A significant moment
We have a government in Scotland which looks at a problem and sees only the politics. We need a government that looks at a problem and sees the possibilities.
I see things differently. I don’t look to make political capital out of a grievance. When I see a problem I ask – what can be done? So let me say today to Scotland what we will do.
If the Tories do not see sense, Scottish Labour will stand for the elections with a promise to restore the money Scottish families stand to lose from this Tory tax rise on working families.
We will act as soon as the new powers make it possible. We don’t need to tax ordinary Scots more to make this change. We just need to make different choices from the Tories and different choices from the SNP.
When Kezia Dugdale reached this passage in her first conference speech as leader on Saturday, the hall rose in a spontaneous standing ovation. I was among those standing. Because this was the moment we as a party put into practical, straightforward policy terms the argument we have been making ever since the referendum ended and the grievance hunting season began.
New powers are coming to the Scottish Parliament. The first thing the SNP want to do with them is phase out Air Passenger Duty – a tax cut for the rich. The first thing Scottish Labour want to do with them is fund vital tax credits to help working families feed their children.
It what we do with power that matters, far more than where power sits.
Labour is on the front foot, and it shows. I, and I suspect most Labour activists online, spent much of yesterday under a shower of angry denial in response to this move. Because not only does it threaten the SNP’s core “we’re being stopped from doing what we want” narrative in a very substantial way, it also makes clear that Labour’s priority is to find answers, while the SNP’s priority is to pick fights.
The revisions to the Scotland Bill, most of which were drafted and argued for by Labour’s Ian Murray while the feeble fifty-five looked on in scorn, have delivered the powerhouse Scottish Parliament we were promised. Powers over tax and welfare spending in particular mean that these issues are no longer grievance fodder – we’ve reached the point that the grievance mongers need to stand up and say what they will do.
While SNP folk like Andrew Tickell in his @Peatworrier blog argue that it’s just too hard to reverse George Osborne’s vicious slashing of tax credits, the impartial Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) says it is beyond doubt that the Scotland Bill gives Parliament “the legislative competence to introduce top-up payments to people in Scotland entitled to reserved benefits”.
And while SNP politicians and online activists argue that the money can’t be found to do this, Labour quietly points out that the SNP are happy to plan to spend up to £250m a year to cut Air Passenger Duty, so if that money isn’t there they’ll be needing to explain how they are going to cover that! (Labour have also set out how by reversing George Osborne’s latest tax cuts for higher rate taxpayers we can find an additional £440m by the end of this parliament, more than covering the cost of this plan.)
Today in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Labour will put its money where its mouth is and bring this matter to a vote. I truly hope the Parliament supports Labour’s plan.
Tony Blair’s much maligned New Labour government introduced tax credits. It was a key plank in the policy platform that delivered a massive reduction in poverty across the UK. Labour has championed redistribution from rich to poor for decades, and in standing up today we are proudly defending our legacy.
But we are doing more than that. We are redefining “standing up for Scotland”. For us it means what it always should have meant to others. Not picking fights and finding excuse after excuse to demand another referendum and more separation. Not posturing and moaning and claiming our hands are tied. Not saying “it’s too hard” and blaming big bad Westminster.
When Scottish Labour stands up for Scotland we do it by turning a tax cut for the rich into a pay rise for the workers. That is what standing up for Scotland should look like. And today Scottish Labour steps forward to make it happen.