Will someone please talk to the animals?


In the Holywood movie of ‘Doctor Dolittle’ starring Rex Harrison as the fictitious animal linguist….

In the Holywood movie of ‘Doctor Dolittle’ starring Rex Harrison as the fictitious animal linguist, there was a creature called the ‘pushme-pullyou’.  The creature was a two headed beast with a head at each end giving it the ability to face two completely opposite ways at the same time.

Right now we are seeing the political equivalent of this two headed beast as the Labour party manages to give two completely opposing views on the same issue.

The announcement of the £6.2 billion in spending cuts from chancellor George Osborne and the Lib Dem’s David Laws brought a charge from UK Labour that such cutbacks early in the economic recovery may jeopardise it and risk a ‘double dip’ recession.  Labour, along with the Lib Dems and the SNP, argued in the recent election campaign that the cuts ought to have been delayed until next year when the recovery, they say, will be more robust.

A pretty clear political difference of opinion between the Tories and the rest and one that will chime with Scots who see the SNP government adopt the deferral stance, a stance that most in Scotland would have expected Scottish Labour to endorse.

Or so we thought, until last week when Labour’s Holyrood finance spokesman Andy Kerr decided to attack the SNP over it’s decision to defer the cutbacks.  Kerr was joining Conservative MSP Derek Brownlee who also questioned the SNP decision to defer the cuts.

Any thoughts that Andy Kerr’s comments were his alone and not shared by his Holyrood Labour colleagues were dispelled when he was joined by fellow Labour MSP Richard Baker who said of the SNP decision to defer the cuts: “The SNP administration is, for political reasons, deferring cuts until after next years elections when they will be even deeper.”

So, what lay behind this apparent conflict North and South?  Had Labour in Scotland supported the UK election campaign pledge to defer cuts or had they been silently against it all along?

Also, what of Holyrood Labour leader Iain Gray, what does he think of these calls from members of his front bench team that the Scottish government adopt the Tory plan for immediate cuts?  Well we don’t really know, for there has been a noticeable lack of desire on the part of our Scottish journalists to put these questions to Labour’s Holyrood leader.

Kerr’s comments came as Iain Gray launched attack after attack on the SNP for what he termed ‘SNP Cuts’.  The ‘cuts’ in this case were the annual resource plans submitted by each of Scotland’s Health Boards, these plans called for natural wastage to be used in order to reduce head count.

Interestingly this was exactly the same method for cutting costs that has been adopted by Labour controlled Glasgow Council.  So here was another example of the Labour beast facing two different directions simultaneously.  This wasn’t even a North/South case of political schizophrenia this was an entirely Scottish Jekyll and Hyde affair.

Has this hypocrisy been picked up by the Scottish media?

Well if it has they have simply decided to ignore it as they present only one ‘face’ of the two headed Labour beast.  The subtext of the Scottish media/Labour narrative is that the SNP decision to defer is one of political expediency in order to protect the SNP as we approach the 2011 Holyrood elections.  That Scottish budgets have been set and the Scottish recovery fragile, doesn’t – like Labour’s two faced stance – seem to register at all.

However, even with a compliant media it is still not easy for Labour to appear to be against immediate Tory cuts whilst at the same time attacking the deferring of the cuts in Scotland.

The appearance of Labour MP Anne Begg on Newsnight Scotland on Monday was a case in point and was replete with comedic moments as she at once backed the SNP decision to defer and then in the same breath accused the SNP of making cuts.  How interesting it would have been for Kerr or Baker to appear alongside their Westminster colleague and witness the two headed Labour beast savage itself.

Begg shifting uneasily and unable to answer when asked whether she supported the SNP’s call for Olympic Consequentials and accelerated capital spending was indicative of the contrived mess that Labour are in as they find themselves in opposition at both Holyrood and Westminster.

That Labour difficulties are once again being ignored by the Scottish media is not surprising – it is sadly now a familiar tale.  Labour have left the UK economy in an unprecedented perilous state and Scotland can now expect cuts of nearly £4 billion over the next four years as a result of Gordon Brown’s economic stewardship – the deferred £327 million is a drop in the ocean.

This weekend came calls for mature and open debate on Scotland’s fiscal future, the calls were sensible and non party political.  If the behaviour of Labour in Scotland is anything to go by such a debate will be impossible to have.  How can a debate be had at all when the party of opposition in Scotland is so blatantly contradictory.

Also, we cannot know what Labour stands for if the media continue to wilfully ignore their gravity defying acts of political somersaulting.

We can only hope that amongst the usual journalist figures, many who routinely filter the conflicting noises from the Labour two headed beast, that there is one honourable Dr Dolittle who is prepared to report exactly what both of these heads are saying.

Only by compelling Labour to provide a consistent single message to the electorate can we at least have a starting point for a mature debate.