Jimmy Reid Foundation calls on Scottish Labour to hold “proper debate” on Universal Benefits


  By G.A.Ponsonby
An organisation set up in memory of the late Jimmy Reid has stepped into the row over the cancellation of a Holyrood debate on universal benefits.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation, named in honour of the former Trade Union Activist who was one of Scotland’s most respected political orators, has called on the Scottish Labour party to back a Holyrood debate which was cancelled on a technicality.

Writing in the Foundation’s website, Director Robin McAlpine urged Johann Lamont’s Labour group to “openly debate” the issue and warned against taking part in “only debates you think you will win”, calling such an approach “unhealthy”.

Mr McAlpine added: “It is how political parties become convinced in policies that have not been robustly tested through argument.  It prevents you from developing your own thinking sufficiently.  It encourages you to hide behind pre-prepared soundbites.  It is comfortable in the short term but weakens you in the long term.”

He claimed that below the media radar there had been a “pretty significant backlash against some of the statements on universal services which have come from the Labour leadership.” and added, “the Labour Party in Scotland is not now in such a robust condition that it can afford to fragment its core support”.

Calling for “a proper debate”, he added: “Well, there seems no benefit for Labour to delay that process.  It is likely that the very people who are most angry within the Party will not respond well to this news; this is an excellent opportunity to address that.”

The intervention by the organisation follows revelations at the weekend that a planned debate on universal benefits such as free travel for the elderly and free prescriptions, was cancelled after a technicality was discovered in the application.

This weekend the Sunday Herald reported that the debate had to be scrapped after the Labour party refused to support the motion.  The refusal resulted in angry accusations of hypocrisy, with Labour’s opponents pointing out that Johann Lamont’s party had routinely demanded a mature debate on the issue.

In what is a further blow to Johann Lamont’s credibility, it has emerged that the technicality that led to the cancellation of the debate was brought to the attention of the parliamentary staff by Scottish Labour themselves – who, rather than support the motion and eliminate the error, declined to do so.

Despite criticising the SNP leadership’s stance on NATO, Mr McAlpine praised the party for having the nerve to debate the issue and urged Scottish Labour to show the same courage.

“Anyone who has been out and about in Scottish politics over the last few months knows that Labour is under fire from many quarters over its early interventions into the universalism debate.  One way or another, Labour needs to demonstrate some courage under that fire.  Taking shelter behind technicalities is not the way to do it.”