Monday, 3 November 2014

Taxing Issues For Scottish Labour

For all of the schadenfreude surrounding the current meltdown of Scottish Labour, there was a moment on Sunday where you could have pinpointed a smidgen of complacency within SNP ranks.

Ffft... Who wants a coronation anyway!
The BBC’s Sunday Politics programme had the three candidates for the position of SNP deputy leader.  While they might be impressive regarding spending priorities, they fell apart on the issue of taxation, in particular the issue of corporation tax.

Disappointingly, all of the candidates advocate the cutting of corporation tax.  Falling into the trap of believing that lower corporation taxation rates will entice companies to come to Scotland to invest, shows that these candidates have not seen that this strategy does not work.  An example being the fate of Ireland, who saw their tax take fall as it chased the two birds in the bush whilst becoming something of a pariah among the EU hierarchy.

Normally, such ineptitude would be food and drink to an eager and alert opposition.  You can hear the attack lines if you imagine hard enough.  The SNP candidates were being fiscally irresponsible and that lower corporation tax rates would create a black hole in our finances.  Except that our opposition would think nothing of the sort and only really have eyes for their symbolic 50% tax rate – which because it only would kick in at £150,000 would only be symbolic and as much use as a chocolate fireguard anyway.

The resignation of Lamont really should be the opportunity for Scottish Labour to regroup and rethink their strategies.  A chance to check the decline before it affects Westminster seats and to diagnose where and why Lamont failed.  The candidacy of Neil Findlay offers this.  What Scottish Labour does not need is one dominant candidate emerging who imposes their policies all over the debate.  With the entrance of Jim Murphy to the contest, this turn of events is likely to occur.

You can already see Murphy dominating the debate.  Clearly the London-centric media’s favorite, Murphy was on Jon Pienaar’s show on Radio 5, on the news and all over the print media, with the normally sage Andrew Rawnsley falling for the charms of Murphy in his weekend column.  Both Boyak and Findlay are not getting a look in, then again Murphy’s supporters are pretty much the leaders of the Better Together campaign – including the perpetually piss poor Blair McDougall.  Who’s refusing to move on now?

In Rawnsley’s big puff piece on Murphy, he attempted to slay some home truths about New Labour’s apparent unpopularity – winning 56 seats in 1997 & 2001 (when 71 seats were returned from Scotland) and 41 in 2005 (when 59 seats were returned).  A cursory look at the votes cast tells a different story – and one that feeds into the downfall of Labour at Holyrood.  In the Blair landslide of 1997, 1,283,350 people voted Labour – a share of 45.6%.  In 2001, that had fallen to 1,001,173 – a share of 43.3% (turnout had dropped by 13% in Scotland).

In the first post Iraq Westminster election Labour garnered 922,402 votes – a share of 39.5% of the vote.  This represented Labour’s worst result in Scotland since 1983.  Conversely, in the election Brown fought (In 2010), he attracted 1,035,528 votes and a share of 42%.  Of course, as I’ve said previously, in Holyrood elections Labour have never surpassed the result of the inaugural elections under Dewar.  Indeed since the 1999 elections, Labour’s share of the vote (in both the constituency and the regional list vote) has dropped at each election.

Rawnsley’s own ignorance at the Scottish political scene does not serve his readers very well.  Gray and Lamont may well have been accident prone, but both failed because they attacked the SNP from the right.  One can speculate how much closer the 2011 election might have been had Gray not run away from anti-cuts protesters in the middle of Glasgow’s biggest train station.  As for the person who lost to Salmond in 2007, McConnell was the person who swung Scottish Labour to backing Blair (as opposed to Brown) in 1994.  In office, McConnell oversaw the transfer of housing stock to arms length companies as well as the upgrade of our schools infrastructure via PFI.  Not exactly left of centre thinking.

One of the things I kept hearing from a certain constituency of Yes campaigners was how much they disagreed with Salmond – on Sterlingzone, on the EU and on Corporation tax rates.  The lack of serious opposition providing alternative policy positions is beginning to lull the SNP into a sort of comfort zone. Whilst the SNP occupy the centre ground of Scottish politics, there is very little room for Labour to garner votes from the right.  Yet this is where they will stay should the Compass group's Scottish figurehead become leader. 

Murphy had a dig at the SNP, about coronations being undesirable. The manner with which this leadership election is being played out though provides the worst of worlds.  An election where one of the candidates is favored so much by the media and certain stakeholders that it renders the contest an election in name only.

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