Its time to work the list

Previously, I posted about the electoral performance of the parties of the left, and in passing said that Labour lost more votes on the regional lists compared to their constituency results than other parties. I believe this shows that a new strategy is needed for the regional lists.

How bad is the problem? Well, as we can see from the table below, all parties win fewer votes on the list than in constituencies, but Labour suffers most. Even in 2011, with the highly effective “Alex Salmond for First Minister” campaign, the SNP still lost 1.4% of their vote – almost the same drop as in the 1999 election.

Holyrood Results table - regional list

Interestingly enough, 2007 bucked the trend for Labour, but 2011 saw a return to the drop of 5% or more that Labour experiences. Where does that vote go? Well, as we saw, the Greens and the Left parties pick up quite a few votes – which have to come from somewhere, in 2011 this totalled 6.1%, but has reached nearly 15% before.

From that we can conclude there is a substantial leakage to parties which have more radical, left wing policies. What Labour must do is to give its regional MSPs – and the candidates at election time, much more freedom to promote a vote for Labour as a way of ensuring strong left wing voices are in the parliament. Speaking out on Green issues is one way to do this, as well as other more traditional left-wing concerns, such as the work that Neil Findlay has done on overturning convictions of miners during the strike in 1984.

However, policy alone won’t do the job. For several elections, Labour has simply not had a credible strategy for fighting regional list elections. A single booklet, dropped through doors as part of the Royal Mail leaflet drop is not good enough to ensure that Labour voters give us their second vote – or to attract voters from other parties. We need to be giving people the message, loud and clear that in many areas, a second vote for Labour is their chance to have real Labour representation.

By improving our performance on the regional lists, we can not only hold onto our list MSPs when we win constituencies, but also gain MSPs, helping to propel us into power in 2016.

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The Bedroom Tax – welfare deformed

The Bedroom Tax is one of the worst pieces of welfare reform in the last 30 years. Not only is it targeting the poorest and most vulnerable in society, it doesn’t have in place the solution which its creators claim is its intention (i.e. a supply of smaller properties for claimants to move to), it could even have a perverse effect on the Housing Benefit budget, as people move to smaller homes in the Private Sector, which are actually more expensive than the larger social housing properties they leave.

In Scotland, Housing is devolved. The Scottish Government could pass legislation stopping evictions due to Bedroom Tax arrears, and Mike Daily, of the Govan Law Centre has petitioned the parliament to do just that. However, despite Scottish Labour pressure, the SNP have decided that it’s not necessary to protect Scots like that.

Instead, they have instructed their councillors to institute a policy which comes close, but which is not quite a “No Eviction” one. Under some circumstances, you can still be evicted from a council house in Dundee, if you have arrears, but don’t want to move. You might not want to move for a host of reasons – needing to be close to friends and family for support, for instance, or not wishing to disrupt education for youngsters. However, if the Director of Housing thinks that unreasonable – you’re out!

Labour run Fife Council, however, is more enlightened. There, the council has set aside over £5m of its own money to deal with the fallout from welfare reforms, and have promised not to evict tenants who let them know they are experiencing problems due to the Bedroom Tax. Unlike SNP councils, they are calling on the Scottish Government to help protect all Fifers who will be hit. Two other Labour councils are set to implement measures to protect tenants that go much further than the SNP spin.

The cost across Scotland of the Bedroom tax is estimated by Shelter Scotland to be £50m, and they too believe the correct response is for Scottish Ministers to provide this. However, the SNP have refused, instead preferring to play politics, like putting down motions they know will fail due to standing orders, simply in order to embarrass Labour councils. However, the Scottish Government can afford to do this. Last year, there was an under spend of £72m. Such things are simply unacceptable at time like these – more so when Scots are under pressure.

However, the politicking gets worse. The Government says that if you voted for an SNP council, you will get protection – if you didn’t, well tough. If you vote for independence, however, come 2016, they’ll get rid of the Bedroom Tax. Appalling given that they can do something now – they just choose not to do so. And just how many people will have been evicted between now and 2016? To coin a phrase, the SNP will have blood on their hands.

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How left wing is Scotland?

I’ve touched on this before, but it’s worth looking again at the political make-up of Scotland. Unlike in much of the rest of the UK, Scotland has a proportional system for parliamentary elections, allowing smaller parties a real chance at gaining representation, and helping to implement left-leaning policies. By standing on the regional list for Holyrood elections, parties can gain seats to compensate for the lack of constituency MSPs.

One of the recurring themes of the independence debate is that once we achieve independence, then left wing parties will take the reigns of Government and achieve the socialist utopia that we all want. But, given the chance, do the Scottish public really vote for a true left-wing party? The argument that there is no chance of winning is not true if one considers the regional lists.

