Leonard can’t change Scottish Labour’s spots
Richard Leonard’s response to the new Scottish budget as revealed in his Scotsman column has all the hallmarks of the failed tactics of his Scottish Labour predecessors.
A keen eye for pointing out what is wrong, but a lack of understanding of the causes and the solutions combined with a blindness to the fact his own party is partly to blame for the current state of affairs. It’s a leadership tactic that has overseen the decimation of Scottish Labour’s once dominant position.
His article is a list of many things that are wrong in Scotland which most people would agree with.
That local councils and public services are underfunded is not something that is in doubt. The question is what is the cause of this and what can Holyrood feasibly do about it?
Leonard suggests that the Scottish Parliament has the power to solve these problems and that under a Labour administration he would use those powers. Yet in his article, Leonard doesn’t offer one practical solution to what we all see is going wrong. A serious political leader making these claims would publish a fully costed alternative budget that could be scrutinised.
We all know why this has not happened and the general public can see through Leonard’s game.
To solve the problems Leonard wants to solve, the Scottish budget needs to be increased dramatically.
This is because the budget has suffered severe real term cuts due to Westminster’s failed austerity measures.
However, the amount of Scottish taxes the Scottish government has the power to alter only amounts to a quarter of Scotland’s total expenditure. The rest is controlled at Westminster.
Furthermore, of the taxes the Scottish Government controls, about 70 percent of the money raised comes from income tax. If you think the budget pressures stemming from a decade of Tory austerity could be fully mitigated by income tax rises then you are wrong.
Under these circumstances, maybe the SNP could do more. I wouldn’t take umbrage to a Leonard article suggesting that. Yet Leonard goes on a full frontal attack, making claims that cannot be justified.
Simply put, he is wrong because the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have the power to come close to mitigating the cuts. Which means that funding for public services has to be reduced. The only way to do something about that would be to give the Scottish Parliament a lot more control over the revenues raised in Scotland.
Recently, Labour missed a massive opportunity to ensure Scotland did have the power to mitigate austerity.
The occurred during the Smith Commission, the consultation exercise set up to deliver the infamous indyref vow. At that time all of the parties in Scotland had a chance to deliver real powers to the Scottish Parliament that could have enabled Scotland to reverse austerity.
As you can see, Labour’s submission to it was woeful.
If Labour had delivered then, and Scotland had close to full fiscal autonomy now, maybe Leonard’s current criticism would make sense. Instead, he just comes across as someone who has good intentions but doesn’t quite understand how things work.
So, as far as I can see, not much has changed at Scottish Labour under Leonard’s tenure. Like those who came before him, he knows how to point out what is wrong, but offers no solutions and takes no responsibility for his party causing the problems in the first place.
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