By Martin Kelly
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has been accused of threatening cuts to childcare and reducing availability through means testing after ruling out universality of the policy in a BBC Scotland debate.
Questioned on a special edition of Newsnight Scotland, the Labour leader was asked “do you also support the idea that John Swinney has of equal access for all to any additional free childcare?” She replied: “Well, what I’ve said is it has to be affordable, it has to be accessible, you can’t just promise somebody something…”
Asked to clarify whether this meant she was in favour of means-testing, Ms Lamont confirmed that such a plan would be considered, adding: “Well, we should look at these proposals as they come through, the easy thing to say to you is just make it accessible to absolutely everybody at every point”.
The comments from the Scottish Labour leader have been seized on by the SNP with the nationalists accusing the Labour MSP of showing “a lack of vision”.
Commenting, SNP MSP Clare Adamson said: “As usual Johann Lamont seems to be lacking in any kind of vision for Scotland with her comments last night.
“The Labour leader’s only reaction to hearing the ambitious plans that have been put forward for childcare is simply to threaten to cut and restrict the policy.
“While the SNP Government is setting out a vision to transform childcare in an independent Scotland, Johann Lamont’s ambitions as usual fall well short of what Scotland needs.”
Childcare has moved to the centre of the independence debate following the publication of the SNP Government White Paper which sets out plans to use the powers of an independent Scotland to transform the economy and make it possible for more women to enter the workplace.
The White Paper pledges to provide 1,140 hours of childcare to all children from age one to when they start school, saving families up to £4,600 per child every year. According to the SNP, the £700 million cost of the revolutionary policy will be paid for through increased tax revenue generated by up to one hundred thousand women who will be able to join the workforce.
Ms Adams added: “The white paper sets out our vision for childcare. Johann Lamont should explain exactly what cuts she wants to make to what we have planned.
“By fundamentally changing our approach to childcare, a Yes vote next year gives us the opportunity to save families £4,600 per child every single year and help thousands of parents into the workforce.
“This is a policy that will substantially boost Government finances, but the money it brings in can only pay for further childcare improvements in an independent Scotland that is in full control of its own finances – otherwise it disappears into the maw of the Treasury.
“This is the kind of transformation that only a Yes vote makes possible and shows what we can achieve with the full powers of an independent Scotland.”
The policy contained in the White paper has been attacked by Unionists who have claimed that the SNP could implement it now. Anti-independence campaign group Better Together have tried to hit-back by creating an online petition calling for the Scottish Government to implement the policy before the referendum.
However during a debate in the Scottish Parliament Scottish Labour repeatedly refused to explain how the policy could be funded under devolution.
The comments from Johann Lamont, made under pressure of debate, will call into question the commitment of Scotland’s largest pro-Union party to deliver the pledge following a No vote.
Nationalists have pointed out that in order to fund the revolutionary policy under devolution would mean massive cuts to other public services totalling £700 million.