The very first election to the Scottish Parliament, in 1999, saw Tommy Sheridan win a list seat in Glasgow, standing on a radical left-wing platform for the Scottish Socialist party. So from the start, it was possible to demonstrate that voting for a socialist candidate was not a wasted vote. Below is a table showing voting patterns on the regional list for the 4 Scottish parliamentary elections.

Holyrood Results table

I’ve amalgamated the results from the various left-wing parties, such as the Scottish Socialists, the Socialist Labour party, and of course Tommy Sheridan’s breakaway Solidarity. Respect are included for the 2011 election which was the only one they contested. Although I’ve recorded the Green party separately, they too could be considered left-wing, as many of their policies will attract left leaning voters.

In terms of the main stream parties, its obvious that the Conservatives are not left wing, and while the Lib Dems have gone into coalition with them, before 2010, they attracted many on the left with their liberal social views and opposition to the war in Iraq. The SNP have some left-leaning policies, but that with the combination of right wing ones, such as the council tax freeze, shows that they too are not consistently left wing. The exception might be their 1999 manifesto, which had the “penny for Scotland” option of increasing income tax to pay for social policy. However, this was later dropped, as it was considered not to be a vote winner.

There have long been arguments about whether Labour can be considered left-wing, and for the purposes of this blog I will leave them. What can be said, however, is that they have consistently been the biggest loser in terms of votes lost between the constituency and the list. An analysis of that will have to wait for a future blog post

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Who would redistribute wealth more?

If a measure of how progressive you are, is your top rate of tax, then is it possible that an independent Scotland could end up being more right wing than the rest of the UK?

Well, we now know that taxes won’t be rising under John Swinney in an independent Scotland.

And we know that Labour, if elected in 2015, would bring back the 50p rate.

But if Scotland is independent, won’t that make it impossible for Labour to win? Well, no, it won’t. The latest YouGov survey, gives a Labour lead of 9 points – on the low side of other recent opinion polls, but perhaps more representative. In Scotland, however the lead is 22 points over the SNP, reflecting the different voting strategies of Scots when it comes to elections at Holyrood and Westminster.

Putting these numbers into Anthony Wells’ swingometer gives us an overall Labour majority of 96, with gains for Ed Miliband across the country, including Scotland. The SNP would surely be disappointed to only gain Gordon from the Lib Dems, while Labour makes 5 gains, all at the expense of the coalition.

But if you take out the Scottish seats, and just look at the rest of the UK, Ed Miliband sill wins 324 seats, giving him an overall majority of 58 in the reduced House of Commons.

If Scotland votes, Yes in 2014, it’s difficult, if not impossible to see anything other than an SNP Government taking control at first in Edinburgh. And since John Swinney has said he wont increase the personal taxes, nor those of companies, especially in the North Sea, while Ed Balls would not only be increasing the top rate to 50p, he might also extend its reach.

So which country would be closest to the utopian ideal of wealth redistribution?

Posted in Economy, Ed Balls, Ed Milliband, Holyrood, Independence, Labour, SNP, Tax | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Plus, More or Max?

The Yes campaign says that Better Together and the Noes need to come up with a positive vision for Scotland. I think that we already have plenty – I’ve seen at least two versions of “Devo Plus” and “Devo More”, and while “Devo Max” is self-explanatory, the Lib Dems federal Britain scheme could be classed as “Devo Max”, so that makes two of them as well. I’m not going to put a label on my vision for the powers that Scotland should have – I’ll leave that for others – but unlike those others, which seem mainly to be about giving Scotland as much or as little as needed to combat independence, I will talk about what it is appropriate for Scotland to do. Labour could and should adopt these as its policy for 2015, so that we can go into the referendum campaign in 2014 with a concrete set of proposals that will speak to people of a vibrant and distinctive way forward – if our politicians want to take us in that direction.

The Scotland Act 2012 gives Holyrood limited power over income tax, specifically by giving the proceeds of a 10% rate, and deducting that money from the block grant. However, I think we should go further, and give the Scottish Parliament complete control over income tax raised in Scotland, including rates and levels. This would allow a future government to set a higher rate of 50% or 60% if it so wished. It could introduce this at a lower level than the equivalent in England – if it wanted to do so. It should also have the power to vary National Insurance in the same way. The employee’s contribution is no more than an additional income tax. The employers’ NI has been called a tax on jobs, and varying this could be one way for the Scottish Government to attract and promote business, in the same way as business rates are devolved. Corporation Tax and VAT rates should not be devolved, as there needs to be harmonisation across the UK – indeed there ought to be harmonisation of Corporation tax across the EU.

