Mirror, mirror on the wall, BILL JAMIESON asks, who’s now the Leftiest of us all? Just when you thought First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had hoovered up Left wing support in Scotland with her anti-austerity rhetoric, along come Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell with Scottish interventions and fulminating fusillades – from the Left.
At the Labour Party conference yesterday, the party’s new shadow chancellor told delegates that the SNP had voted against the living wage, capping rent levels and voting for introducing fairer taxes to fund more spending on schools.
“Labour”, he declared, “is now the only anti-austerity party. Now’s the time to come home.”
Labour accuses the SNP of having consistently voted against Scottish Labour’s call to extend the Living Wage to more low paid professions; that it had voted against Scottish Labour plans to extend the living wage at least five times in the Scottish Parliament last year; that it had consistently voted against Scottish Labour’s plans to ban rip off rent rises.
Earlier this year the SNP committed to a 50p rate of tax in its UK election manifesto, but Labour says it repeatedly failed to vote for Scottish Labour motions in the Scottish Parliament supporting a 50p rate using the new tax powers coming to Scotland.
All this follows remarks by Jeremy Corbyn at the weekend accusing the SNP of “talking the talk but not walking the walk” in opposing austerity. In a further jibe at the party, he questioned whether the SNP could credibly fight austerity because of the plunge in North Sea oil revenues.
The SNP administration, he argued, had the chance to change Scotland’s schools and hospitals for the better but had failed to do so. He further highlighted differences with the SNP on housing policy, firing the riposte that “flags don’t build houses”.
Don’t expect the SNP to take any of this lying down. Its own conference in Aberdeen next month will see a full-throated rebuttal and reaffirmation of its Left wing and anti-austerity credentials.
What with the Greens chipping in with their own anti-austerity pennyworth you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s no other political debate in Scotland worth having.
These parties are egging each other on to convince voters that they are more Left than the other lot – an intensifying rhetoric of higher tax and higher spend while oil revenues plunge – and damn the consequences.
If you think there are other issues worth raising between now and the Holyrood election next May, take a reality check. And if you’re concerned about the implications for the business and enterprise sector, there’s all too little comfort.
McDonnell wants to scythe through business support and reliefs as part of his hare-brained plan to cut the deficit by weakening enterprise. Labour’s Kezia Dugdale has declared her support for bringing back the 50p income tax rate. And it may not stop there under a Corbyn-McDonnell administration. Compared to Labour manifestos of the recent past, one’s Lenin, one’s Trotsky – and the opposition is Rosa Luxembourg draped in a saltire.
Both parties seem oblivious to the discipline that high levels of deficit and debt impose on governments of any hue – and particularly when the debt now stands at 80 per cent of GDP.
To advance higher spending proposals when the budget deficit has just taken another lurch upwards is to condemn us to far worse austerity ahead once this ideological bubble bursts.
Now it may well be that all this is little more than fiery rhetoric, designed to uplift committed supporters at party conferences. It was notable that McDonnell did not expand in his conference speech yesterday on earlier proposals for a “people’s Quantitative Easing”. And there is an evident gap between the rhetoric of the SNP and it’s the actions in government.
We can shrug and say, ‘it’s what all political parties do’. But that is to sanction a continuance of the old “politics as normal” – just when Labour’s new supporters are declaring their allegiance to a “new sort of politics”.
How does that bear scrutiny if, having whipped up activist support, the Corbyn-McDonnell radicalism is then dissipated in quiet, out of the limelight “policy reviews”?
The same may prove true of Sturgeon’s recent pronouncements on a second referendum – a gritty rhetoric to keep the conference fundies happy while the reality finds her altogether less gung-ho about a referendum for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps we should ignore the fiery conference declarations altogether – in which case, public trust in “the old politics” will continue to languish.
But if Labour and the SNP insist they should be taken at their word and the game of “I’m more left than you” continues, Heaven help us all. If you are trying to build a business or secure a future for your family, if this is the true direction of travel, don’t ever say we weren’t warned.