By a Newsnet reporter
A Labour MP has described as “hysterical” reaction to Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s announcement of a review of Scotland’s universal benefits system.
Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, was responding to widespread criticism of Labour in Scotland following confirmation that the party is looking at cutting back on areas such as free prescriptions, free personal care, concessionary travel for the elderly and tuition fees.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics Show, the Labour MP described the response from the SNP as “bluster”, saying:
“I take the rather hysterical reaction of some nationalists as evidence that despite the boasts and the bluster they actually don’t have very good answers to this debate.”
Mr Alexander defended the moves by Labour to address what the party insists is an unaffordable ‘something for nothing’ culture in Scotland that was, he claimed, causing cuts to services such as home help in his own constituency in Renfrewshire.
Despite brushing off public comments from Conservatives applauding Labour’s new approach to benefits, the Labour MP recently highlighted the dangers to Labour of mounting an all out attack on the Tory party, when in a recent interview in the New Statesman he said: “If we try to blame the Conservatives for everything, the risk is that the public won’t believe us on anything.”
However Mr Alexander refused to be drawn on when Scottish Labour themselves would put forward their own policies on benefits amid claims that Labour will not reveal the results of their working group until after the 2014 independence referendum.
The Scottish Labour party is facing mounting criticism over plans to cut benefits. Trade Unionists, third sector organisations, Student groups and even their own politicians have voiced objections to plans to end some or all universal benefits.
The party is now facing claims of a Lib Dem style broken promise after photographs emerged of several high profile MSPs signing pledges in support of no tuition fees.
Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland said: “Abolishing tuition fees is absolutely crucial to ensuring we have fair access. It is the poorest that would pay the price in a world with tuition fees, as a degree would be way beyond anything they could afford.
“If you’re from a poorer background, and deciding to go to a free college education, a paid apprenticeship or a university education that will cost you tens of thousands of pounds, the answer is obvious.
“With tuition fees, we will have no hope of ever making university open to people from all backgrounds in Scotland […] Developing new policies for Scotland, for all parties, is not about digging up the tired question of tuition fees from the grave. We should not somehow seek to return to pre-devolution days, with pre-devolution policies.”
MEANWHILE, it has also emerged that Labour have been joined in their quest to cut the amount spent on universal benefits by the Scottish Tory party.
The SNP claimed that Labour and the Tories are now “joined at the hip” in their desire to axe the achievements of devolution, following Ruth Davidson’s confirmation today that she welcomes and supports Labour’s policy of slashing universal benefits.
In a series of articles today, Scottish Conservative leader Davidson pledges – among other things – to reintroduce tuition fees and prescription charges, and reduce eligibility for concessionary travel, in order to fund tax cuts.
However in a blow to the Unionist cuts-coalition, telephone canvassing conducted by the SNP this week found overwhelming public support for maintaining all of these policies.
Nicola Sturgeon has today said that voters now had a clear choice between the SNP – who remain true to the social democratic principles endorsed overwhelmingly by the electorate – and the anti-independence parties, whose main desire is to pass on Tory cuts to hard pressed households.
Commenting, Ms Sturgeon – the SNP’s Depute Leader and Scotland’s Deputy First Minister – said:
“The Tory-Labour pact to axe the achievements of devolution will only ensure that many more Scots vote Yes to an independent Scotland.
“The ‘Better Together’ campaign is bringing the anti-independence parties closer by the day. The vast majority of the Scottish public, as well as ordinary Labour members and voters, will be horrified by this Tory-Labour collusion to remove free education, free personal care for the elderly and re-introduce prescription charges.
“The Scottish Tories’ warm welcome for Johann Lamont’s Cuts Commission contrasts sharply with the surprise and concern voiced by the STUC, NUS Scotland, Age Scotland and others.
“People in Scotland overwhelmingly back these universal benefits – they define the kind of society in which we want to live – but the anti-independence parties just don’t seem to understand that.
“This week has been a watershed in the run up to the referendum – independence is now the only way to protect Scotland’s social democratic principles.”