away.

When Lamont finally explained what Scottish Labour stands for it turns out to be ending universal benefits, cutting apprenticeships, fewer university places, making older people pay for care and unfreezing council tax.

Apparently, it’s free bus passes and prescriptions that are to blame for 30,000 public sector job losses – not the bankers and corporations whose crisis is being imposed on ordinary people right across Europe.

Lamont puts forward the usual hoary old right-wing arguments about universal benefits helping not only the poor but also the rich who don’t need it – which misses their purposes entirely.

Universal benefits are a recognition by society as a whole that health and education should be available freely, and that at some times in their lives – when raising children or when they are older – society should offer its members extra support.

Otherwise, what is the point of society? Most of us get that, but New Labour Mark II doesn’t. Ed – “I am for a responsible capitalism” – Miliband will be giving out the same miserable message at his party’s conference this week.

Lamont has announced a review of Scottish Labour’s economic policy, led by the aptly named Professor Arthur Midwinter. He has already made up his mind, claiming 18,000 jobs in the NHS and local government have been lost to fund the council tax freeze, free prescriptions and free university tuition sustained by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government.

But he is entirely wrong. Public sector jobs have been lost because of the global economic and financial crisis. And every one of the political parties is committed to doing whatever is necessary to prop up the system responsible for it.

Some 5,000 more jobs are to go in Glasgow over the next year and 1,400 in North Lanarkshire. More job losses will be announced elsewhere. Unemployment is 220,000 or 8%, and rising for those aged between 25 and 49.  Many young people do not show up in the figures because they are on job schemes or college courses that will not lead to a permanent job.

In two years, Scotland’s budget has been cut by 7% or £2.1 billion, and by 2016-17 it will be 17%, or £5.3bn, less than it was in 2010-11.

Is Lamont really claiming that ending universal benefits will bring an end to cuts and unemployment? Does she think we’re stupid or what?

The reality is that if they were removed tomorrow, the savings would not transfer to other services, but be swallowed up by the deficit. If you want to know what is coming, just look at Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Lamont accuses the SNP of “trying to find the question to which independence is the answer”. But if the fundamental question facing Scotland is the social and economic future of its people, then Labour has no answers.

“We need to say what we want Scotland to be, what we can realistically afford, and how can we, in reality, make Scotland better,” she says.

And that’s the conundrum – what we can afford whilst still propping up this disastrous capitalist system cannot support communities to become healthy, better off and well educated.

There have been calls since Lamont’s speech for the creation of a breakaway independent Labour Party but that can’t help us (it was tried in the 1970s and failed miserably).

Operating within the current parliamentary system, whether in Edinburgh or Westminster, means we can only ever have what the system chooses to give us – so it is the system itself we need to challenge.

We need to prepare ourselves for a leap to a new political framework, where democratic People’s Assemblies in every part of the country agree creative, not-for-profit, community-based solutions that openly challenge the existing powers.   

Penny Cole
1 October 2012

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