The biggest area of spending which is not devolved is benefits, and I would propose that some, but not all benefits are devolved to Holyrood. The key is what is appropriate for Holyrood to deal with, and what benefits which if changed by the Scottish Government, could lead to a benefit (!) to them, especially if they are relevant to areas already devolved.

If we are to devolve income tax fully to Holyrood, then it follows that the tax credits should go too. The idea being, that if the Scottish Government were to improve people’s income, e.g. through industrial policy etc., they would reap the benefit of not only of an increase in income tax income, but also a reduced spend on tax credits. This should provide an incentive to Holyrood to promote policies which would increase people’s income, or get more people into work and paying tax.

I believe that Scotland should also have responsibility for sickness and disability benefits too. Currently the Scottish Government has control over Health, in the form of a devolved NHS, but it is widely recognised that Scotland suffers from some of the highest levels of long term illness – partly as a result of de-industrialisation going back many decades. If the NHS were to look more at preventative work, then this could provide benefits in terms of lower levels of Employment and Support Allowance (the benefit which replaced Incapacity benefit). Likewise Education Maintenance Allowance should be devolved, as it is really a tool of Education policy, which is already the responsibility of Holyrood.

As the Scottish Government has responsibility for Housing and Council Tax, so should it have responsibility for the benefits associated with them. In England, local councils have been given the power to vary how council tax benefit is applied, with different authorities coming up with different ways of distributing the money – Scotland should have that power too.  Once again, this means that when it implements policies (or decides not to) in those areas, it has an effect on expenditure in those areas. For instance, it could decide that in order to cut the Housing benefit bill, it would implement rent controls, rather than cutting the rates paid. The money saved could be used to build affordable housing.

My final transfer of power is over the form of our national railways. An amendment to give Scottish Ministers the power to bring ScotRail under public ownership if it desired was proposed during the passage of the Scotland Bill in 2011. It is surely only right that as it has responsibility to fund the franchise, it should be able to specify it’s delivery in whatever way it sees fit. While Transport Minister Keith Brown was unable to say on Newsnight Scotland, whether railways would be nationalised in an independent Scotland, the Scottish Government should have that power now, whether they want to exercise it or not.

These proposals would give the Scottish Government a balanced combination of tax raising powers and spending responsibilities that complement existing obligations. They would give the government the ability to create a fairer more just society – if that was its wish. It is my desire that not only should Labour devolve these to Scotland at the earliest opportunity, but that Scottish Labour then work to use them to create that better, fairer Scotland.

Posted in Economy, Education, Holyrood, Housing, Independence, Labour, Nationalisation, NHS, Railways, Referendum, Scottish Labour, SNP, Transport, Welfare | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In, Out, Shake it all about

So, Dave has finally made his speech. To be honest, it’s actually completely irrelevant, as everything is dependent on him winning the next election. He can’t negotiate with anyone before 2015 – his opposite numbers will just say “Come back when you’ve got a majority to back you up”. Nick Clegg might not like it either.

However, the latest silliness is that the announcement of a referendum, IF Cameron wins the next election, if he gets the renegotiation he wants, somehow boosts the Yes campaign for Scottish Independence. Alex Salmond has already said that the delay in holding a referendum will lead to uncertainty. Apparently, this delay means the Better Together campaign are arguing for a delay that that they argued against in terms of Scotland.

But correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t Labour the largest part of the Yes Campaign? The parties policy on the Eu referendum is the same as it was for the Independence one – that a delay will cause uncertainty – so they haven’t changed tack at all. The Lib Dems don’t think a referendum should take place at all either. So it’s really just the Tories who are being hypocritical.

This is really all about portraying the Better Together campaign as being run by the Tories – who are, as we know, anathema to large parts of Scotland (except they’re not, really, getting over 400,000 votes at the last election).

The strange thing is that nationalists seem to believe that suddenly, hundred of thousands of Scots, who having previously heard the various arguments for and against and declared they were voting against separation, are now going to change their mind and vote Yes, simply because there MIGHT be a referendum, IF the Tories win the next election in which there MIGHT be a No vote?

The words clutching at straws could have been written for this.

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It’s the Lib Dems who we should be converting

The next UK General Election is just over two years away, and 2013 is the year that Labour has to start work on winning that election. I would like Scottish Labour to start to think strategically about 2015 as concentrating on the Independence referendum in 2014 is not the answer to all our electoral problems. Current opinion polls suggest that while the Independence referendum will be won, we will lose seats in 2015, while the SNP will make gains – especially from the Lib Dems. While not this is not a defeat on the same scale, it seems we havent really learned the lessons of 2011.

