Tag Archives: Johann Lamont

Is Labour now the party of British Nationalism?

Scottish Labour has recently published its proposals for what it would like to do if there is a No vote in September. It is a pretty incoherent and insignificant set of proposals as far as I can see.  Even some Labour stalwarts have described it in very unflattering terms – it is not a mouse, it is a mess – for example. Johann Lamont herself was unable to make any sense of the key proposals when interviewed on Newsnight. However what interests me more is what the proposals say about the Labour party in Scotland.

Scotland is secondary to the UK                                                                          This is the most obvious message to come out of the proposals. They are designed to preserve the UK. Scotland must not be allowed to do anything which might challenge the supremacy of the UK. Why else all this talk about pooling and sharing of resources across the UK? The modest proposals on income tax are particularly revealing. Scotland can raise the top rate of tax, thus possibly making Scotland a bit less competitive with the rest of the UK. But on no account can Scotland be allowed to lower taxes and possibly give Scotland a competitive advantage with the rest of the UK. Oh no, that would be very bad.  But, prithee, why? Only someone who doesn’t regard Scotland as her primary country and its people as the people for whom she most cares, could come up with this proposal. UK rules for Johann and the Scottish Labour party it seems.

This limitation does not even make sense in its own terms. Tax differences within countries is quite common and not just in large federal states such as the USA and Canada. This also happens in Europe, even in a relatively small country such as Switzerland. There, all 26 cantons have the power to set their own tax regimes and tax rates. Imagine it, 26 different tax regimes in one small country. How do they manage? Yet a Swiss from Zug, one of the lowest tax cantons, is just as much Swiss as someone from Zürich, one of the highest taxed cantons. Moreover they don’t come to blows, they respect each other’s right to be different. Something that Johann Lamont and the Scottish Labour party seem to find difficult to accept.

British Nationalism = good: Scottish Nationalism = bad                                   This is another, rather sad, reading of Labour’s recent proposals. And this time not just the Scottish branch. For generations the Labour party has castigated and denigrated Scottish independence as an example of nationalism. Often further dismissed as “petty” nationalism or “narrow” nationalism. Yet all the time it emerges, Labour has been the party of British nationalism, in whatever guise you care to name it.    One Nation Labour, the new key mantra for Labour, is all about Britain as the one nation.  As is the thinking behind the assertion that Scottish independence would mean leaving the working people in the rest of the UK behind. But why does Labour’s concern for working people end at the Channel?  Does Labour not care for the well being of working people in Barcelona, Bologna, Bordeaux etc?  I am sure Labour does care about working people elsewhere, it is just that their primary concern is for working people in Britain. Which is fair enough. I want Scottish independence to make working people in Scotland the primary concern of our parliament and our government. It is just that one cannot be simply good and the other bad. Either both are bad or both are good. As Labour clearly advocates that putting British people first is good, then they must be British nationalists at heart. In which case it is rank hypocrisy to denigrate supporters of Scottish independence as Scottish nationalists.

Labour’s responsibility for rising inequality in Scotland and the UK             My final point on where the Labour party stands is to note that it is Labour who are partly responsible for the rise in inequality not just in Scotland, but the whole of the UK. Successive Tory governments and our current nasty Tory/LibDem coalition bear much of the responsibility for this. However Labour cannot get away unscathed. And of course Gordon Brown was at the helm as either chancellor or Prime Minster for all of the 13 wasted years of Labour government. Minor tinkering with complex benefits cannot obscure that it was under Labour that the rich continued to get much, much richer, while the poor remained poor. It was also Labour that presided over the financial and banking crash which has caused so much damage to our economy. Let us also remember that when Labour talk about pooling and sharing of resources, they did precious little of this when in power at Westminster. Why has London and the south east of England remained the richest part of the UK? Not much evidence of sharing from that part of the UK.

Scottish Labour’s latest little ruse is truly a mess. It offers Scotland nothing and is based on the somewhat dubious claim that Labour at Westminster would really do something about the power of the City of London. A claim for which there is little evidence. Vote Yes for something better!

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Making Sense of Johann Lamont

Making sense of Johann Lamont is a very trying task. I can imagine that in years to come there will be course units on Understanding Johann. Or at the very least some learned Phd theses on the subject. One hopes, so far in vain, to unearth something insightful or even sensible in Johann Lamont’s utterances. Perhaps it is just the way she tells them. She seems to have an unerring knack of not quite saying what she (apparently) means to say.

A classic example was on display last night during her TV debate with Nicola Sturgeon, when she, Lamont, came away with the now infamous line – We’re not genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions. Now in fairness to Johann I think that she just left out a few words here. Her point, as is clear from the context and the rest of her answer, is that no-one is programmed to make particular choices and decisions. Not just Scots, but English, French, Germans, whoever. If you want a particular political outcome you have to argue for it and win popular support. So far so good, at least for the beleaguered Johann. Alas this is as good as it gets for Johann.

For throughout last night’s debate, which was more of a rammy than a debate, Johann was pretty much incoherent most of the time. Unable or unwilling to provide any answers she was reduced to cries of I’m amazed! I’m astonished! Was this a pre-determined strategy? When she did try to give a reasoned answer, as in the response referred to above, her argument was badly let down by sloppy, incoherent delivery. Just a slip of the tongue? She seems to make rather too many of these to be a valid excuse. As her performances at First Minister’s Questions regularly show, she seems unable to hold back her anger and frustration at her opposite number. As a result she seems programmed to making a mess of the English language. She also does not show much evidence of being able to think on her feet and react to what the other person has said. She tends to just stick to her pre-arranged script. Not a good sign in the leader of a political party and makes one wonder, yet again, just why she won the Herald’s debater of the year award.

When we return to the substance of Johann Lamont’s response – that constitutional change does not in and of itself guarantee particular policies – she is also on rather shaky ground. While her claim is true in principle, when it comes to the reality on the ground, (a favourite Johann expression) then on a whole range of policies, the reality is that Scotland has already decided which way to go. On the bedroom tax, tuition fees, trident, opposing privatisation in the NHS etc, the arguments have already been won here in Scotland. We just need independence to turn them into real change on the ground. Furthermore on all these issues, the argument has been lost in England. Waiting, like Godot, for Ed Milliband to win over a majority of English voters is not much of a political strategy. Apart from the bedroom tax the Labour party at Westminster is just as committed to tuition fees, trident and privatisation of the NHS. After all it was Labour governments which started all of these policies.

The fundamental flaw in Johann Lamont’s position is that she is unwilling to admit that on many important issues Scotland is already on a different course from the rest of the UK. And on many other issues Scotland would like to be different – getting rid of nuclear weapons for example. While in theory the whole of the UK could vote to change course and adopt policies more in tune with opinion in Scotland, the reality is that it has hardly ever done so. Certainly never since 1979.  If Johann Lamont really wants to change Scotland for the better now, and not in some fairytale future, she needs to support independence.

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Is Johann Lamont “on Pause” or just stuck in the past?

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.

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