By Linda Fabiani MSP

The following are my comments on correspondence between one of my constituents and Michael McCann MP.  In the correspondence, Mr Mc Cann launches an extraordinary attack on Scottish public services, referring to ‘the days of wine and roses’ being over.  He also refers to a non-existent £1billion capital reserve inherited by the incoming SNP Government in 2007.  The exchange of emails can be read here.

Public services and universal benefits

About the only thing Mr McCann got correct is that Johann Lamont didn’t announce specific cuts when she damned the policies on which Scottish Labour fought recent elections.

However, her use of the phrase ‘Scotland can’t be the only something for nothing country’ reveals her thinking.  This was reinforced by the chair of her Cuts Commission, who said: “we are going to review everything….nothing is off the table.”  This review is to cover a range of  universal benefits, including tuition fees, free personal care for the elderly, no prescription charges, and concessionary travel.  It apparently also covers the 1,000 extra police officers recruited since 2007, and the Council Tax freeze.

Mr McCann’s reply is evidence that Labour plans to use the financial crisis – over which they presided – to roll back many of the policy gains achieved under devolution.  If we look over the border, we can see where this leads; University tuition fees at £9,000 a year and prescription charges of £7.65 per item.  Even the Welsh Labour Party disagrees – Wales was the first part of the UK to scrap prescription charges – First Minster, Carwyn Jones, has made clear they will stay scrapped.

Mr McCann follows Johann Lamont in focussing on high earners getting free prescriptions.  However, to make significant savings, you have to remove free prescriptions from people on even moderate salaries.  Labour MSPs, such as Kezia Dugdale, recognise this: “It might cost more to means test them than it would to give everybody them for free, so we need to look at the numbers… I think that probably free prescription charges would need to stay.”  You make up your own mind who really speaks for Labour – Lamont and McCann, or Dugdale.

Labour has become a party without principle, its members all over the place on how to deliver public services.  When Johann Lamont called for an honest debate, it was a desperate attempt to cover the fact that Labour has no policies of its own.  Mr McCann’s reply is just another of Labour’s solution-free zones, long on criticism of the SNP, but short on any positive proposals.

Managing the Scottish budget

Funding for the Scottish Government, Scottish Local Authorities, and other public agencies comes in the form of a block grant and expenditure limits set by the UK Treasury.  The following table shows the Scottish Block in each year since devolution and the change year on year, and averaged over a two-year period.

Source: Cash figures for Scottish Block provided by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre

In the first years of devolution, the Scottish Executive received average annual increases in funding of around 8% in real terms, declining to approx. 5% from 2005-06.

By contrast, the SNP has had to deal with real terms cuts in three out of the four financial years for which it set the budget (2008/09 onwards).  The increase in spend in 2009/10 reflects the decision of the SNP Government to bring forward expenditure from later years to help the Scottish economy through the economic downturn.  The deep cuts being imposed by the UK Government mean that this stimulus is being removed from the budgets for the following financial years.

Mr McCann may take the view that Scottish Labour and their LibDem colleagues prudently administered the Scottish budget during its period of growth; even a cursory review demonstrates that this is not true.  As an example, between 2001 and 2006, over £2 billion additional funding went into education through the McCrone Agreement on teacher’s salaries and conditions.  In 2006, Audit Scotland concluded,

"It is difficult to assess the extent to which value for money has been achieved from the additional spending because clear outcome measures defining what the Agreement was intended to achieve were not included and have not yet been put in place by the Scottish Executive."

In simpler terms, having identified a problem of teacher morale and declining attractiveness of the teaching profession, Labour threw £2 billion at the problem and failed to establish clear measures for whether the funding was effective.  This is hardly a prudent use of funds, but appears quite acceptable to some Labour MSPs.

With such a record, it is no wonder Labour members find it difficult to understand how it is possible to deliver universal benefits that improve the lives of the the people of Scotland.

Scotland’s problem is not that we deliver too many universal benefits; it is that we do not have access to our own resources.

