Labour MSP claims free prescriptions a ‘right wing policy’

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By G.A.Ponsonby

A Labour MSP has launched an attack on the SNP, describing one of the Nationalists’ key achievements – the removal of prescription charges – as “right-wing economics”.

Kezia Dugdale, the newly elected regional MSP for Lothian, launched the attack whilst appearing as a guest on Radio Scotland’s ‘Call Kaye’ phone-in programme on Thursday.

The Labour MSP, who was a surprise addition to Labour’s Holyrood ranks, was discussing a speech by Douglas Alexander in which the senior Labour MP admitted the party had been “well and truly gubbed” in May’s Holyrood election and that they needed to move on from negative politicking in order to regain lost support.

Ms Dugdale hit out at suggestions that Labour had abandoned its socialist roots and was losing former supporters to the ‘socialist’ SNP as a result.

Responding to callers who had described the SNP as more social democratic, Ms Dugdale said: “I simply do not accept that analysis. If you look at some of the stuff they’ve done over the past four years, like bridge tolls, freezing the council tax, prescription charges, business rates down and now their plans to cut corporation tax – they’re all tax cuts, they’re all very much right-wing economics.”

Ms Dugdale’s labelling of the council tax freeze and free prescriptions as “right-wing” will puzzle many given that her own party had pledged a two-year freeze in their manifesto.  Indeed, it was Labour-run Glasgow council that first introduced the policy in 2006 – prior to the SNP coming to power.

In the run up to this year’s Holyrood campaign Iain Gray said: “Households are being hammered by the Tory cuts, the rise in VAT and fuel prices.  Labour will freeze council tax for the next two years.”

In March this year Labour backed the SNP plan to abolish prescription charges.  The charge had previously been described by Unison as “unfair in that it adversely affects many more people on low incomes and in chronic ill health.  These are the people who find themselves unable to afford the medicines they are prescribed.”

On March 2nd this year the Scottish Labour party joined the SNP and voted to abolish prescription charges.  Two days later the Tory LibDem coalition increased the cost of a single prescription in England from £7.20 to £7.40.

Similarly, Ms Dugdale’s attack on the lowering of business rates appears to be at odds with Labour’s finance spokesman Richard Baker who recently attacked the SNP over claims that business rates might increase over three years.

Mr Baker said: “John Swinney claims economic growth is his highest priority yet here we have the evidence from the highly influential Centre for Public Policy for the Regions stating that the increase in business rates increase will amount to over £830 million.”

“This won’t be paid by small business, the main burden will fall on medium sized companies across Scotland.”

Mr Baker added: “That can only affect jobs.”

Kezia Dugdale is a former Labour researcher and previously worked for ex-MSP Lord George Foulkes.  A one-time prolific online blogger, she is no stranger to controversy and once caused a row after claiming that Nicola Sturgeon had been “thrown out” of a shopping centre – an allegation angrily denied by the Deputy First Minister.