By Bob Duncan
Following her recent policy shift on Student fees, Labour’s leader in Scotland Johann Lamont has been challenged to follow the example set by Nick Clegg and personally apologise to the Scottish students she has betrayed.
In the lead up to the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011, NUS Scotland’s Reclaim your Voice campaign asked Parliamentary candidates to sign up to three specific pledges, one of which was a specific commitment to “no tuition fees.”
All Scottish Labour candidates – including Johann Lamont herself – signed up to this pledge.
In addition, page 25 of Labour’s 2011 manifesto, which as deputy leader Ms Lamont had a key role in drafting, promised “Labour will not introduce up-front or back-end tuition fees”.
When introducing the policy, Johann Lamont’s predecessor Iain Gray said:
“Education is the single most important lever in transforming people’s lives. From our youngest children learning to read, to research scientists on the cutting edge of new discoveries, education drives our futures and also Scotland’s ability to create wealth and opportunity.
“I was the first person in my family to go to university and I will not impose additional burdens on young people.”
Despite these explicit commitments, just over a year later the Scottish Labour leader has given the strongest signal yet that – like Nick Clegg – she intends to go back on promises made to students and introduce a charge on education.
A recently as Thursday morning, Scottish Labour’s web site still contained a page on education policy which listed “Our promises to Scotland” below an image of Johann Lamont with a slogan “changing Labour”. Included in this list of promises was “No up-front or back-end fees for Scottish students”.
This policy shift by Johann Lamont now leaves the SNP as the only major party which does not believe in implementing tuition fees in Scotland, with Alex Salmond having famously said in 2011 that “the rocks will melt with the sun” before he would allow tuition fees for Scottish students.
After Nick Clegg broke his word to English students in a similar fashion, by becoming part of a coalition that increased tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year, he took the step of personally apologising to students. Many Scottish Lib Dem MPs who had promised to remove tuition fees in England betrayed students by going back on their pledge.
With Johann Lamont having apparently adopted Nick Clegg’s approach to student fees, she has now been challenged to follow suit with her own apology to students in Scotland.
Commenting, SNP MSP George Adam said:
“Like Nick Clegg, Johann Lamont and her party promised students that they would oppose tuition fees – and like Nick Clegg she and her party have in short order simply ignored their previous commitment and abandoned Scotland’s students.
“Nick Clegg eventually had to apologise for betraying students in the way that he did. Johann Lamont should now follow his lead and do the same?
“The fact of the matter is that Labour’s policy on tuition fees has been all over the place, and the only consistent aspect to it has been that the needs of students have been the very last thing on their mind.
“Only the SNP is truly committed to standing up for the principle of education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.
“Tuition fees inevitably drive away potential students from poorer backgrounds and are absolutely the last thing that Scotland’s society and economy needs in these difficult times.
“As with the Lib Dems, this is a serious credibility problem for Johann Lamont. If we cannot trust a word she has said on higher education as recently as the last election, why should we believe a word she says on anything else?”
The Labour party has a long record of breaking specific promises to students:
LABOUR’S HISTORY IN ENGLAND
- In 1997, Tony Blair promised ahead of the Westminster election that Labour had “no plans to introduce tuition fees”.
- In 1998, the Teaching and Higher Education Act was passed into law, setting an annual up-front tuition fee for England of £1000.
- Labour’s 2001 manifesto stated “We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them”. After the election, Labour introduced top-up fees.
- In November 2002, Higher Education Secretary Margaret Hodge told students there was “no such thing as a free lunch”. She continued: “Should the dustman continue to subsidise the doctor or should the doctor contribute towards the cost of their own education?”
- In 2004, the maximum fee level is increased to £3000, despite a demonstration staged by 30,000 students in Trafalgar Square, in London.
- In 2005, almost all universities set their fees at the maximum level of £3,000 per year
- In 2011 Ed Miliband announced Labour would set student fees at £6,000.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF IN SCOTLAND
- In 2008 Labour voted against the abolition of the graduate endowment in the Scottish Parliament
- In 2011 as the election approached, Iain Gray ruled out any return to tuition fees or graduate endowments in their 2011 manifesto.
- All Labour MSPs – including Johann Lamont – added their name to NUS Scotland’s Reclaim your Voice campaign, committing them to no tuition fees.
- This year, Johann Lamont announced a cuts commission which would question all “something for nothing” benefits and services, including student fees
- Less than two years into the parliament, Labour’s policy of no fees has seemingly been reversed with Johann Lamont again changing Labour’s position this week.
[Newsnet Scotland is currently on a festive break. There will be no scheduled daily news updates in the main news area – however from time to time, if a member of the team is available, they may draft an article on a story they feel is particularly important.]