The fantasy £1 billion reserve

The reply touches on the issue of funds unspent by the Scottish Executive, and left with the UK Treasury (End Year Flexibility / EYF).   The following table shows the level of these funds for Resource (day to day running costs etc.) and Capital (mainly invested in major building projects).

Source: Scottish Parliament Information Centre

Mr McCann refers to ‘around £1 billion’ for large capital projects inherited by the SNP and then ‘blown’.

As the table makes clear, the Capital reserves, standing at £628 million in 2005-06, were in fact ‘blown’ by the LibLab Executive – if that is the correct term for funds used to build social housing, roads, hospitals, etc.  When the SNP set its first budget, for 2008-09, the capital reserves were down to £71 million.  The £1 billion capital inheritance is a figment of Mr McCann’s imagination.

What is most concerning in this table is that the pattern of capital spend under the LibLab Scottish Executive was so closely tied to the electoral cycle, with funds being accumulated between elections, and allocated and spent in the run up to them.  Such blatant politicking with public expenditure is not a ‘prudent’ use of public funds.  This table is evidence that Labour and the LibDems accumulated and spent a war chest of over £500 million in a desperate attempt to win the 2007 Scottish election.

Would Mr McCann prefer to have the money returned to the Treasury?

The reply demonstrates Mr McCann’s ignorance of the fact that the UK Government abolished EYF in 2010; either that or he thinks we should have let the Treasury have the money back.

As part of the coalition’s deficit reduction programme, government departments and the devolved administrations were all told they could not spend their accumulated EYF.  As a result, Northern Ireland lost £316m and Wales lost £385m.

If the Scottish Government had maintained the Resource EYF reserve inherited from the Scottish Executive, hundreds of millions of pounds would have returned to the Treasury instead of being spent to the benefit of the Scottish people.

It is truly bizarre that a Scottish MP would prefer to see hundreds of millions of pounds returned to the London Treasury instead of being used to deliver public services here in Scotland.

Nye Bevan was right – we need the power to decide

Labour spokesmen have developed a habit of quoting – or, as in Mr McCann’s case, misquoting, that great Welshman Aneurin Bevan.  I know something of Bevan; I have a family connection to the town of his birth, Tredegar, in beautiful South Wales.  Bevan was one of the architects of the NHS and was committed to the principle of the NHS being free at the point of need.

As Bevan resigned from the Labour Government over the introduction of charges for NHS services, I doubt if he would have much sympathy for the ‘something for nothing country’ speech given by Johann Lamont, or Mr McCann’s ‘days of wine and roses are over’ attitude to public service cuts.

What Bevan actually said, in 1949, was,

"The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism … The argument is about power … because only by the possession of power can you get the priorities correct."

Bevan was right. The debate about the constitution, whether Scotland should return to full independence or continue to have important decision made in London, is about power, and it is about priorities.

Those, like me, who believe Scotland should be independent, want the Scottish people to have the power to decide their own priorities.

  • Do we look after our old folk, or do we spend £billions on weapons of mass destruction?
  • Do we support international efforts to curb the power of big money, or let the banks loose again to enrich themselves at our expense?
  • Do we give tax breaks to the richest in our society, while burdening our students with a mountain of debt?

On so many levels, the reply sent by Michael McCann MP to a young voter interested in the future of his country was wrong.

  • Its tone was wrong, especially the ridiculous ‘days of wine and roses are over’ attack on vital public services!
  • Its facts were wrong – that £1billion capital legacy to the SNP is clearly Labour’s next big lie.

Perhaps most importantly, its ambition was wrong – that, in response to the economic crisis, Labour is happy to work along with the Tories to undermine the public services that form a vital part of the fabric of Scottish society. If this is an example of ‘better together’ I am confident that the people of Scotland will follow Bevan’s advice and take the power to decide Scotland’s future into their own hands.

Linda Fabiani is the SNP MSP for East Kilbride


# ButeHouse 2012-11-20 19:01
Very informative article Linda and the type of 'Labour Expose' article we need more of.

In fact we need several of these articles each week to combat the maelstrom of disinformation, misinformation and downright lies coming out of the NO Camp, especially from Labour unionists.

