By Bob Duncan
The Labour party in Scotland has found itself in the embarrassing position of shielding the Tories over Westminster’s benefits cuts, because of their anti-independence obsession and loathing for the Scottish government, the SNP has claimed.
SNP MSP Mark MacDonald said Labour’s continual attempts to discredit the Scottish government and the SNP have turned them into apologists for the Tories and David Cameron’s austerity programme.
Mr MacDonald highlighted last week’s debate in the Scottish Parliament which found Scottish Labour MSPs turning their fire on the Scottish government over the increasingly unpopular Bedroom Tax about to be introduced by the Westminster coalition.
Speaking in the debate, Labour’s Highland list MSP Rhoda Grant blamed Holyrood for the dreadful consequences of the Coalition’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ by claiming that the SNP were building social housing that was not small enough.
Ms Grant said, “We face a crisis in housing. The bedroom tax will affect 100,000 Scottish households. We need to build smaller homes to help families to avoid that tax, because families – real people – are facing poverty or homelessness, and the Government has done nothing but cut the funding that would build homes in which they could live.”
Earlier, speaking on Good Morning Scotland, Ms Grant’s party colleague Michael McMahon, suggested that Holyrood should be held partly responsible for the effects of UK benefit cuts.
McMahon was asked by BBC Radio Scotland presenter Gary Robertson: “Is there anything that Holyrood can do, do you believe, to help people like Ian, given that these are changes coming from Westminster at a UK level?”
He replied: “What we can do is allow people who are being affected by the changes that have come about because of the Welfare Reform Act to inform us about exactly what the impact is and to allow us to consider what we can do in Scotland where there may be areas that are the responsibility of the Scottish Government that could mitigate the harmful impact of these changes.
“So the more we hear from people who have been affected, the more we can consider exactly what we can do given the powers we have in Scotland because a lot of the responsibility, not for the changes that have come about but in the areas where people would be supported, are the responsibility of the Scottish Government.”
However, when asked whether Holyrood should be given control over benefits, he replied:
“Well that’s a matter that we’re going to be discussing over the next 14 months or so and I think this will be an important aspect of the discussions that are going to take place over any potential constitutional change.
“Although I don’t believe that that’s an excuse for the Scottish Government to be inactive in this area,” adding, “I think it is concerning that the Scottish Government seem more interested in discussing the constitution than actually looking at where there might be potential changes which could come about in Scotland and could help people right now.”
The Bedroom Tax is part of the Westminster Government’s Welfare Reform Bill and according to estimates over 90,000 social housing tenants in Scotland face being penalised by up to £22 per week if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their home. Across the UK it is believed 600,000 tenants will be affected.
Commenting, SNP MSP Mark McDonald said:
“The Labour leadership in Scotland’s anti-independence obsession is letting the Tories off scot free for the cuts being imposed by Westminster.
“The Labour party in Scotland have been reduced to apologists for the Westminster system, and are trying to shield the blame for Tory Westminster cuts.
“It was bizarre for Rhoda Grant MSP to say that the way of overcoming the huge problems of the Tory Bedroom Tax is for the Scottish Government to build smaller houses. The way to overcome it is for the Scottish Parliament to have control of the benefits system – which 67% of people in Scotland support according to the Social Attitudes survey, and which requires the powers of an independent Scotland.
“It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a betrayal of the large numbers of people in Scotland who voted for Labour under a guise of standing for social justice. These people will think twice about voting for Labour again – and we will work hard to persuade them to vote Yes in the referendum.
“The way to ensure a fairer and more prosperous future for the people of Scotland is a Yes vote in 2014 which will ensure that key decisions are taken by the Scottish Parliament, according to Scotland’s values and priorities.”