By a Newsnet reporter
Labour MP Margaret Curran has signalled a shift in a key party attack line by criticising the Scottish Government for not complaining enough to the Westminster government.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Shadow Scottish Secretary criticised Alex Salmond’s administration insisting it “hasn’t complained once” about the controversial Bedroom Tax soon to be imposed on social housing tenants.
In what is a major shift from her party’s previous stance concerning Edinburgh / London relations, the Labour MP also claimed the Scottish parliament was specifically “designed” to facilitate such complaints.
Ms Curran, who leads up Scottish Labour’s ‘Team Scotland’ which was set up with the aim of taking on the SNP, accused the Scottish Government of not using the Scottish Parliament properly, claiming the controversial Bedroom Tax is precisely what Holyrood was designed to combat.
In a statement yesterday, the MP for Glasgow East said: “In just a few weeks, the bedroom tax will hit close to 100,000 tenants in social housing across Scotland. It’s a cruel and ineffective penalty from the UK Government that will hit people who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“The Scottish Parliament was designed for times like these, but now we’ve found out that the Scottish Government hasn’t complained once to the UK Government about the bedroom tax. What are they waiting for? The bedroom tax is coming down the road.”
The calls for the Scottish government to complain is a reversal of Scottish Labour’s long held claim that the SNP have been deliberately creating damaging divisions by “picking fights” with London.
Since 2007, when the SNP won their first Scottish election, the Scottish Labour party has consistently argued against complaining to Westminster.
Speaking in 2009, Ms Curran’s colleague and former Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy said: “Scots expect all their politicians to work together. They will never forgive those who push their own agenda at a time of economic crisis.”
Mr Murphy added: “Scotland has never had so much money from the UK Government and Alex Salmond and the SNP should be using it to help the people cope with the recession.
“But instead, they’ve gone back to blaming London for everything, and I don’t believe that’s in keeping with the views of ordinary Scots.”
Another who attacked what he described as the SNP habit of “picking fights” was Scottish Labour MSP Richard Baker. Prior to the 2011 Scottish election Mr Baker challenged the Scottish government to, “deliver jobs and help the Scottish economy, rather than simply picking fights with Westminster”.
Margaret Curran herself has also previously suggested that complaining to Westminster would not help vulnerable Scots in areas of housing;
Speaking in a Scottish Parliament debate in March 2007, prior to leaving for Westminster she said: “With the SNP’s policies on health, education and housing, there would be a battleground with Westminster, rather than improvement and betterment for the Scottish people.
Later in the debate she added: “We have a strong Scotland in a strong UK [….] It is clear that the union has not damaged our interests.”
In yesterday’s statement, Ms Curran also accused Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of doing nothing about the Bedroom Tax, and added: “People need action now. But Nicola Sturgeon would rather make promises she can’t keep about an independent Scotland than do the job she’s there to do for people across the country. Scots deserve better than this.”
However, contrary to Ms Curran’s claim that Ms Sturgeon has been silent on the issue, several SNP politicians including the Deputy First Minister have already spoken out against the Tory plans.
Speaking on February 10th, Ms Sturgeon said:
“The Westminster government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ is inflicting serious harm on families and vulnerable people and is just one very powerful illustration that the Westminster system of government isn’t working for Scotland. The Prime Minister is living proof of that. Under that system Scotland gets Tory Prime Ministers it didn’t vote for, implementing policies like the ‘Bedroom Tax’ that we don’t agree with.
“Many people across Scotland are suffering as a direct result of Westminster government benefit cuts, and many more are concerned about how they may be affected by changes yet to come into force.”
Only last week, speaking ahead of a Westminster debate, the SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:
“We know that over 80% of Scotland’s MPs at Westminster are totally opposed to this iniquitous measure. On Wednesday we have an opportunity to reflect the deep and genuine worry about the Bedroom tax. We know that about 100,000 households are going to be hit by this policy and we know from our mailbags and surgeries that there is huge concern about how this new tax is going to hit the most vulnerable in our communities.”
Last week the Scottish government issued a report showing that almost 80% of Scottish households expected to be hit by the tax, contain at least one adult with a disability.
The row over the controversial tax has led to fears that vulnerable people may be evicted from their homes if they are unable to pay their rent. The tax, which will come into force in a few weeks, will see people living in social housing up to £22 worse off if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom.
UK Government ministers have already said that people on low wages should work more hours in order to make up the loss or consider taking in a lodger.
However Ms Curran has herself come in for criticism for failing to hold the Westminster coalition to account.
In December last year she, along with many of her Scottish Labour party colleagues, were criticised after it emerged they had failed to appear for a vote on Public Pension reforms.
Ms Curran failed to appear along with 34 of her Scottish Labour colleagues to vote against welfare reforms which will affect the personal allowance of 471,000 Scottish pensioners, forcing them to pay extra tax.
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