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.

Posted in Alistair Darling, Conservatives, Europe, Referendum, Scottish Labour | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Conservatives, Independence, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Labour, SNP | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Years Resolution

I have made a new Year’s Resolution to blog a bit more. The telling moment was when Word Press sent me a report on my activity for 2012. What it didnt include, of course were the reasons I didnt write as much as I would like – the birth of my son, my new job and the local elections.

However, the new year is a time to change our habits and create some new ones. So expect some more posts…..

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The Myth of left wing Scotland

I was talking to someone the other day about the independence referendum – you know in that way where you have to initiate the conversation, as most normal people don’t have independence as top of their agenda. But, they said, Scotland is a left-wing country, and independence will mean we can finally be rid of those Tories – you guys in Labour are happy to have us under a vicious Tory Government, hell bent on destroying the NHS and so on.

Leaving aside the fact that the last thing I want is to have a Tory Government at Westminster, or the fact that nothing that they do to the NHS, or the Education system doesn’t affect us up here – they’re all devolved, but is Scotland a left-wing country? Have we really been “oppressed” all these years by Tory majorities in England forcing their policies on us?

I’ve long been surprised that an area like Angus has always struggled to elect Labour representatives – it’s often been described to me as a very conservative (small ‘c’) place. The high point was in the late 70’s/early 80’s when there were 3 district councillors – out of 22. But that obviously isn’t true across Scotland – Glasgow has long been a Labour stronghold.

I suppose a lot depends on how you classify some parties as being on the left or right. But for a generation after the Second World War, politics was a two party game – the classic left vs. right battle. Many voters from this time are still alive, while many others had their views shaped during it. So I collated the figures for every general election since 1945, and graphed them to see if there was any trend.

What we can see is that for nearly 20 years, the vote of the two major parties was very stable, and the rise of the Liberals in the 1960s seems to be mainly at the expense of the Conservatives. The post war high for the left was 1966, but still less than 50%. After this point, the SNP gains in support, but this seems to be actually at the expense of both the conservative and Labour parties – although marginally more so of the Tories. 1964 was the start of a continuous downward trend for the blues, with, interestingly enough; a stabilisation through the Thatcher years, and 1997 saw a slump to their present level of approximately 15%.

The Labour vote has stabilised at around 41% – with good years such as 1997 (45.6%) balancing out the bad years like 1983(35.1%). This is only slightly down on the 30 year post war average of 45.1%.

What this shows is that Scotland has actually been a slightly right of centre country, with right wing parties having a slight advantage in the post war years. Labour has lost on average about 5% of its vote, probably equally to the nationalists and the liberals.

But since the 1970’s, the Liberal and SNP vote has increased from 12% (11.8% in 1966) to average 35-40% (the high point was 2005, a post 97 low for Labour). Where have they got those votes from? It’s clear from these figures that many people, who used to vote tory, are now voting Lib Dem and SNP. We found out in 2010 the effect that those right wingers in the Liberal Democrats affected the outcome.

I wonder how long it will take people to realise that the SNP isn’t a left wing party either.

 

Posted in Angus, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Labour, SNP | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Here’s what I would have said

Here is the text of the speech I would have given if I had managed to catch the eye of the chair in today’s debate on Transport at Scottish labour conference:

Chair, Conference Thank you. John Ruddy, Angus CLP and first time speaker at conference.

I just want to say a few words about the SNP’s Rail Consultation which closed a couple of weeks ago. Scottish Labour led a brilliant campaign to send the SNP the message that Scotland loves its trains, but we shouldn’t let them get away so easily.

Alex Neill and Keith Brown signed that Forward which told us how great the consultation was, and how it would “attune the railway to Scotland’s needs”. When we pointed out that the consultation wanted to close stations they denied it was anything to do with them!

Conference, either they hadn’t read the consultation properly and are incompetent, or they are lying and should resign.

Just a few miles up the line from here in Angus, are two of the most underused stations in Scotland, Golf Street and Barry Links. Less than 300 people use them both. That’s hardly surprising when they get just one train a day – even less surprising when you hear that they get a train to Dundee at 6am in the morning and then one back at 7pm in the evening! What’s really surprising is how many people actually use such a poor service!

Conference, the answer to underused stations like these is not to close them, but to give them the service they need to serve our communities. I know that our comrades in Aberdeenshire are trying to do just that with another underused station in Portlethen.

So let me tell you right now, Keith Brown – you try to close any station in Angus, and you’ll have me and Scottish Labour to contend with!

I think it would have gone down well!

