As Osborne turns on the poor, Labour spin doctor turns on the SNP

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By G.A.Ponsonby

There is no shortage of opinion pieces and articles on George Osborne’s budget.  Every newspaper, blog and broadcaster is doing it to death.  The consensus, at least north of the border, is that it was not helpful to the poor and vulnerable, nor the needy young.

I’m not going to dwell on the details of Osborne’s financial wizardry, or should that be black magic?  Instead I’m going to highlight something which occurred to me following a tweet by the world’s worst campaign manager.

I refer of course to Blair McDougall, the man who nearly squandered a 30 point lead for the Better Together campaign and who was then part of the team which led Scottish Labour into the abyss in May’s General Election.

As George Osborne was making his budget speech, McDougall tweeted the following:

“Cutting support for children of working poor and using the money to cut inheritance tax for well off. Disgraceful.”

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McDougall was immediately reminded that he had led a campaign which had argued that the people of Scotland were “Better Together” with the rest of the United Kingdom (even with a Tory Government) than becoming independent and ending Tory rule forever.  The hapless campaign manager immediately hit back with the argument that defines “Proud Scots” of the Unionist persuasion.  He tweeted the following:

“Confirmation in OBR report today austerity even bigger with indy/FFA. SNP planned for £7bn oil taxes reality £700m.”

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I criticised McDougall for crass timing.  Why, when Scotlandís most vulnerable were getting a kicking from a Tory Chancellor, was a Scottish Labour official attacking the SNP?  Why was McDougall gleefully highlighting a subsidy-junkie claim from the Office of Budgetary Responsibility?

His answer was that the report he had cited had been published that very day.  It was an extraordinary defence for two reasons.

The first is that the OBR report had clearly been timed in order to deflect from the budget and hit back at SNP-supporting critics of Osborne.

The second was that the OBR is a creation of George Osborne himself.  The Tory Chancellor created the body in 2010, and opposition MPs were not at all happy.  One such MP was Alistair Darling, who attacked the impartiality of the OBR.

In a BBC interview, Darling said:

“Right from the start the Tories used the OBR not just as part of the government but as part of the Conservative Party.  They have succeeded in strangling what could have been a good idea at its birth.”

So Blair McDougall was beating the SNP with a Tory stick.

But there was something about McDougall’s line of argument that got me thinking. Scottish Labour, throughout the referendum and into the General Election, were telling anyone who would listen that Scotland was an economic basket case, reliant on handouts from England in order to pay for services.

They didn’t say it in those exact words.  Scottish Labour statements usually warned of “black holes” or “cuts”  to services.  But the sentiment is exactly the same; Scotland cannot afford either Full Fiscal Autonomy or independence.

And here is the rub.  Scotland’s economy is in its current “state” whilst we are part of this Union.  I am not the first to make this point, but if as McDougall claims, we are in deficit such that we require to be bailed out by England then it isn’t much of an argument for the status quo.

Indeed Scottish Labour, now a hard line Unionist entity, finds itself in a weird and wonderfully ironic situation.  The very policies it purports to oppose are creating the very economic conditions it argues makes FFA or independence unattractive.

This Tory Government is already impacting negatively on Scotlandís renewable industry.  In 2010, Osborne’s raid on the oil and gas sector impacted negatively on the North Sea.  This budget is unlikely to have a positive effect on Scotlandís economy.

But what will Scottish Labour do if, or rather when, Cameron and his cronies affect the negative changes I have predicted? Well, they will claim the increased deficit is further proof that Scotland should not gain Full Fiscal Autonomy. McDougall and his chums will also of course argue against independence.

The conclusion is that Scottish Labour, perhaps unwittingly, is caught in a vicious circle it cannot escape. It is caught in a catch22 situation where it finds itself citing the damage caused by the Union as evidence against changing the Union.

The worse things get for Scotland, the more Scottish Labour will oppose the remedy.

G.A. Ponsonby was a co-founder of Newsnet, standing down in order to write his book about the BBC and the referendum, London Calling