Monday, January 02, 2017


THE fourth session of the Scottish Parliament is now coming to an end. This was a parliament dominated by the referendum — a referendum that took up such a huge amount of time and effort by all concerned that making real, lasting and radical change was placed firmly on the back burner.
But we did see one real and very significant act of social change with passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill — supported across the political divide in a debate that I believe showed the Parliament at its best.
Contrast that with the absurdity of The Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill, which resulted in a group of people — largely working-class young men and women — denied the same rights as other citizens by virtue of them purchasing a ticket to a football match.
This Act should be repealed at the earliest opportunity. In so many ways the parliamentary session represents a huge missed opportunity with little in the way of radical change. There was no use of the parliament’s tax powers to redistribute resources to tackle Scotland’s appalling health and wealth inequalities. The gap between rich and poor has in fact grown. Budget decisions made by the Tories at Westminster were largely passed on, with local government forced to sign up to even greater cuts than George Osborne has imposed on English councils and do the government’s dirty work with cut after cut or receive a penalty should councils choose to protect services.
Some 60,000 council jobs have gone but these have been dismissed by SNP trade union group convener Christina McKelvie and Finance Secretary John Swinney as “exaggerated” and “made up.”
Only days later SNP councils announced hundreds more job losses following another half billion of cuts imposed on them.
In Scotland’s further education sector there are 156,000 fewer student places following Mike Russell’s shambolic college reforms. Some £90 million has been paid out in redundancies to over 3,500 staff who have lost their jobs.
Across our NHS, staff and budgets are under pressure like never before and the failed social care system leaves people in hospital for weeks on end when they could and should be at home recovering.
In the police service the new organisation that is Police Scotland has made what can at best be described as a very shaky start with one chief constable having already been dispatched.
So across public services we see problem after problem and cut after cut. Against this background you would expect any government — but more so one that claims social democratic credentials — to be putting forward a suite of proposals to address the pressing demands of our vital public services.
But alas, no. There will be no redistribution, no progressive use of the Parliament’s tax policies to inject much-needed cash into our essential services, no “scrapping of the unfair council tax” — just tinkering — no commitment to tax high earners.
Cuts to benefit the wealthy — no 50p tax rate for high earners, no progressive or redistributive measures, just the scrapping of air passenger duty as a gift to big business. At this election Scottish Labour is offering an alternative that puts clear red water between us and the managerialist establishment of the SNP.
We will end austerity with a 1p tax increase while protecting lowpaid workers, set a 50p rate for high earners, reject Osborne’s amendments to thresholds for those at the top and cancel any cut to air passenger duty as both an economic and environmental policy — with all that we will be putting money back into the vital public services that civilise our society. This is good for jobs, good for services and good for our country’s future prosperity and wellbeing.
In the run-up to May’s election, socialists will have to decide whether they choose to support a Labour Party that is arguing for a progressive economic policy that asks those with most to pay more to fund the services that help those in need, or a nationalist party committed to little change and a steady-as-you-go strategy that fails to challenge the social and economic inequality that scars our society.
  • Neil Findlay is Labour MSP for Lothian.