By a Newsnet reporter
The Labour party is facing questions after an official campaign leaflet containing a string of misleading claims was distributed by party activists in Dunfermline, days before an important by-election.
According to the leaflet, the SNP is refusing to scrap the Bedroom Tax and First Minister Alex Salmond is responsible for the increase in household energy bills.
The leaflet [which can be seen by clicking HERE] also claims that:
- Labour supported free prescriptions and wants to keep them free
- Labour froze the council tax first and supports a continuation of the freeze
- Labour was first to remove bridge tolls and wants to keep them toll free
However perhaps the most contentious claim contained in the leaflet relates to the Bedroom Tax. It says: “Labour will bin this hated and unfair tax – Why won’t the SNP?”
The Scottish National Party has reacted furiously, describing the leaflet as “desperate and totally misleading” and has called on Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to confirm if she sanctioned its publication.
Scrapping the bedroom Tax has been official SNP policy for months and only became Labour party policy recently after the party’s UK leadership repeatedly refused to commit to scrapping the legislation.
Labour activists began distributing the leaflets on Monday, just days before voters in the constituency go to the polls in a by-election that will see an MSP chosen to replace disgraced former MSP Bill Walker.
The SNP has reacted to the leaflets with a mixture of disbelief and anger with the party’s Dunfermline campaign director Bruce Crawford MSP describing them as “the most desperate and misleading leaflet ever produced in an election campaign.”
Accusing Johann Lamont’s party of having “pressed the panic button in Dunfermline” Mr Crawford added:
“The leaflet is so bad that leading Labour activist Ian Smart – who was actually campaigning in Dunfermline at the weekend – said he thought it must be an ‘urban myth’!
“But it is genuine – promoted by Labour’s general secretary in Scotland – and therefore leaves Johann Lamont’s Cuts Commission in total and utter disarray.”
The Labour leaflet highlights policies that have actually been delivered or supported by the SNP – and which, says the SNP, are all threatened by the Cuts Commission established by Johann Lamont over a year ago.
Last year Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont announced the she had set up a commission to look at the affordability of free universal services, including prescription charges and free personal care. The MSP claimed the SNP had created a “something for nothing” society.
Commission Chair, Professor Arthur Midwinter, later confirmed that all free public services were under review, and said: “There is nothing off the table”.
In a TV interview the day of the launch, the Scottish Labour leader herself confirmed that nothing was off the table and that the SNP policies of free prescriptions and free personal care were under review.
An edited clip of Johann Lamont confirming “Nothing is off the table”
See the full interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REgehhGRWWs&feature=youtu.be
The SNP has addressed many of the claims contained in the leaflet and also pointed to the fact that Labour voted against the Scottish Government budgets and local government funding settlements which delivered the policies Labour claim to have supported.
The Dunfermline leaflet has a picture of the Forth Bridge saying that Labour was “first” to scrap bridge tolls – however the SNP have pointed out that when they removed tolls on the Erskine and Skye bridges in 2006, Labour specifically refused to scrap them on the Forth and Tay bridges, which was done by the SNP in 2008.
The nationalists have challenged Labour’s claim to be “first” to freeze the Council Tax, and that the party “continue to support a freeze”. The SNP has pointed out that when the Labour group froze it in Glasgow, their party colleagues continued to increase the Council Tax in Fife, under Labour, Council Tax in Fife increased by 50%.
Labour have repeatedly criticised the Council Tax freeze, and voted against the Local Government Finance Settlement and budgets which deliver it.
In the aftermath of Labour’s defeat in the May 2011 Holyrood elections, Johann Lamont called the council tax freeze “unrealistic” and claimed it would “hammer public services”. Speaking during the Labour leadership campaign which saw Ms Lamont replace former leader Iain Gray, she called the Scottish government’s council tax freeze “reckless” and said it should be scrapped.
Just as bizarrely, the leaflet says Labour will deliver 600 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds – which is the provision which will be in place from the start of the next school year under the SNP Government’s policy. When Labour left office in 2007, the provision was just 412 hours, which the SNP have since increased to 475 hours, now moving to over 600 hours.
The leaflet says “Labour supported scrapping prescription charges and wants to keep them free” – even though Labour have repeatedly criticised free prescriptions, and both their Finance Spokesperson Iain Gray and then Health Spokesperson Jackie Baillie have indicated they want to reimpose them.
It also says that “Under Alex Salmond energy bills have risen by £300. Labour will freeze energy bills. Why won’t the SNP?”. However the SNP has pointed out energy bills are an entirely reserved matter to Westminster.
The SNP this weekend pledged to cut household bills by 5 per cent with the powers of an independent Scotland, by removing the cost of energy efficiency measures from consumer bills. Under the last Labour government at Westminster, gas bills increased by 57%.
Bruce Crawford added: “It is clear that Labour are panicked by the reaction they are receiving on the doorsteps from people in Dunfermline and West Fife about their threats to vital public services, and school closure plans.
“We need to know if Johann Lamont authorised this leaflet. If so, what does that say about her Cuts Commission? If not, then what does that say about her leadership?
“From top to bottom, the leaflet is completely misleading – perhaps best summed up by their claim to have been the first to scrap bridge tolls, juxtaposed with a picture of the Forth Road Bridge, where Labour refused to scrap tolls. Labour’s policy cost Fifers £233 a year – which they have saved by the SNP scrapping tolls across the Forth in 2008.
“Labour need to withdraw this desperate leaflet – they must pulp the fiction.”
The SNP candidate for the Dunfermline by-election Shirley-Anne Somerville said:
“It seems that Labour are so proud of the SNP’s achievements for the people of Dunfermline and West Fife villages that they are trying to pass them off as their own!
“The truth of course is that the Council Tax freeze, no bridge tolls, free personal care, no tuition fees, free prescriptions, and free bus travel for the over-60s are all threatened by Labour – and can only be protected by voting SNP on Thursday”