The Something for Nothing Culture of the Scottish Labour Party

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By Allan Grogan 

Last Saturday, I had the great privilege to be able to speak at the Rally for Independence. It was a wonderful event which kick started the Yes Campaign.

I couldn’t help but be inspired when I listened to such tremendous public servants as Margo MacDonald and Dennis Canavan, amongst many others. The event gave those in attendance a great sense of hope, that we can deliver a yes vote in the 2014 referendum.

By Allan Grogan

Last Saturday, I had the great privilege to be able to speak at the Rally for Independence. It was a wonderful event which kick started the Yes Campaign.

I couldn’t help but be inspired when I listened to such tremendous public servants as Margo MacDonald and Dennis Canavan, amongst many others. The event gave those in attendance a great sense of hope, that we can deliver a yes vote in the 2014 referendum.

Hope and inspiration are qualities often lacking in today’s political arena and hope and inspiration were just some of the things missing from Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s speech on Tuesday.

In the policy speech Ms Lamont attacked what she termed the vicious cycle of a ‘something for nothing’ attitude she claimed was prevalent in today’s Scotland.  From free tuition fees to a freezing of the council tax and universal free prescriptions, the leader of Labour in Scotland now claims we cannot afford them.

I studied in one of the first student years of tuition fees imposed under New Labour.  As a result, myself and thousands of others in this country have had to bear the added burden of the extra debt these fees placed on young graduates.

I have always been saddened at the ease in which so many politicians seem so keen to place such financial burden on young shoulders, whilst forgetting the free education they themselves enjoyed.  The attack on this universal benefit, a national investment, is something I would have expected from the Tory party, or their new friends the Lib Dems.  But a Labour politician, and a Scottish Labour leader at that, attempting to prevent higher education for the poorest, is incomprehensible.

In her speech on Tuesday, Ms Lamont said:

“We need to be honest about apprenticeships – apprenticeships should be as highly regarded as university education.  If this means fewer, but better quality apprenticeships, we need to be honest about this.”

But how does this fit with an end to free education?  Surely, a return of tuition fees would mean less people would be able to afford university.

For those denied a place at University then the next logical step would be vocational training, learning a trade.  While youth unemployment continually rises, Johann Lamont’s policy would make it even harder for young people to go into higher education, and less apprenticeships available to them as well.

Despite rushed denials in the minutes following the speech, there is also a spectre hanging over police numbers.  The one thousand extra police on Scotland’s streets has seen crime fall to record lows and the fear of crime drop. 

However, any youngster attracted to the profession might find vacancies at a premuim given Johann Lamont’s words: “We need to be honest that the target of 1,000 additional ‘bobbies on the beat’ is not the best use of police resources when a number of them are filling back office jobs which have been cut.”

The area of prescription charges is where I do have some sympathy for what she was saying. 

Now I am not saying it isn’t a good thing, but I question the need for it in the majority of people’s cases. Particularly in the current economic climate.  I think it’s right that we should have free prescriptions for the elderly, the disabled and those who have chronic conditions which would not be able to afford medication.  But for most of us, who maybe visit the doctors once or twice a year, did we really begrudge paying around £5 to make us better?

Unfortunately for Johann, no matter how well intentioned and how honest and heartfelt her calls for an open debate, it’s not something that will win her any votes with the public.  This Scottish Labour party are now even failing in the New Labour doctrine of survival at all costs.

So Johann Lamont’s big policy speech, setting out her vision for Scottish Labour, attacked education, jobs and the Health Service.  The Holy Trinity of this once proud socialist Party.  Am I the only party member to wonder what Real Labour policies this HQ actually represents?  Has it forgotten its roots, the foundations in which the Labour party were based?

Now before we go on, I have a small confession to make.  I voted for Johann Lamont to become leader of the Scottish Labour party.  I did so partly because she was the least unattractive prospect.  But also because she had a decent track record of showing social democratic tendencies, she also promised to listen to grass roots campaigns.  Her past record on the removal of Trident was also a positive step.

So in that spirit I’d like to offer Ms Lamont some advice.  If you really wanted to save some money, how about you stick to your beliefs on Trident?

Why not show the tenacity that got you to the top of the party and lead your party back to its true ideals back to a place which represents the people of Scotland, not the Westminster Village.  Lead the party back to where it belongs.

There’s another way to save some money; deal with the self serving, elitist, career politicians – those who take the generous pay and expenses which comes with political office, yet give nothing back to the people they represent or the party they stood on the ballot for.  This is the real ‘something for nothing’ problem that has plagued and hindered Scotland.

Allan Grogan is a member of the Scottish Labour Party and leader of the Labour for Independence campaign