Scotland: SNP progressive claims to be tested

‘Both Labour and SNP point left in rhetoric but neither do in action or deeds’

(Gerry Hassan, Scottish Sunday Mail 8 November 2015)

On the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum of September 2014, the Child Poverty Action Group, the Trussell Trust and Oxfam Scotland drew attention to the continuing rise in foodbank usage linked directly to problems with welfare benefits and tax credits. The Scottish government’- that is the Scottish National Party - were urged to do more to address the situation.

A further report in early October by the Child Poverty Action Group showed that 210,000 children across Scotland live in poverty. Each of Edinburgh’s 17 council wards has child poverty rates of more than 10%. Across Edinburgh 21% of children – 15,000 – live in poverty as defined by being in households where income is less than 60% of median household income. In Glasgow’s Easterhouse 40% of children grow up in poverty while 27% of people live with a disability. 940,000 families were living in fuel poverty in 2013, 39% of households.

The projected impact of the Tory chancellor’s Autumn Statement is directly challenging both the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party. The SNP government underspent its 2014-15 budget by £350 million. Why did they not do more to fight such poverty? Although its Discretionary Housing Payments of £120 million covered the cost of the Bedroom Tax, it has refused to cover welfare sanctions losses which have brought real hunger to individuals, families and children, the cost of which is estimated at £50 million. So much for Nicola Sturgeon's declared priority of fighting poverty in the run-up to the 2015 May general election.

Across Scotland unemployment rates are rising fast: the recent closure of steel plants means 270 jobs are to go in Motherwell and Clydebridge. 2,500 redundancies will follow the closure of 17 HM Revenue and Customs offices. Between July and September 2015 166,000 were out of work – a rate of 6% - and 2,000 more than the same period in 2014. SNP and Labour controlled councils are cutting savagely: 3,000 jobs are to go in Glasgow, 2,000 in Edinburgh and 3,000 more across councils in Lanarkshire, Fife, Falkirk and Argyll and Bute. In response to these devastating losses the SNP claim that it is the party to protect the Scottish people from Tory government cuts and to meaningfully challenge austerity will be tested.

The Scotland Bill, which all unionist parties cobbled together to forestall the independence tide in 2014, became law in early November 2015. All SNP amendments were outvoted in a debate of a few hours. The Labour Party voted with the Tories to prevent full devolution of tax credit powers to Scotland as well as full powers over industrial relations and workers’ rights. The Scottish parliament has voted 96 to 17 to scrap the £100bn plus Trident renewal. In this instance the Scottish Labour Party supported the motion, having adopted an anti-Trident position at its conference in October. The Scottish parliament has also voted to oppose the Tory government's Trade Union Bill. These votes contribute both to the new radical claims of the Scottish Labour Party and as evidence that the SNP is pushing progressive policies and fighting for social justice. Polls put the SNP on ratings higher than a year ago and higher than in the UK general election six months ago. They are on course to increase their majority of seats in the elections to the Scottish parliament in May 2016. This coming period is critical as the SNP implements council cuts and faces further attacks on welfare and rising unemployment.

The SNP has only one full council majority in Scotland, in Dundee. It runs councils in other areas through coalitions, and is now drawing up budgets which will see compulsory redundancies, privatisations and closures of vital day services and centres for vulnerable adults and pensioners. In Dundee, SNP councillor and finance convenor Willie Sawyers, attended a recent local Radical Independence Campaign meeting then two weeks later announced cuts of £28 million, 7% of the annual budget. In rural Angus, run by an SNP-led coalition, 50 older citizens demonstrated at the October council meeting against the withdrawal of Sheltered Housing Wardens and removal of laundry services for families and individuals dealing with incontinence. The same council has also paid off 70 vital Social Care Officers.

Far from ‘protecting’ the people from cuts, the SNP is already putting the cuts in place. Its sham rhetoric echoes the old lies of the Labour Party left across the decades, exposed as they then shamelessly trooped into parliamentary and council chambers to vote for cuts. No store can be set by the radical turn of the Labour Party in Scotland. The SNP has not yet had to deal with any rebellion over the cuts from its 120,000 new members. But it cannot be long before serious battles start, given the increasingly harsh material conditions of the working class in Scotland.

Michael MacGregor


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