SNP warn of Labour’s catalogue of broken promises as local elections loom

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP is warning families that Labour are a threat to their budgets, and cannot be trusted to maintain a number of key socially progressive policies – either in local or national Government. 

With local elections looming, the SNP claim that promises made by Labour are likely to be overturned later, meaning voters cannot have any confidence in Labour manifesto pledges.

By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP is warning families that Labour are a threat to their budgets, and cannot be trusted to maintain a number of key socially progressive policies – either in local or national Government. 

With local elections looming, the SNP claim that promises made by Labour are likely to be overturned later, meaning voters cannot have any confidence in Labour manifesto pledges.

On the eve of the Local Government election, and with the UK re-entering recession, the SNP has highlighted a number of examples of Labour politicians reneging on key pledges made in the Labour manifesto during the 2011 Holyrood election campaign.

The promises relate to the council tax freeze, free prescription charges and free tuition, all of which the SNP claim Labour have since changed position on.

According to the SNP, the 2011 Labour manifesto included a commitment to maintain the Scottish tradition of free university education.  Page 31 of the document contained the promise that “With Scottish Labour, there will be no up-front or back-end tuition fees for Scottish University students”.

However in March this year, speaking to BBC political editor Brian Taylor on a BBC Webchat, Labour leader Johann Lamont admitted that the party was considering the introduction of ‘back door’ tuition fees in the form of a graduate tax.  Pressed by Mr Taylor to confirm whether Labour would consider a graduate contribution, Ms Lamont replied: “It might have to.”

The SNP also drew attention to comments made by Labour MSP Michael McMahon on 25 January this year when speaking to the Finance Committee at Holyrood: 

“I am happy to say that I believe that we should look again at prescription charges and consider whether we can sustain paying tuition fees for university students.” he said.

This was despite Page 41 of Labour’s 2011 election manifesto stating: “With Scottish Labour, there will be no reintroduction of charges for prescriptions in Scotland.”

However perhaps the most confusion over Labour policy relates to the party’s stance on the council tax freeze.  Glasgow Council Labour leader Gordon Matheson was recently ridiculed after boasting that Labour would freeze the tax for five years if re-elected in Glasgow.

Mr Matheson’s opponents pointed out that the Labour leader had previously attacked exactly the same policy when it was advocated by SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney.

In a letter to Mr Swinney, in December 2010, Mr Matheson attacked the SNP plans for a further freeze saying “It is with a gun to my head that I agree to your short-term targets”.

The letter followed earlier demands from the Labour council chief that the council tax freeze be scrapped.  Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland in August that same year Mr Matheson claimed that the SNP move threatened teacher jobs and services for the vulnerable and added:

“I’m calling for the option of being able to raise council tax in order to offset some of the more brutal cuts that we will have to make.

“We need to be able to have the option of comparing the impact of increasing the council tax with some of the more brutal options we face”

Hear Mr Matheson attacking the SNP freeze on BBC Radio Scotland

Mr Matheson’s new stance is at odds with Anas Sarwar MP, Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader, who when asked about the five-year council tax freeze on Newsnight Scotland on 30th January 2012, said: “I don’t think that’s credible. I don’t think that’s progressive.”

Under Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour party initially opposed the freeze on council tax, but switched shortly before the Scottish election and pledged a two year freeze.

However in the aftermath of Labour’s defeat in the May 2011 Holyrood elections, Gray’s replacement Johann Lamont called the council tax freeze “unrealistic” and claimed it would “hammer public services”.

Speaking during the Labour leadership campaign last year, Ms Lamont called the Scottish Government’s council tax freeze “reckless” and said it should be scrapped.

In the introduction to Highland Labour’s 2012 manifesto, group Leader Jimmy Gray states “… the restrictions imposed by the SNP Scottish government at Holyrood effectively ‘freezing’ Council Tax and inhibiting all local authorities from raising additional revenues has left local authorities with no option but to drastically cut budgets.”

SNP MSP Humza Yousaf has said that families should be hugely relieved that Labour did not win the 2011 Scottish election, and claimed that their promises to protect family budgets were not worth the paper they were written on.

He also accused Labour of making similar hollow promises for the Local Government elections, which they cannot be trusted to maintain.

Mr Yousaf, MSP for Glasgow, said:

“Thank goodness Labour did not win the election last year.  In Glasgow, Labour have had more positions on the council tax freeze than I’ve had hot dinners.

“MSPs voted against it every year in the Scottish Parliament, Gordon Matheson called for it to be ended, then they suddenly decided they wanted a two-year freeze just before the election last year, then a whole host of senior politicians criticise it.

“Then at the last minute Gordon Matheson decides he wants a five-year freeze – despite Labour’s Deputy Scottish Leader saying only a few weeks ago that this was neither credible nor progressive.

“Make no mistake – Labour have never liked the council tax freeze and are itching to put council tax up. They are a threat to family budgets.

“This is just like their hollow promises on free tuition fees and many other progressive policies.

“Michael McMahon – the new convener of the Welfare Reform Committee – wants to ‘look again’ at the free prescriptions policy.  Kezia Dugdale even referred to it as a ‘right wing tax cut’.”

Mr Yousaf claimed that the 600,000 adults in families on low incomes had benefited from free prescriptions and called any plans to re-introduce the charges “a tax on ill health”.

“If Labour aren’t committed to these policies in the Scottish Parliament, why on earth should we believe that they’d be any different in local government?” he said, and added:

“Thanks to the mess the UK Government have made of the economy, the UK is slipping back into recession – more than ever we need to use the limited powers that the Scottish Parliament has to protect family budgets.

“More than ever Scotland needs ‘can-do’ councils that will work together and with the Scottish Government to deliver a socially progressive Scotland.”