Over the years there have been many predictions of dirty campaigns, some justified some not but we are, I suspect, now in a very dirty campaign which will last till May 17, and for a very simple reason; Labour in Scotland are genuinely frightened that they face complete oblivion.
Labour once had three legs to their power base. It seems strange now to even say Labour once had a power base.
The first leg was, of course, Westminster. Well, we sorted that out last year in no uncertain manner, and Labour have become poorer not only financially, but their whole psyche has been rocked.
The second leg was Holyrood. No-one should underestimate the damage their morale will suffer if they are forced into third place in May. Being beaten by the SNP was a real shock the first time in 2007 and ate into their self-belief hugely in 2011. But to be beaten into third place in a country which still regards tory as a four letter word is the stuff of their nightmares.
The third leg is local government. Many senior labour people have written off their chances in May and believe that their hold on local government, is their best “last chance” of remaining relevant in Scotland.
Back in 2012 we won 424 seats in Councils, Labour 394 the Tories had 115 and the libdems just 71. Yet the SNP control only 7 Councils out of 32. Aye, you might say, so much for the one party state. Across Scotland we saw Labour/Tory/libdem coalitions of all shapes and forms with the sole aim of keeping us out of power before the referendum.
Labour though, are power driven and decided to use the local government negotiating body CoSLA as their principle weapon. Although each Council is supposed to send delegates to CoSLA on a proportional basis, Labour grabbed not only the leadership of many of these coalitions but frequently took all the CoSLA places for themselves or with their coalition partners and excluded the SNP entirely.
Many in Local Government fondly recall the constructive relationship between Scottish and Local Governments from 2007-12 as the Concordat allowed Councils to escape from the straight jacket of ring fencing they had endured under the Lib/Lab Scottish Executive. By giving Councils the right to manage their own budgets and extra funding to keep the Council Tax bills down for hard pressed families down both sides were winners and as everyone who has ever negotiated knows a win-win outcome is always best.
Rory Mair, the outgoing Chief Executive of CoSLA, in an interview with The Herald, said the relationship between Councils and the Scottish Government has now become so “toxic” amid arguments over budgets and responsibilities that it is now on the brink of outright collapse.
So what has happened to change the atmosphere so much since 2012?
Once Labour had decided that they could not rely on their MSPs, they chose to take the fight to the SNP in Council Chambers instead. Hence the gerrymandering of delegates to CoSLA enabling a power grab by Labour.
This has enabled a deliberate policy of seeking confrontation at every opportunity. CoSLA, formed as the collective negotiating body for Councils, was morphed into the front line in Labour’s war with the Scottish Government.
And, as in every war, it has been the civilians, those who use and in many cases rely on Local Council services, who have and will continue to suffer most.
There is no doubt that John Swinney has had to struggle to find a balance in this year’s budget. Nor can it be argued that this is a good deal for Councils, it’s not. When the people of Scotland made that decision on Black Thursday they had been well warned that the cuts would flow from a Tory Government. The people voted NO and now the Tories, red and blue, want their pound of Scottish flesh.
Because Labour were hell bent on a fight with John Swinney in the run up to May they threw away their negotiating positions like a baby throwing its rattle out of the pram.
In the midst of the press and TV hysteria it’s hard to remember that this year’s settlement from the Scottish Government still sees £250 million going back into Local Councils with £51 million earmarked to meet the cost of giving the lowest paid care workers the living wage rather than just the minimum wage and £54 million to meet the cost of ensuring that the ratio of pupils and teachers does not drop.
Personally I am very proud that the SNP are implementing the living wage instead of just talking about it.
Once again John Swinney gave an extra £70 million to fund the council tax freeze. On top of the £165 million paid to Councils above the cost of the freeze since 2008. Over the lifetime of the Council Tax freeze this is estimated to be an average saving of £1500 for a Band D payer.
Labour are trying to use Local Councils, not to meet the needs of their communities, but as a weapon to wield in their battle for survival. Our job is to highlight the hypocrisy of that position.
In Falkirk, we demonstrated where their cuts could be reduced by over £6.4 million and save over 150 jobs. We would have saved for example our Garden Aid Scheme, Classroom Learning Assistants, Employment Training Unit and Community Wardens as well as keeping our Community Halls open. But our Labour / Tory / “Independent” Administration refused to accept a single one of the SNP proposals.
Only a morally and politically bankrupt shell of the Labour Party could contemplate raising income tax bills for those earning as little as £11,000 a year by 5%, their Council Tax Bills by an unspecified amount and their rent up by 3.6%, all at a time when inflation is 0.3%.
When SNP members pointed out that according to Falkirk Council officials 59% of the 7000 children officially classified as “living in poverty” would be worse off under Labour’s proposals there was utter indifference from the Administration.
Labour hate us because they think we have taken their power. They have no idea that it was the people who took their power because Labour betrayed their trust. People no longer believe Labour because people cannot believe Labour. For example, in October last year, Labour leader in Scotland Kezia Dugdale said, “We want hundreds of thousands of working Scots to pay less tax.” Four months later Labour now want to increase income tax in Scotland by 5% for the lowest paid and 2.5% for the highest earners. What their position will be in the summer is anyone’s guess!
Labour betrayed that trust and we have been given that trust. It’s not enough to just be better than Labour, we must work each and every day to earn it again and again. If we have worked hard enough, we might be given the chance to rebuild our communities next year. There will be hard decisions to be made because the Tories will still be thirsting for revenge. But if we act with humility, are open and honest about the choices and act in the best interests of all our people we just might earn the right to be trusted when the second referendum comes around.