By a Newsnet reporter
The campaign starting gun has been fired in the Dunfermline by-election with the arrival of the two main party protagonist’s big hitters.
Scottish National Party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond and Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls arrived in the Scottish constituency with both eager to put their respective party’s argument to the voters.
Yesterday, Mr Salmond joined SNP candidate Shirley-Anne Somerville at the official launch of the SNP’s Dunfermline by-election campaign.
Ms Somerville was brought up and schooled in Kirkcaldy, and lives with her husband and young family in North Queensferry, Fife. She was SNP MSP for Lothians between 2007-2011. The nationalists are highlighting their so called ‘Peoples policies’ such as free prescriptions, the council tax freeze and free personal care in a bid at winning the support of voters.
The SNP have also targeted local school closures as they home in on what they believe is the weakness of the Labour candidate Cara Hilton. The Labour administration in Fife has earmarked three primary schools in the constituency for closure: Pitcorthie, Wellwood and Crombie.
Speaking at the party campaign launch, Mr Salmond said: “The choice in Dunfermline is clear. It is between an experienced SNP candidate who will fight Labour’s school closures and support policies local people hold dear – the Council Tax freeze, free personal care, the bus pass for over-60s, toll-free travel across the Forth, no prescription charges, and free education for young folk – and a Labour Party which is closing local schools and threatens these services through its Cuts Commission.
“These policies – the people’s policies – need to be delivered every year through the Scottish Parliament’s budget process, and Shirley-Anne Somerville is the only candidate who is pledged to support them if elected.
“Only a vote for Shirley-Anne Somerville and the SNP will support the people’s policies in Dunfermline.”
According to the SNP in government – the Scottish Labour Commission set up to look at the affordability of universal benefits threatens to end a raft of cost saving benefits enjoyed by Scottish people, such as:
- Frozen Council Tax since 2007 – saving the average Band D home in Fife £1,637 by 2016-17. Under Labour bills went up 50% in Fife.
- No prescription charges – saving those with long-term conditions £104 every year.
- Toll-free travel across the Forth – saving Fifers £233 every year.
- Free tuition – young people save £9,000 every year compared to students in England.
- Free bus travel for older people, and extended to disabled veterans – saving £250 every year for pass holders.
- Increased free childcare to a minimum of 600 hours for chidcare for all 3, 4 and looked after 2 year olds – saving families over £700 per child per year.
Ms Somerville herself said:
“Should I be elected as the new MSP for Dunfermline, my promise is to be a champion for the people of this constituency – starting by working with local parents to stop the Labour council’s school closure plans.
“And I will vote to protect the policies which I know from speaking to local people they value and depend on.
“I am ambitious for Scotland – which is why I am voting Yes for independence in next year’s referendum. And I am ambitious for Dunfermline – which is why I want to be the MSP and the champion for this constituency in the Scottish Parliament.”
The independence referendum was at the centre of Labour’s campaigning with Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls suggesting that a Labour government would try to block a newly independent Scotland from using the pound.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion and I’m really not bluffing,” the Labour MP said.
“The idea of the pound operating as a parallel currency in Scotland is utterly economically incoherent.
“It would be massively destabilising. No financial institution could possibly operate without a proper regulator and lender of last resort backing it. That one is just for the birds. Scotland is not Kosovo.”
Labour has started the campaign on the back foot after it emerged its candidate Cara Hilton had voted in favour of a consultation into the closure of a local primary school. The Labour controlled local authority has angered local parents with proposals that will see several primary schools in the area forced to close.
The Labour candidate recently claimed she had “seen no evidence to justify the closure of Pitcorthie School” and insisted she has been “working closely” with parents on the issue.
However, minutes of a meeting which took place on May 8th this year and was attended by Cara Hilton, show that a motion to consult on the closure of Pitcorthie primary school was approved by the Labour councillor and her colleagues by 8 votes to 3.
Just over a week ago Ms Hilton attempted to backtrack from policy decisions taken by her own party by calling for a privatised Royal Mail to be renationalised and for the maintenance of the SNP’s free tuition policy.
The Labour party has signalled it would not reverse the sell-off of the Royal Mail and Scottish Labour under Johann Lamont has confirmed it will end the SNP’s free tuition policy if it wins the next Holyrood election.