To start with our seats which are vulnerable.

Constituency Labour LD SNP Con Oth Majority
Edinburgh South 34.7% 34.0% 7.7% 21.6% 2.0% 0.7%
Edinburgh North and Leith 37.6% 33.9% 9.7% 15.0% 3.9% 3.7%
Aberdeen South 36.5% 28.4% 11.9% 20.7% 2.5% 8.1%
Ochil and South Perthshire 37.9% 11.4% 27.6% 20.5% 2.6% 10.3%
Dunfermline and West Fife 46.3% 35.1% 10.6% 6.8% 1.3% 11.2%

The main question is where will those Lib Dem votes go? As we saw in 2011, they wont necessarily come our way, as they have in England and Wales.

Edinburgh South:

While it might appear that with the Lib Dems our main challengers, its worth bearing in mind that for the nearly identical Edinburgh Southern seat for Holyrood, the SNP came from 4th to win – mainly by attracting Lib Dem voters, who deserted the nominally safe Liberal seat.

Edinburgh North and Leith:

The situation here is almost identical to Edinburgh South. A large number of Lib Dem votes are up for grabs – although we held the nearly identical Edinburgh Northern and Leith in 2011 – perhaps thanks to the personal vote for Malcolm Chisholm.

Aberdeen South:

Although our majority here is larger than the two Edinburgh seats, the Lib Dems have fewer votes to lose, but the SNP are starting from a higher base. Much will depend on the personal vote of Anne Begg.

Ochil and South Perthshire:

On the current opinion polls, this seat is likely to fall to the SNP. Indeed, this will be the only seat Labour would lose. Virtually all the Lib Dem vote would fall to the nationalists. This seat needs to be a priorty.

Dunfermline and West Fife:

Won back from a by-election loss, this seat has traditionally been Labour, but the collapse of the Lib Dems gives the SNP a chance to come from third place. The Lib Dem vote was perhaps boosted in 2010 by the incumbancy effect, but we must make an effort to ensure that 2006 and 2010 Lib Dem voters who had previously voted Labour back us in 2015.

But now for some good news – our opportunities….

Constituency Labour LD SNP Con Oth Majority
Dundee East 33.7% 10.7% 38.2% 15.4% 2.0% 4.5%
East Dunbartonshire 34.1% 38.7% 10.5% 15.5% 1.1% 4.6%
Edinburgh West 27.7% 35.9% 13.2% 23.2% 0.0% 8.2%
Argyll and Bute 22.9% 31.8% 19.1% 24.2% 2.1% 7.6%
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale 28.9% 19.8% 10.8% 38.0% 2.5% 9.1%
Na h-Eileanan an Iar 32.9% 7.5% 45.7% 4.4% 9.6% 12.8%

Dundee East:

This is our number one target, and 35th on our UK target list. A Majority of 1831 should be easy to overturn, shouldnt it? This seat will be hard work, and Dundee was one of the few council areas where Labour did not make gains. The Lib Dem vote will be key here.

East Dunbartonshire:

Held by Lib Dem Minister Jo Swinson, this should be a gain for Labour with only a small drop in the Liberal vote. However, we mustn’t be complacent – if we are to make gains here, we need to ensure the SNP don’t gain at our expense.

Edinburgh West:

You can see that the capital is going to be a major battleground in 2015! This is in reality a 3-way marginal, and any of the major parties could win this.

Argyll and Bute:

This is an outside chance – we are coming from 3rd, but we start from in front of the SNP, and a good local campaign coud win enough defectors from the Lib Dems to see us through. Current opinion polls would have us come second to the SNP, but we should not ignore this seat.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale:

Here, I would expect the anti-Tory Lib Dem votes swing behind Labour – but the lesson of 2011 is that we should not assume they will do so automatically. Victory here would remove the only Tory seat in Scotland.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles):

In 1997, Labour gained over 55% of the vote here, so there is a history of a strong Labour vote. The drawback is that the SNP’s majority is larger than the Lib Dem vote, but an Independent came third in 2010, so there are votes to be won here.

In summary, it is the Lib Dem vote that is key – both in the seats we need to defend, and those we hope to win. We need to win over those voters who voted Liberal in 2010 – and we need to work harder at it than our colleagues south of the border. We need to develop policies that will find favour, not only with our core vote, but also with disaffected Lib Dems.  For example, we should think seriously before introducing policies similar to those advocated by the coalition, which have turned those Lib Dems away from their party in the first place. If we don’t, we could lose seats across Scotland – and the SNP will also gain Lib Dem seats, with our return to Government at a UK level marked by our biggest defeat in Scotland.

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