Angus Robertson famously declared after the NATO motion victory, “he who dares, wins”. That phrase has always stuck with me.
Following the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government (PfG) release, even Kenny Farquharson (Sunday Times Scotland columnist) declared it the kind of bold strategy that was expected and needed by Nicola and the SNP.
However, within hours of the PfG’s release, Labour in Scotland tweeted that the PfG was based on 10 policy ideas of their own. A bold and deliberate attempt to say, ‘the SNP isn’t radical, we thought of it first’.
First of all, politicians of whatever shade of party are rarely the type of people to design and produce policy ideas fit for implementation. I know that may come as a shock to many, maybe even a direct criticism of government, but tough. Get over it.
Politicians may come from a wide variety of experience and backgrounds but one thing they are rarely good at is policy formulation. Development of, perhaps. Ownership of, most certainly. Successful implementation of, with mixed degrees of effectiveness.
Policy formulation – the deep analysis, issue recognition and workable solution – is frankly a difficult ask of anyone. Professional bodies, academics, trade unions, think tanks, civic organisations, political parties, all think that they can formulate policy. Many of them do. But the vast majority tend to go for the solution that fits their own ends rather than necessarily that which is best, optimal and even downright practical.
For example, I would say that a polluters’ tax on aviation fuel is a fine policy to bring the only fossil fuel without taxation into line with cars, buses, lorries and even diesel trains. However, aviation fuel is a truly international commodity and on the whole requires global effort to implement it if it is to be truly successful without displacement effect.
Turning my attention back to that Labour tweet. So let’s look at this in detail:
|Labour’s ideas||Reality test|
|A soft opt-out Organ Donation Bill has been a Labour Member’s Bill in this and the previous sitting of the Scottish Parliament. Last year SNP MSPs voted against an opt-out Bill brought forward by Anne McTaggart.||The Donation and Transplantation Plan, 2013-2020 has been the catalyst for meaningful improvement in organ donation in Scotland. Holyrood’s health committee backed the aim, but not the detail of the Anne McTaggart’s bill, which is why the SNP preferred to bring forward a Government bill to get it right (just like Jack McConnell did in stealing the anti-smoking bill in 2003).|
|Free access to sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities is part of a Member’s Bill from Monica Lennon.||
This has been a fascinating example of how the Gillian Martin, an SNP MSP passed a motion to make this party policy before Monica Lennon was even an MSP. Let’s not forget that VAT is a reserved matter which Labour failed to act on in 18 years of power.
|An end to rough sleeping was in Labour’s 2017 manifesto, and it was the last Labour led Scottish government that passed world leading legislation aimed at ending homelessness in 2003.||Labour appear to be very good at creating legislation to abolish social injustice but totally ineffective in delivering it. Remember Gordon Brown’s abolition of child poverty act?|
|Labour has attempted multiple Member’s Bills to reregulate buses in Scotland.||
The Labour led Scottish Executive were in power for eight years and never once considered re-regulation of buses. Maybe something to do with First Bus CEO donations to Labour leadership contests?
|Labour proposed a publicly owned People’s ScotRail in our 2016 manifesto – a step further than the SNP’s commitment to a public sector bid.||
The SNP said it would “Enable public sector operators to bid for future rail franchises.” Is it just me or semantics that a public sector operator is a People’s Scotrail? The Tories devolved the power to create a public sector bid in 2016. While in government Labour chose not to devolve the power.
|A Pupil equity fund is Labour’s Fair Start Fund – first proposed in 2015.||
Actually, Labour’s Fair Start Fund is just another form of ‘pupil premium’ which was brought in by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government in 2011.
Labour proposed a Scottish Investment Bank in our 2017 manifesto- with £20 billion of lending power behind it.
I hate to say to it pejoratively but there has been a Scottish Investment Bank in nearly all SNP manifestos in my lifetime.
Labour supported the Frank’s Law campaign in our 2017 manifesto –but would have gone further and scrapped charges regardless of age, and not just for those with prescribed conditions.
