Last week in the Scottish Parliament we saw the difference in approach from the political parties to the funding of local public services. The SNP proposed changes to the upper bands for Council Tax. Whilst Scottish Labour did not oppose the proposal that would make the tax a little more progressive, we were very clear that the SNP Council Tax is broke and not fixable by tinkering with the bands.
So SNP choose a timid approach, the Tories want to do very little and Labour say get rid of it and have brought forward a detailed and costed proposal to replace the SNP Council Tax.
In their budget next month, the SNP intend to cut the local services grant to councils by £100 million arguing that the councils will make this up from the changes to the council tax bands. This is a fundamental shift in that the SNP are effectively using local taxes and spending them nationally, and this according to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is a direct attack on local democracy.
This is one of the reasons that I and my fellow Labour MSPs will not support the SNP Government budget.
On Tax, the Tories don’t want us to do anything different from Westminster, and the SNP want to cut tax for getting on aeroplanes, whilst Labour will put up the top rate of tax for those on the highest earnings and invest this into our local public services.
These are real dividing lines on fundamental issues like funding public services and the kind of local public services we wish to see.
But as many pollsters and political commentators have continued to say, it is not these major dividing lines between the parties that will dominate Scottish Politics and determine political support, it is the constitution which overarches all other matters.
In truth, the country has struggled to move on from the 2014 independence referendum with many people remaining loyal to parties who either supported Yes or No depending on how they voted. The political commentators and the wider media make reference to the political parties as being unionist or nationalist as a matter of fact.
I believe Scotland must move beyond the narrow confines of unionism and nationalism which has dominated the political debate for the last few years.
I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was in my teens, more than 30 years, and I have never considered myself a unionist; and yet Scottish politics has, since the independence referendum, been increasingly defined in terms of these narrow ideologies of unionism and nationalism and sadly this is how political parties in Scotland are viewed. The Tories, have always been unionists, the clue is in the name Conservative and Unionist and the SNP similarly, are for nationalism, and their ultimate objective of independence something Nicola Sturgeon says ‘transcends Brexit, oil, and the economy’.
I do not think Scottish Labour can accept that nationalist ideology is more important than our commitment to reducing inequality, developing our economy and fighting for social justice. Just as we cannot accept that the status quo in the form of Westminster and Whitehall can deliver the kind of society that we want to achieve for our country and the rest of the UK.
Labour is neither unionist nor nationalist. Of course we cannot duck the constitutional question, we must set a clear vision for Scotland in the 21st century but we cannot allow that vision to be dictated to by the narrow ideologies of unionism and nationalism, neither of which offer an answer to the social and economic challenges of our time. What Labour must do now is set out its vision of a post Brexit Scotland which will include home rule within a confederal United Kingdom, building for the future on the socialist ideals of equality, fairness and justice.
So I do hope we are able to bring a little more focus on the big differences in social and economic policy between the parties in Scotland and use this to chart the way forward post Brexit.