Scotland Decides: Tribalism or Tax Credits?

The proposed Tax Credit cuts should have provided an opportunity for Scotland’s much hyped new politics to flourish.  Under brutal plans by the Westminster Government, many “hard working families” (i.e. the people the Tories claim to represent) will be around £1500 a year worse off.  The cuts are opposed by both the SNP and Scottish Labour, so you’d imagine they’d be dusting off their #OneScotland twibbons, to show the Tories that politics in Scotland has “changed for the better…and changed for good” as Nicola Sturgeon might say.

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What we could have won…

The problem is, both Labour and the SNP seem to be “opposing” these cuts by deliberately trying to mislead the public, engineering false outrages, grandstanding and generally throwing muck at each other.

….and what seems to be happening

The root of all evil here is/was/always will be the Tory Government.  David Cameron lied during the election when he promised Tax Credits wouldn’t be cut, the Tories are lying when they say the impact of these cuts will be compensated for by increases in the minimum wage and the tax threshold and the Tories are doubtless also lying when they claim to have some magical plan to mitigate the impact of these cuts, unless it involves not making them at all.  So, in summary and for the record – The Tories are to blame!

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BLAME HIM.

Neither the SNP nor Labour disagree that these cuts shouldn’t happen.  There is no inevitability in politics.  This can and must be stopped; there needs to be a fight and we need to win it.

But it’s not unreasonable to ask how the Scottish Government, who will be gaining the power to top up reserved benefits under provisions within the Scotland Act, intends to respond to the deliberate impoverishment of so many citizens.  Scottish Labour announced they intended to top up tax credits and pay for that by not cutting Air Passenger Duty and increasing the top rate of  income tax.  In theory, that all sounds great but when you crunch the numbers, you generate £100m from a tax rise and £0 from not cutting a tax, leaving a massive shortfall.  I agree with every last bit of what Labour proposes in abstract terms but these cuts need a real solution.  As a stunt, the Labour plan neatly highlights that the SNP will need to find anything up to £250m to bring about our long held national dream of cheap air travel (because, erm…???) and that this policy could guzzle up any potential tax increases on high earners…but it doesn’t honestly address the issue of Tax Credit cuts.

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Lord Smith recommended the devolution of air pollution, what a top chat.

Nonetheless, Kezia Dugdale entirely fairly asked the First Minister whether the Scottish Government would act to defend Tax Credits and whether cutting Air Passenger Duty was a good use of limited resources.    Sturgeon’s response was as needlessly furious as it was bewildering.  Crucially,  no commitment was made to use the powers Holyrood will have to ensure families will continue to receive the same Tax Credit entitlement (nor was Air Passenger Duty mentioned).    Rather than explain why Labour’s plans were poorly conceived or, well, answer the question, the First Minister focused on party political attacks before concluding there was, “little chance of [Labour] ever being in a position to implement them.”  So to be allowed a say in Scotland’s new politics, you have to be in a position to form a majority Government, apparently.  This themed continued at this week’s FMQs, when a question about Police Scotland was responded to with a reference to the SNP’s poll ratings.  When Iain Gray is capturing the political zeitgeist, Scotland’s new politics is regressing fast.

By the time Sturgeon uttered the words, “motivated by tribal hatred,” I was beginning to wonder who was talking about who.  As a stunt, this performance may have reminded people why Scottish Labour are rubbish in various ways…but it doesn’t honestly address the issue of Tax Credit cuts.

Down in the belly of the Westmonster, the SNP tabled an amendment to the Scotland Bill which would have devolved control of Tax Credits.   Scottish Labour (all 1 of him) are opposed to the devolution of benefits, so for a change, voted in accordance with the principles on which he was elected.  Since there are more unionists than nationalists at Westminster, the amendment was defeated.  Queue entirely predictable online rage, as some nationalists declared furious treason, with “one national media outlet“ (yes, him again!) wishing death on Ian Murray for erm, voting against something he’s always been against.

To explain why this response is so fucking stupid, we need to understand what the outcome of the SNP amendment would be in real terms.  Remember when the SNP explained that English Votes for English Laws is bad because votes on “English & Welsh” issues affect Scotland’s funding?  This means, that if Tax Credits are devolved to Holyrood and Tax Credits are cut in England and Wales…then Scotland’s funding is cut.  In other words, the outcome of the amendment (assuming Tax Credits are cut) would be a deficit which Holyrood would have to meet.   Hooray for nationalism! Death to the unionist!!

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Still, I’d be remiss for not mentioning that there is one way to make sure families in Scotland cannot be impacted so directly by the decisions made at Westminster but far be it from me to confuse nationalists by mentioning the potential benefits of independence, when there is one solitary  unionist politician to be hunted down.  As a stunt, the Westminster vote was great at whipping up rage against Labour, for daring to vote against effectively devolving a budget cut to Holyrood…but it doesn’t honestly address the issue of Tax Credit cuts.

For once, our national politicians could take a bit of guidance from our local ones; all across Scotland, council after council are saying they will refuse to implement the Tory’s anti-trade union legislation.  They’ll exploit loopholes, like the fact that the terms and conditions form part of collective agreements and can’t simply be legislated away, they’ve committed not to use scab labour despite legally being allowed to.  If Labour and SNP councils can unite to openly defy a piece of UK legislation in a reserved area, they must agree to use the devolved powers we will have to stop these cuts and be open to a discussion about how that should be implemented.  The SNP aren’t wrong to say that any measures to mitigate the impact in Scotland need to be costed and based on the actual plans brought forward by the Tories – but Labour aren’t wrong to question the Government about their commitment to ensuring no loss of entitlement.

I fear the SNP could be playing a dangerous game if they pretend that Holyrood is powerless or if they rely on stunt votes at Westminster to generate confusion.  There seems to be a creeping arrogance in a machine which says, “you’ll never beat us anyway, na na na na na na” when asked how they intend to defend people from Tory cuts.  If that’s the message from the top, it’s no wonder some of the creatures at the bottom (*cough*) are taking it upon themselves to pile abuse on anyone straying from the party line.

This could be a defining moment in the ongoing battle over what kind of country Scotland could be – when it really matters, are we too wee, too poor or too stupid to find a way to defend working people?

Scotland’s two tribes need to stop trying to exploit people’s misery for party political gain and commit to fighting these cuts with every weapon in their arsenal. Those who’re under attack, who’re not sitting on the benches at Westminster or  Holyrood, will not forgive them if they fail.

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Further Reading:

Air Passenger Duty and the devolution of pollution

Yes We (still) Can: 6 things Holyrood can do now

Never mind the Lizards…Can we look beyond personalities in Scottish politics?

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