Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Gordon Brown comes up with a very interesting and unusual policy regarding devolving more welfare responsibility to Holyrood; extra pensions and benefits seems great but given Scottish budgets are getting cut, how can services be protected, this policy might be better going out to consultation post Westminster 2015

Dear All

In politics, political parties become very attentive to the needs of the voters especially at election time.

The parties lay out what in effect is their ‘offer’; if you vote for them they will do X; Y and Z to make your life better or perhaps support a cause near to your heart. If their offer convinces enough people they win the seats and have the ability to form a government.

Ex Prime Minister Gordon Brown has come up with an interesting offer in the shape of a possible general election pledge from Labour that could see Scots get higher state pensions and benefits.

It is tagged as the “Vow Plus”.

During the independence referendum, he talked extensively on how Scots benefit from the “pooling and sharing” which is true, a greater pool to draw can benefit places in the UK were new industries are needed or high unemployment because traditional industries no longer hold sway.

Scotland has a high elderly population, so because of this Scottish pensioners get £500 million more per year than a population share would be allocated to them. In that respect the Union works well, but in other areas there are gaps as people struggle to find employment. Whether you are London or Inverness or Cardiff, the DWP doesn’t work well; it is an organisation which should have been fixed decades ago. The problem with this organisation is generally the people in government use it as a means of stigma, hence you get benefit fraud lumped in with benefit error couple with right wing press stories of someone bucking the system and using it to their advantage. To that end we read stories of terrorist supporter and their families living in £1 million plus type homes in some leafy suburb or the family with has 19 kids by some guy, there is no end to the odd ball stories you can read. 

Anyway, the former Prime Minister said Scotland should have the power to set a higher state pension, with Holyrood funding the difference.

The important thing here is Holyrood funding the difference and not Westminster which makes this an interesting but unusual idea.

But is the idea workable?

Perhaps it is possible but much more detail is needed to be fleshed out to the public such as safeguards.

However, it should be noted that if there is a change of government, and it is highly likely there will be at some point at Holyrood, welfare could be used as a political football. Any increase by a previous particular government could simply be removed by a government of a different colour.  Then there is the thorny issue of budgets across devolved government which need to be given more protection and have been continually slashed such as in health and education. Add to that we recently read that when the SNP come up with an idea such as their badly thought out housing tax, they get the sums wrong. They completely botched that one and found out they couldn’t generate the revenue they thought they would make.

The election of a bad government could create an unstable situation where unemployed people rely on something which possibly cannot be sustained. It is also important to protect government department budgets and equally the budgets of local government.

But the idea is interesting and unusual, makes you stop and think, not about being greedy but could it work and is it fair.

And fairness is important right across the UK however people at the bottom see precious little of it.

Equality shouldn’t be the domain of a particular minority because a party has the reins of power; it should be extended to all citizens. Everyone should be allowed as a human right a level playing field.

Down south, some people for their political advantage like playing off Scots against the English in much the same way that Scotland’s ‘jolly fat man’ Alex Salmond and unpopular Nicola Sturgeon do with their continual grievance politics.

Gordon Brown says the five proposals to devolve more powers over and above those agreed by the Smith Commission would stop the Nationalists playing the constant “blame game” with Westminster.

Making the Nationalist responsible for tackling poverty would certainly throw a spanner in their works, already poor Scottish kids in the education sector that the SNP have done next to nothing to sort out the lack of equality. Spreading this out to other areas such as the unemployed would drive home that unpopular Nicola Sturgeon is truly out of her depth.

Here are three examples where unpopular Nicola Sturgeon, the ‘social justice champion’ blew it on jobs.

Halls Sausage factory, SNP failed to save the plant.

Govan Shipbuilders, Sturgeon and Swinney failed to save 835 jobs despite playing politics with people’s lives to be seen to be doing something when they were actually doing nothing a all.

300 jobs lost in the down turn in the Oil industry, Sturgeon’s solution get Westminster to do the work, her contribution setting a taskforce to write a letter for the UK Government.

You wouldn’t let Sturgeon be the ‘goalie’ in a five a side football match with her record of botched and half baked ideas. The only ‘diving’ she is capable of is ‘getting out the way to let others carry the can’!

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader who appears to back the idea at present, couldn’t give any details on any particular benefit increases adding that this would depend on “economic circumstances.”

Given that this is case, although the idea does seem very interesting, Jim Murphy would do well to shelf this idea, the Labour Party cannot afford to deliver an empty promise at Westminster 2015.

Jim Murphy needs flesh out real policies that benefit real people, flights of fancy at this late stage would spell disaster not just now, but in 2016’s Holyrood election. There isn’t the time to come up with something radical if it cannot be spelled out in precise detail.

One policy which I would advocate as a replacement would be temp paid work placements while on benefits to kick start people’s social mobility while at the same time allowing them to experience a positive vision of work. Why on this scheme, the person would pay NI and tax thus driving down the costs of their benefit, they win, the government wins, the employers get motivated temp staff and people who take part get to additional money which they can use to buy goods which boost the economy or they can save towards employment or training opportunities at present unavailable to them.

This election is important to the Labour Party in Scotland; a poor showing could spell greater disaster in 2016 at Holyrood.

Cheap gimmicks don’t work which is why Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon lost the independence referendum.

Labour leader Jim Murphy can’t afford to play games because if he does he might end up with few people (MPs) to play them.

I find Gordon Brown’s proposal very interesting, but at this time, it is best left to post Westminster 2015, purely on the basis that considerable work needs to be done to see if it is helpful and viable to the people it is targeted to help.

Putting the responsibility for tackling poverty on to the SNP government is a by-product of the policy and shouldn’t be the main objective.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights a Glasgow University

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