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Stop Talking Down This Newsletter
The SNP need a new soundbite. They look silly. Plus Labour and the two child cap.
Eventually, every great political message loses its potency through overuse.
Since 2007 the SNP has responded to every criticism of their mismanagement of the country by accusing their opponents of lacking patriotism.
When the brewing crises in our colleges were raised in 2017 it was met with a dismissal from Nicola Sturgeon that we were “talking down our colleges or talking down Scotland”. When evidence emerged of the decline of our schools John Swinney waved it away with “talking Scottish education down.” When they were warned that green manufacturing jobs were going overseas Labour was “trotting out those negative talk-down-Scotland tropes”.
It’s been a useful line for the SNP and a well-used one.
However, this week this message jumped the shark. In response to concerns about a release from sewage treatment works into the water at Portobello Beach the SNP accused the Lib Dem leader Alec Cole-Hamilton of…talking down Scotland.
Presumably, the correct response to seeing your toddler emerge from the surf holding a stranger’s faeces should be one of swelling pride. These are sturdy Scots jobbies, unlike those insubstantial English excretions we have been hearing so much about from yon guy from The Undertones.
You’re looking like a parody of yourselves. Get yourselves a new soundbite.
Capping it Off
The current row around the two-child cap is a product of Labour’s poll lead. Already the assumption is that Labour are a party of government, even if they are not in government. That, for me, explains the shift from Keir Starmer’s past statements that he wanted to get rid of the cap to today saying he can’t commit to an uncosted policy. The closer you are to power the more the electoral test becomes about credibility rather than change. The more it looks like you might win, the more you worry about what you can actually deliver.
The frustration felt by Labour members (including me) is that the interview answers on this too often stop at seeking to pass the credibility test. It is clear that if resources allow a Labour party in power would like to get rid of the cap- the leadership just aren’t willing to open the way to other uncosted policies. A breakdown in discipline leads to a manifesto that is read as a work of romantic fiction rather than a serious plan for turning around the country.
Of course, without that credibility, Labour can’t win, and if they can’t win they can’t change anything. Credibility is essential, but that story need not be in conflict with talking about our values.
For me, the longer response should have looked something like this:
“I think this is a bad policy but the economic reality after the mismanagement of the Tory government is such that we can’t commit to immediately doing everything we would like. It’s important that we don’t promise things we haven’t got a plan to deliver. We will tackle poverty though by ensuring that everyone has regular hours, ready access to childcare, a real living wage, and rights at work from day one.
There is an element of deja vus for me on all this. I remember when to close down Tory attacks Tony Blair and Gordon Brown committed to existing Tory spending plans. The manifesto then made no mention of it, but within two years tax credits had been created and the massive redistribution that halved child poverty began. The impact of that policy was enormous. A parent working part-time for the minimum wage with two kids saw their income almost double thanks to the Working Families Tax Credit.
Notwithstanding past success, I think the party is missing a trick. I would frame the wider economic plan as a corrective to what was missed last time. That so many people have an income that cannot provide a decent life without a state top-up has long been criticised on the left as a subsidy for bad employers.
Yesterday the Work Foundation published a report on insecure work. It reminds us that more than half of those in insecure work earn less than the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Minimum Income Standard of £25,000, which sets out the consensus view of what living standards everyone should expect.
The odd thing about all of this is that Starmer does have a transformative agenda but doesn’t talk about it enough. To take just one example, he has committed to tasking the Low Pay Commission with taking into account the cost of living when considering rates for the Minimum Wage - as happens with the real Living Wage. Imagine the possibilities here: a full-time worker earning the real Living Wage would earn £2,730 a year more than a worker earning the existing government wage floor (labelled The National Living Wage) without increasing the welfare budget.
Labour should bring this conversation back to the moral argument that hard work should pay off. We are, after all, named the Labour Party. Taking on poverty pay frees up more public money for redistributive spending on child poverty.
Speaking of credibility….Week after week the SNP barely mention the Tories. They now exist only to stop Labour. As part of this, the SNP’s Social Justice Secretary has been amplifying criticisms of the Labour position on this issue. A quick reminder: she has the power to lift the cap in Scotland tomorrow. However, her position is identical to that of Starmer’s:
“It’s not our policy to alleviate the two-child cap…there is no additional money in the Scottish budget at all.”
Both she and my own party should work harder to find that money. The last few days have shown that in the Labour Party, we can see that there is a vocal constituency of members pushing for just that. In the SNP we hear no dissenting voices, only excuses.
Update on Abusive SNP Members Investigation
The SNP have responded to the investigation in the last issue into the online behaviour of their new members. If you can call it a response.
When presented with information about dozens of abusive members, including those posting violent fantasies, and one with a seeming record of severe violence against women, this was all they had to offer:
“Any abuse is completely unacceptable and we do not hesitate in condemning it. Online abuse is not unique to any single party. Such behaviour must be called out across the political spectrum.”
They have shown no interest in receiving the information I have offered them.
Under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, the SNP utterly failed to take action against abusive members, but they at least thought they had to look like they cared in front of the media. Now they aren’t even hiding their lack of interest in the conduct of their own members.
Keep an Eye On
After having been criticised by on and off-the-record briefings by figures close to the former SNP leadership, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland has come out to defend the lengthy investigation into the SNP’s finances. Nobody has been charged, but with the Chief Constable soon to retire it may be that the case is reaching a conclusion - one way or another. Interestingly he hinted that the investigation has moved into looking at potential embezzlement. I have no knowledge of what’s going on in the investigation but I would watch this space.