The Peter Pan of politics

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The removal of Labour from office at Westminster has heralded a new era of cooperation and respect between political parties.  A hitherto unthinkable alliance between the Tories and the Lib Dems was followed by respectful overtures to Holyrood and promises from David Cameron of a fresh approach in dealings with the Scottish government.

The decision to release the Fossil Fuel Levy funds was a strong indication of maturing Edinburgh/London relations and the announcement that David Cameron, Michael Moore and Danny Alexander will all visit Holyrood underlines a real willingness to improve those same relations….

The removal of Labour from office at Westminster has heralded a new era of cooperation and respect between political parties.  A hitherto unthinkable alliance between the Tories and the Lib Dems was followed by respectful overtures to Holyrood and promises from David Cameron of a fresh approach in dealings with the Scottish government.

The decision to release the Fossil Fuel Levy funds was a strong indication of maturing Edinburgh/London relations and the announcement that David Cameron, Michael Moore and Danny Alexander will all visit Holyrood underlines a real willingness to improve those same relations.

The Tories have also acknowledged that they have a problem in Scotland and the recent announcements of a commission to look at how they address their Caledonian shortcomings is indicative of a party that recognises the changing dynamic in both UK and Scottish politics.

Tavish Scott has also been quick to appreciate the need to reposition his own party after what was a dreadful election for the Lib Dems in Scotland.  The Lib Dems were the only major Scottish party to lose votes as their share of the vote dropped by 3.7%.  Also, notwithstanding the apparent reluctance of Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore to go further on Calman, Mr Scott has recently called for new powers for Holyrood to go beyond the Calman proposals, a ‘Calman plus’ it has been termed.

The SNP have responded favourably to calls from Tavish Scott to play an active role in discussions regarding new powers for Holyrood.

The debate over Scotland’s constitutional future is now upon us as mature politics breaks out and cooperation and respect reigns.

There is however one party on the evolutionary missing list – ‘Scottish Labour’.

With a leadership race currently underway South of the border as the London based contenders bid to take control of New Labour mark II, or is it Next Labour?, the party in Scotland are behaving as though nothing has changed.

Exactly one month on from the general election the Scottish branch of the party are stuck in a rut and behaving as though the election campaign was still ongoing.  Scottish Labour’s contribution to the new respect and consensus environment has been to shout ‘Cuts’ at everyone.  Teacher recruitment figures and Health Board resource plans are the fault of ‘SNP cuts’ they scream.

As the other parties move on and embrace the all new grown up world, Labour in Scotland are left in the remedial class hurling abuse.  In Iain Gray they have a ‘Peter Pan’ of Scottish polltics in that he refuses to grow up.

But immaturity is one thing, what of those ‘cuts’ claims?

Well, Labour’s figures change with the wind as 5000 job cuts have quickly become 4000.  That the resource plans actually propose a reduction of 3790 is simply ignored as is the fact that they have yet to be ratified by the Scottish government who are attempting to drive the totals down.

Labour’s figures on the NHS budget are even more perplexing.  We have Iain Gray admitting that it has INCREASED by 0.1%, whilst Labour Health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie claims it has DECREASED by 0.4%.

Here is Iain Gray speaking in the Scottish parliament on 20th May:
{wma}we_060610/gray_budget_increase{/wma}

Here is Jackie Baillie speaking on Newsnight Scotland this week:
{mp4}we_060610/baillie_nhs_cut{/mp4}

So, two different days, two different Labour MSPs and two different claims.

But leaving the contradictions aside, what alternatives are Labour proposing to these ‘SNP Cuts’?

Well, on the same Newsnight programme Jackie Baillie pledged that Labour would “maintain health spending in Scotland in real terms”.
{mp4}we_060610/baillie_nhs_increase_pledge{/mp4}

…or did she?
{mp4}we_060610/baillie_nhs_contradict{/mp4}

So, the health budget next year under Labour is going to be maintained in real terms and it is also going to contract.  Saying two different things on different days is one thing, but appearing to contradict yourself on the same programme is quite another.

Leaving yet another confusing contradiction to one side, maintaining health spending as opposed to real terms increases (as we have now) will result in even more pressures on the Health Boards.

This is due to increased costs as a result of the rise in the cost of drugs outstripping inflation and perhaps more importantly, the charges from Labour’s PFI legacy also going up at a much faster rate than inflation.

This is precisely why those boards, despite receiving an increased budget from the Scottish government, are ending up with less money to spend.

Moreover, if Labour form the next Scottish government then the very PFI funding mechanism that is currently sucking funds from the NHS and education departments will be re-instated.  Far from addressing the problems that Labour are currently complaining about, Labour’s own policies will exacerbate them.

Labour’s stance on the issue is untenable, as this most basic analysis shows.

Perhaps the most telling part of the Newsnight Scotland interview came when Gordon Brewer asked Jackie Baillie to provide examples of where the funds to keep all the jobs might come from.

Here is her answer:
{mp4}we_060610/baillie_saving_examples{/mp4}

One would have thought that the Labour health spokeswoman would have been prepared for such a question.  Citing a £500,000 spend on conferences revealed the vacuous nature of Scottish Labour’s criticisms and suggested the party have no idea where the money to fund their demands will come from.

Add this to inconsistencies, contradictions and recently making false claims in the Holyrood chamber and you have all the signs of a party lacking discipline.

Unfortunately there is no sign that Labour in Scotland will alter their behaviour any time soon.  Indeed, the Scottish media seem more than happy to not just headline these attacks, but to praise them.  It will do no one any good if Scottish Labour are allowed to drift along on a policy lite cloud of media admiration.

What happens should the campaign bear real fruit and we see Iain Gray returned as Scottish First Minister in May 2011?

Scotland could find herself governed by individuals completely unprepared for the task.  Lost boys armed with unworkable policies created more as a tool to attack the SNP than any real attempt at improving the lot of the Scottish voter.