Who advises the Scottish Labour Party on policy? This is a question being asked by thousands of people across Scotland today as Johann Lamont falls in line, not just with tory policy, but with the language of Conservatism.
We must end a ‘something for nothing culture’ she says. But she is not talking about the bail out of the banks or the tax evasion of the super rich. Instead she is talking about the majority of people who are suffering as a result of the economic crisis.
Consider the ramifications of Lamont’s new policy agenda: an end to free university education, the abolition of free prescriptions and halting the council tax freeze. Fundamental rights are once again under attack from Scottish Labour. Her proposals almost beggars belief. Shocking not because the Labour Party have been the defenders of working people for the last ten years – they patently haven’t. But because an opposition party claiming that independence is nothing more than narrow nationalism (and hence that we’d be better off in the union) can sink to such depths. There is a difference between rhetoric and policy in mainstream politics – often Labour will add left gloss to their rhetoric. But now the gloves are off.
Lamont’s statements are nothing less than contemptuous of the people that would be affected by such proposals. For a party unrelenting in the language of ‘better together’, Lamont is trying to divide us in the most despicable way:
“What price your free prescription (sic) when an elderly relative spends five hours on a trolley in A&E, or the life saving drug they need isn’t available at all. What price free tuition fees when your neighbor can’t get a place at college at all, or when university standards are now lower than when they went to uni?”
Is it too much to ask to live in a society where we have free prescriptions and our elderly relatives don’t spend five hours on a hospital trolly? Wouldn’t it be possible for us to have free university education and have high educational standards and access to further learning? Not in the world of the Scottish Labour party – who now think political expediency lies with putting the interests of working people in conflict with other workers, students and pensioners.
It makes you feel like screaming: what about the rich? The tax avoiders? The bailout of the banks? The billions spent on trident nuclear weapons? Indeed, how many Labour party members must be doing that right now?
The ordinary members are of little concern to the Labour party hierarchy, that much has been obvious for years. But this is an explicit attack on those suffering poverty and the consequences of a crisis they didn’t create. It’s all part of a calculation that real down to earth ‘honesty’ about the economic situation will dilute the idea of a milk and honey Scottish independence.
“The idea that Scotland is a land where everything is free is a lie” says Lamont. How dishonest, how deplorable, that a Labour party forged by the trade unions of yesteryear should use point-scoring with Alex Salmond to advance an agenda so robustly right-wing that it would make George Osborne proud.
The truth is uncomfortable for many. But at the demonstration for independence last weekend, every single speaker focused on delivering a more socially just Scotland. Better Together is now explicitly a campaign of toryism and reaction. Its major constituent – the Labour Party – have taken a position that will turn stomachs.
In broad terms: No is regressive internationally and socially. Yes is the opposite. That is the way the debate is currently being framed.
The Left have a job to do in this situation: to build for a Yes vote on a radical, progressive basis, and to expose the Labour Party for their years of neglect. In the future we will need our own party to fight back against this rot. One that can provide an opposition to the interests of the rich and powerful and present a serious alternative agenda.
In the coming years the panel debates and discussions on the streets will polarise the Yes and No campaigns further towards left and right. But nothing can be taken for granted when we win independence. We have a duty to ensure that an independent Scotland is shaped by the forces of progress rather than those of big business, war and privatisation.