Interestingly, it was Tory MSP that brought forward a Member’s Bill which all parties have supported and now the Scottish Government can implement following a study to make it workable.
|Labour councillors already started work on exploring a basic income in Glasgow, Fife and North Ayrshire.||
And very welcome that this is. Of course, North Ayrshire councillors voted to increase the senior councillors allowances above the public sector pay cap and the less said about the income of Glasgow Labour councillors over the years, the better.
Scrapping the public sector pay cap was a Labour manifesto pledge – and one the SNP voted against in the spring.
Neither SNP nor Labour made a pledge to end the public sector pay cap in 2016 and both made a similar pledge in 2017.
Of course political parties want to claim credit for everything that is popular and good. It’s all part of the game so to speak. But the reality is most ideas do not come from one source. Invariably they start from a group with an interest, which is then evolved as more and varying interests are engaged and then ultimately ‘sold’ to political parties for inclusion in their manifestos, purely for implementation.
What is striking about the new ‘gallus-not-callous’ Labour approach is that it conveniently hides the real difference between Labour and the SNP which they don’t want to talk about:
- The SNP Scottish Government abolished tuition fees in Scotland in 2008. Labour introduced tuition fees in 1998. At the General Election Labour backed scrapping tuition fees. After the General Election Labour put up fees in Wales.
- SNP oppose Trident.The UK Labour party backs Trident renewal.
- SNP back Single Market membership and freedom of movement. UK Labour back Brexit and only back Single Market membership for a ‘transitional period’.
- The SNP Scottish Government has committed to end public sector pay cap. UK Labour backs ending the public sector pay cap. Meanwhile, the Welsh Labour Government have said they won’t lift the public sector pay cap unless the Tories at Westminster do it first.
- The SNP are committed to increase the Minimum Wage to the level of the real Living Wage for all workers over 18. Labour have matched that commitment
- SNP has begun to ensure a public sector body is able to bid for rail franchises in Scotland. The Tories devolved the power to create a public sector bid in 2016. While in government Labour chose not to devolve the power. In the General Election Labour committed to bringing railways back into public ownership as franchises expire, if elected.
- SNP back independence and believe Scotland should have a choice on our future at the end of the Brexit process. Labour oppose an independence referendum.
- Prescription charges were abolished in 2011. In England, patients are forced to pay £8.60 per item. Labour gave no commitment on prescription charges in England in their General Election manifesto. In Wales prescriptions are free.
- The SNP is committed to abolishing the two child cap on Tax Credits and the associated Rape Clause. Labour committed in their General Election to ending the Rape Clause but give no specific commitment to ending the two-child cap on tax credits.
- In Scotland the Bedroom Tax is fully mitigated, and will be scrapped as soon as possible. Since 2013, the Scottish Government has spent over £100 million a year to protect people from the worst aspects of Tory welfare cuts. UK Labour support abolishing the Bedroom Tax. In Labour-run Wales, the Bedroom Tax is not fully mitigated.
- The SNP support ending the freeze on working-age benefits. In their 2017 manifesto, Labour gave no commitment to ending the freeze.
- The SNP Scottish Government ended Thatcher’s right-to-buy. Labour’s policy in England is to ‘suspend’ right-to-buy (unless there is a surplus of homes), if elected. Labour in Wales are now following Scotland’s lead.
- The SNP abolished parking charges in all NHS-run hospital car parks in 2008. Due to private-finance contracts entered into by the previous Labour government, this does not cover all car parks. Labour committed to free parking in NHS England, if elected.
- The SNP are committed to keeping Scottish Water in public hands. Charges for the average household bill in Scotland are £38 lower than in England and Wales. Labour would create regional publicly-owned water companies in England, if elected.
Just as interesting that Scottish Labour has a very handy ‘pick and mix’ approach to policy commitments for Scotland and the UK, especially when they are not aligned, e.g. Trident.
So as you can see, a rather long testimony to my original point. Labour should be careful for what it claims. Every party should be careful for what it claims. Ultimately though, you can have all the ideas in the world, but putting them into play requires the people’s support and a parliamentary majority.