At this week’s First Minister’s Questions we were treated to another display of Johann Lamont’s inability to think on her feet and to respond to what Alex Salmond actually said. Ms Lamont just ploughs on regardless, sticking to her prepared script as if she were reading out a part in a play written by someone else. In this case the ostensible subject for her questions was the Scottish government’s failure to meet targets on class sizes and teacher numbers in Scotland’s schools. The figures come from the recently published School Statistics Summary. Now I do not want to get into an analysis of what this summary means. Comments on the report seem to indicate that there are both good and not so good points in it. Rather I want to focus on the Labour party’s line of attack.
At FMQs Johann Lamont almost rigidly stuck to the two aspects mentioned above – the slight rise in class sizes and the reduction in the number of teachers. Both are legitimate issues for Labour, or indeed anyone else to raise. However a bit of context is always necessary when discussing the success or failure of any policy. Both pledges, class sizes and number of teachers, go back to the first SNP government, elected in 2007. Now the world has changed quite a bit since then. In particular the Scottish government’s budget allocation, which is set in Westminster, has been cut over this period. Alex Salmond gently pointed this out to Johann Lamont, but she just studiously ignored this. The same Johann Lamont who likes to preface just about every one of her comments with “meanwhile in the real world”, was blithely ignoring what was going on in the real world. There has been a cut in real terms of the order of 11% in the Scottish government’s budget since 2008. When it comes to the Scottish government’s capital budget the cut has been even greater. Yet Johann Lamont made no attempt to deny these cuts. She simply ignored them. The “real world” seems to have an Alice in Wonderland meaning for Johann Lamont. The real world à la Lamont is whatever she deems it to be.
It clearly does not bear any relation to what happens in the real world of Westminster budget cuts. Judging by this week’s interventions the real world seems to have stopped in 2007. This was before the SNP took office and the Labour party was in government, when according to Johann Lamont all was hunky dory in the world, or at least in schools. She kept on harking back to this quasi mythical year that I got the impression that she was not simply “on pause”, but was actually stuck in that year. The real world of cuts and austerity seems to have passed Johann Lamont by, at least when it comes to berating the Scottish government. As usual there was not the slightest idea or suggestion from Labour as to what they would do to improve things. So much easier and much less taxing on the little grey cells than thinking about alternatives.
The nearest we got to any alternative came earlier in the day when Sarah Boyack from Labour was bemoaning the ongoing freeze in the Council Tax. As with so much else one is never quite sure what Labour’s policy actually is. Do they want Council Tax to rise? At a time when everyone else in the Labour party, at least at Westminster is highlighting the biggest drop in living standards since the Victorian age. With continuing pay freezes and below inflation rises, living standards for most people continue to decline in real terms. Yet all the Labour party in Scotland can come up with is to raise Council Tax, thus further reducing the living standards of millions of people. All this it seems is a price worth paying to preserve the UK. Time for Labour to think again.