Tom-HarrisTom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, Labour candidate for Glasgow South in May, and Labour Hame’s founding editor, responds to a constituent.

 

Dear John,

Thank you for your email of February 14. I am sorry I can no longer count on your support at the General Election and that you intend to vote for the SNP who, you state, “will work towards improving the lives of the poor, vulnerable and ordinary working people.”

I fully accept that you have made your mind up on this, and I won’t try to persuade you to change your mind. You have clearly thought through your position. But I wonder if I might at least question your conclusions?

When you say that the SNP are “working towards improving the lives of… ordinary working people”, I wonder what policies you might have in mind?

Are you perhaps thinking of your new party’s tax policies? I would have thought their refusal to consider raising the top rate of tax to 50 per cent for high earners (as Labour has committed to) would have given you some pause for thought.

Similarly, their opposition to imposing a mansion tax on the owners of houses worth more than £2 million might suggest the SNP are not quite as left wing as their rhetoric suggests. Have they even considered, I wonder, matching Labour’s proposals to levy a hefty tax on bankers’ bonuses in order to pay for a jobs guarantee for young unemployed people?

On other “bread and butter” issues, the SNP have a dubious record in promoting progressive policies. For example, on the bus industry. The current unregulated status of the bus industry throughout the UK impacts particularly severely on poorer communities where car ownership is less concentrated. Private bus companies, accountable to absolutely no-one other than their shareholders, can change or remove any services they wish, leaving hard-pressed local authorities with the choice of either stepping in with public subsidies for the same private companies that have just let their customers down, or leaving their communities without essential transport services.

Do you believe this is an acceptable state of affairs? The Labour Party doesn’t.

Scottish Labour has for years been trying to introduce legislation at Holyrood to bring back some level of regulation to the bus industry, against the opposition of the SNP, whose major donor, Stategcoach owner Brian Souter, strongly opposes such a move. I wonder why that is?

The SNP is also a strong supporter of the privatised model for rail services (Stagecoach is a major player in the rail industry, as co-franchisee of both the West Coast and East Coast Mainline franchises, among others) and will not countenance Labour’s suggestion that a public sector, not-for-profit operator should be allowed to bid for future franchises.

Is this what you meant by the SNP “working towards improving the lives of the poor, vulnerable and ordinary working people”?

Don’t you find it at least a little odd that among the (admittedly impressively large) membership of the SNP, there is absolutely no debate about bus regulation or railway ownership? What other “progressive” party in the world refuses even to debate such important policy issues, particularly when they have such a major impact on the quality of life of their poorest citizens?

Perhaps you were referring to the SNP’s decision to give free prescriptions to wealthier NHS patients, giving them the same service those on a lower income already received?

Or is it the SNP’s commitment to free tuition that has enthused you? A terrific policy, I admit, if its primary purpose is to generate positive headlines. But as a way of encouraging the very poorest Scottish students into university, it has proved even less effective than the ConDem government’s tuition fees policy. The per centage of deprived children in England who now apply for university has gone up to 22; in Scotland that figure is a scandalous 16 per cent.

How is it that a policy described by some as “progressive” has led directly to a situation where a working class kid in England, Wales or Northern Ireland has a better chance of going to university than one in Scotland?

Lastly, let me refer you to your new party’s biggest ever collection of policies – those contained in its so-called blueprint for independence, the “Scotland’s Future” White Paper. It is now a well established, and rarely contradicted, fact that this document contained precisely no policies that could be called “progressive”. The only tax change it proposed was to cut the bills of wealthy business leaders through a publicly-funded corporation tax cut.

But even after all this, I confess that the SNP have played a blinder since its referendum, persuading many Scots that, despite their only guiding principle being nationalism, they are, under it all, left wing.

They have never disguised their hatred of the Labour Party. But, contrary to the current party line, this hatred is not borne out of a disappointment that Labour is “not left wing enough”; it is simply because Labour, as Scotland’s largest party, has always been a road block to independence. And they’re right: throughout its history, ever since its formation, Labour has firmly opposed nationalism (and, by extension, Scottish independence).

I admit to a degree of frustration when we are criticised by those who, apparently, expected us to perform a 180-degree turn on this point of principle as soon as the referendum was called.

Despite having given up on any chance of persuading you to rethink your position and to support Labour once again, I offer one final word: throughout the last century, whenever the lives of working people have improved, whether through conditions at work, through housing or pension reforms, or in health care, reform has been driven by the Labour Party, either through government or through campaigns.

Let’s not forget that in the history of modern democracy, the forward progress of the human condition has never been improved, or even been sustained, by the rejection of the mainstream progressive party in favour of nationalism.

Thank you again for your letter.

Best wishes,

Tom Harris