# rhymer 2012-11-20 19:04
Good stuff, Linda.

The "big lie" has been used by Westminster for years now. In fact it has been used so often by Labour it probably embedded in as the watermark on their stationary by now.
When they put out false information like this - and we have absolute proof that it is totally false
- can we not ON A PUBLIC FORUM LIKE A LIVE TV DEBATE - stand up, point at them and declare them to be a liar. Never mind the words "spin,or propaganda" , call a spade a spade, they are lying.
In fact ask them to sue if it is not a lie - stir things up a bit for a change.
Nicola is too polite and it would be great to see her do this in public.

P.S. Can we not suggest that the UN oversee the referendum ?
It would guarantee fairness for Scotland and raise the profile of the occasion.
# graememcallan 2012-11-20 19:07
Linda, Linda, Linda - what a fabulous article exposing labour hypocrisy.

Utterly brilliant;-)))
# X_Sticks 2012-11-20 19:14
"Would Mr McCann prefer to have the money returned to the Treasury?"

Wasn't that how Joke did it? He moved swiftly on from handing back a large load of Scottish dosh (1.5Bn!)to the treasury to the House of Lards. If I recall, messrs McLeish and Dewar were party to the gift.

Parcel o' rogues indeed!
# Marian 2012-11-20 20:22
The Labour strategy is to oppose independence by every means possible and if that means telling porkies then so be it as far as Labour are concerned. Labour credibility could be damaged every time their lies are exposed so their compliant BBC and "newspaper" acolytes try to make sure that very little of the truth ever reaches the light of day in the MSM.

The Scots government should put their precious TV time to much better use on First Ministers Questions and other televised public forums to expose the type of Labour hypocrisy that Linda Fabiani outlines in her article.

However the SNP government needs to do much better by way of concisely getting across their message in the time available.
# mealer 2012-11-20 20:59
Of course,their biggest lie is that the Scottish people are incapable of harnessing our bountiful resources to make Scotland a prosperous country.
# From The Suburbs 2012-11-20 22:38
I notice recently that the Unionist press now refer to "the pro UK" Better together campaign.

Should we not be challenging them to refer to "the pro Scottish" YES campaign?
# Leswil 2012-11-20 23:12
Excellent Linda, we need much more of this stuff and it should be brought out in debate in Holyrood. Time to give the Unionist Conspirators something back that will get them panicking.
For too long they have been allowed to do and say anything the want.
# oldnat 2012-11-20 23:19

I must be dreaming - This in the Record!
# EphemeralDeception 2012-11-20 23:32
Indeed, pretty astonishing. If only it had also added that that Scotland has been sending more to London than we get back...

Every year for more than 3 decades.
Not bad for too wee and too poor.
# oldnat 2012-11-20 23:49
Unfortunately, it's Joan McAlpine's column, and they omitted her byline. :-(
# Willie Hogg 2012-11-21 09:46
It is tempting to think that the Daily Record are now giving credence to what the SNP have been saying, but I think it is a case of "the IFS say it so it must be true". Which makes me all the more grateful that the IFS were so honest in their appraisal of the current fiscal position and that Joan McAlpine has been able to draw her reader's attention to the underlying truth between their lines of obfuscation.
# proudscot 2012-11-21 12:11
Quoting oldnat:

I must be dreaming - This in the Record!

Oldnat, maybe this is a benefit of the departure of their previous "political editor" (aka anti-SNP propagandist) Magnus Gardham. As you are probably aware, he is now employed lowering the tone of political debate at the Herald!
# cuckooshoe 2012-11-20 23:26
Brilliant! I've bookmarked the article. Wish more people would adopt the writer's style of presentation, information and use of links in support of their argument.
# ElDee 2012-11-23 16:15
Excellent Linda, I often though some of these labour MSPs were out of touch, but to quote figures the way Mr McCann has is 1984ish; a bit like Jakie Baillie (or was it Kessia Dugdale) about the apprenticeships - unbelievable. Next time you are in the weavers I'll buy you a drink.

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