Posted in Angus, Conference, Environment, Railways, Scottish Labour, SNP | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alcohol-related deaths – the stats

No one can deny that alcohol is one of the most serious social problems facing us at the moment. In 2010, there were just over 1300 alcohol related deaths in Scotland.  But in the same year, there were over 7,100 in England and Wales. However, this is not a problem which is confined to Scotland, and we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of Scotland-only solutions.

Since 1991, deaths caused by alcohol have increased in Scotland by 110% – but over the same time they have increased by 111% in England & Wales. Clearly there is something other than the ‘Buckfast Culture’ going on here. If you compare the figures north and south of the border since 1979, you actually see two very different pictures – and its one which suggests the causes are different.Alcohol deaths in the UK

As you can see from the graph, deaths have been increasing in England & Wales pretty much consistently since the early 1980s. There was a slight pause from 1988 – 93, and since 2008. However, the Scottish figures are pretty static all through the 1980s, and not really starting their rise until 1994. This increase stalled around 2002/3 and if anything has fallen since then slightly.

So what can we infer from this? Well, it seems that price and affordability are a big determinant for peopl e in England & Wales, but there seems to be no such corelation in Scotland. When there is a recession in the UK, deaths fall (or stop rising) in England, but the recession of the early 1980’s had no effect in Scotland and recent falls north of the Border began well before the current financial problems. The fact that these deaths are concentrated in areas of high deprivation – where by definition people have less money to start with – indicates that the cost of alcohol does not prevent consumption as much as might be assumed.

Looking at this evidence, I would say while increasing the price of alcohol will have an effect in England, it wont have as much of a benefit here in Scotland. With the legal problems associated with minimum pricing, I would expect the UK Government to look at increasing duty levels to increase general price levels – indeed this is the widely accepted explanation for the fall from 1979 to 1983 when the Thathcer government increased duty levels substantially.  This would make the Scottish Government’s minimum pricing legislation moot, although I would expect the SNP to kick up a fuss about increasing the price of Scotch Whisky.

But if affordability has limited effect in Scotland, what can we do here to reduce the tragedy affecting the country. Well, since 1999 there have been a number of initiatives designed to educate people about the effect of alcohol. This combined with the abilility of local authorities to restrict the consumption of alcohol in open spaces seems to have had an effect. However, we need to step this up considerably if we are to bring down the number of deaths.

Just as we have programmes designed to wean people off smoking tobacco, we must have similar programmes to tackle alcohol addiction. High profile campaigns to get folk to reduce their consumption, and if need be to seek help for addiction will lower deaths. It is this that the Scottish Government should be concentrating on, and then Scotland will see a healthier relationship with alcohol.

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An all time high

So, according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, support for Scottish independence is now at its highest level for 6 years. It’s now at the dizzy heights of a third of the population. It was last this high during the last Labour administration at Holyrood. No wonder Alex Salmond wants to delay the referendum, at this rate will be well in the 2020’s before there’s a majority.

No doubt the SNP will be hailing this poll as yet another victory for them, but what is more interesting is that there is a majority for increased powers. No doubt this explains why the SNP seem so desperate to have the so-called “Devo max” on the ballot paper for the independence vote.

An interesting detail in the survey is that people would be more likely to vote for independence if it gave them an extra £500 a year. Bought and sold for nationalist gold? Perhaps now we know why the SNP are building such a war chest for independence.

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The best use for pension funds

In September, I wrote about the need for local state-backed commercial banks, to help revitalise our regions. Now, it appears that the Strathclyde local government pension fund is going to do something very similar.

To be fair, it’s not quite a bank in the traditional sense, but rather an investment fund which local businesses can access, worth £100million. But it is also being used to drive the city council’s social and economic policies, with businesses using the fund having to commit to creating new jobs, and paying Glasgow’s Living wage of £7.20 an hour.

The new fund will be used to support new and existing firms in the Glasgow and West of Scotland area, although a reasonable return will have to be delivered to pension fund members. Presumably by spreading the risk across a larger number of investments the overall return will be satisfactory.

This is something which all the pension funds, not only across Scotland, but across the UK could consider. My own fund in Tayside is sitting on assets of £1.75billion as at the last report for 2009-10, and it should prove easy for it set up a similar fund for SME’s across Tayside to access to boost employment in the region. If it was to invest £50million in local businesses, it would be less than 3% of their overall assets, yet would have a massive impact on the local economy. Jobs would be created and the local economy put back on its feet. Small businesses would have the capital to grow, and take on more people. Money would be spent in the local economy, creating even more jobs.

Such projects would also break down the “Them and Us” culture which has grown up between the public and private sectors. And that can only be a good thing.

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