Thursday, 4 October 2012



On reflection mebbe Spod Miliband’s appropriation of rhetoric first popularized by a dead Tory wasn’t that impressive. I mean just the other night you had Mitt-trickle-down-economy-Romney use the makey-uppy term “trickle-down government” pejoratively. Now I’ve no idea what this means, but it does suggest stealing a political opponent’s rhetoric, then using it aggressively enough to distract from the fact doing so renders it gibberish is the thing to do. Heck, even Scottish Labour is in on the act.

The context for this rhetorical, tartan land grab is the downward trajectory seen in the calibre of Scottish Labour party leaders since Donald Dewar where latterly, Wendy Alexander aside, we've seen Iain Gray (who?) give way to the wonder that is Johann Lamont (as in you wonder how she’s ended up where she is). Now to be fair, you’d be a fool to expect much off such a mediocrity, but, the degree of bile dripping off her “something for nothing” chat does merit some attention.

So whereas in the past “something for nothing” was what you’d hear a New Labour or Tory bod say about people living on benefits before trying to cut said benefits, for Johann it's the following who get “something for nothing”:

  •  “a banker on more than 100,000 a year benefitting more than a customer on average incomes from the council tax freeze
  • a chief executive on more than 100,000 a year not paying for his prescriptions
  • judges and lawyers earning more than 100,000 a year, not paying tuition fees for their child to follow in their footsteps at university”

Whit? Add accountants and doctors to this list and you’d have a professional full house, except how do any of the above get “something for nothing” given they all typically pay significantly more in tax than they ever receive in state benefits and services?

The answer is they don't rendering Johann's “something for nothing” inaccurate bollocks. And practically, excluding the above from benefits would require the introduction of means testing, which would mean the following:

  • Creating a big, inefficient (think tax credit over/under payments), taxpayer funded bureaucracy to administer it
  • Unintended consequences i.e. people not claiming what they’re due en masse and the resultant suffering this would induce
  • All sorts of destructive disincentives e.g. why save for old age if it’ll just get taken off me
  • A frontal assault on universalism, the encouragement of individualism and the associated ghetto-isation of previously universal benefits with all that entails.

That’s just dull practical stuff though to be simply ignored judging by Johann's repeated references to having patronised care workers in the interviews she's been giving, this seemingly providing a sharp, "werking class" contrast to the "something for nothing" types listed above. Politically, this is a shame because it leaves her chat coming across like a blinkered, us and them alienating, nasty retreat into Labour’s West of Scotland heartland. One nation? Nah, not unless it’s the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

The tragedy here is that an alternative, positive rhetoric is readily available, one that accepts universalism as a positive given that embodies the Scottish electorate’s social-democratic bias. Adopting this alternative would easily shift the focus away from debating who should or shouldn't get a free bus pass towards how to pay for these things. So here goes; you could talk about how we’re all in this together then argue that to avoid introducing tuition fees, you’d need to retain the 50% income tax rate in Scotland and introduce wealth taxes or at least fairer council taxes. 

I’m game for this despite being part of the “something for nothing” class. It’s just doing so would be to effectively argue in favour of independence or at least devo-max. As this appears unthinkable for Labour its instead chosen to have some mealy mouthed joke of a Jimmy Krankie looky-likey talk inaccurate, vitriolic pish.

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