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Oh where shall I gae seek my bread .... 


Johann Lamont's parents were Gaelic speaking crofters from the island of Tiree, though she herself was born in Glasgow - on the eve of the 60's counter-culture.  In popular mythology that era required its inhabitants to have indulged in hallucinogenic drugs, sexual and feminist liberation, to be "new left" and anti-war.

How many of these character stereotypes the future Scottish Labour leader aspired to or achieved is anyone's guess, but her speech on the 25th September 2012 against the "something for nothing" society, is miles apart from what could be expected from a child of the radical, agenda shifting and confidence building sixties generation.

Speaking of her island roots, Johann Lamont has done so with real feeling and direct knowledge.  History informs us that these highland and island communities, remote from centres of power, have endured great deprivations over centuries yet retain strong bonds of kinship, determined to ensure that their society survives and is treated with equity and respect. Communities, whose shared values and communal growth, are almost genetically infused throughout the population.

That sense of basic common worth goes wider than highland and island communities.  Throughout Scotland, a sense of social justice, that basic individual human needs, at least, should be universally available has coloured Scottish self-perception as part of a wholly national identity.  It is that national sense of basic compassion towards our fellow citizens with which most in Scotland identify, that Lamont attacked and sought to destroy in her speech.

Her use of Tory leader David Cameron's "something for nothing" phrase, which he deployed as an argument for "reform" of UK welfare benefits, was an indulgence of unfathomable folly. Cameron and the Tories use it primarily to bolster their own electoral, media and business supporters, those who have an ingrained perception that the UK Treasury is haemorrhaging cash to an undeserving, malingering and irresponsible subclass of chav families, steeped in criminal immorality.

It is false, illogical and irrational.

The truth is that spending on welfare, education, social services etc. are always a matter of political priority within the confines of budgetary conditions and public support.

It is simply a fact, that in the face of a planned and severe decline in UK Government spending, the Scottish Government, any Scottish Government has a moral and political duty to reflect the commonly shared values of its population in a way it feels most valuable.

The UK Tory/LibDem Coalition aims to bring down the Welfare bill to around 25% of GDP (through a combination of increased employment, through welfare to work and increased growth)  to the same level as when Blair's New Labour first came to power.

There is nothing here that the Scottish Parliament can do to alter that outcome with the limited powers it has under devolution. It cannot create something out of nothing.

At current levels, spending on welfare needs to increase by around 5% of GDP, through taxation and/or growth.

The Scottish Parliament does not have the "basket" of economic powers under devolution  required to target and balance such revenue income resources and has limited scope, for the same reason, to create the conditions for growth required. It cannot, without such powers create something out of nothing.

Johann Lamont, along with many thinkers around the Conservative Party and right-wing of the UK Labour Party, now aligns herself to a view of welfare recipients as being largely an "undeserving poor" or more hysterically and inaccurately, perceives the public coffers being looted by an army of millionaires and billionaires seeking free NHS prescriptions at the expense of "ordinary" citizens.

Neither extreme is realistic or true.

The 2001 CAB report into prescription charging, which informed the SNP Scottish and Labour Welsh Governments decisions to introduce free medicine at point of delivery, demonstrated the real cost to the NHS in prescription charging.  28% to 50% of low income patients struggled to afford charges and either went without completely or partially due to cost.  This resulted in greater treatment costs and stress demand to the NHS.

The Welsh review of "free" prescription charges demonstrated a declining cost of medicines prescribed despite an (as expected) increase in uptake. 

What this does not demonstrate, as Lamont alludes, is that more richer people are benefitting at the expense of the “needy”, but that with universal uptake, an investment is being made by society to meet health demands which were previously going untreated  and therefore producing greater cost overall to the Health Service.  

Theses “freebies” paid for by all taxpayers (including  low, medium and high income earners, as well as benefit recipients) are certainly not “free”.  They are the demonstration of what value a society places on its citizens, all its citizens.

In her speech on 25th September 2012, Johann Lamont in attacking those shared values,  using the Tory mantra against a “something for nothing” class, chose, unwittingly perhaps, to break with that ethos which has characterised the shared aspirations of the people and nation of Scotland.

In so clumsily discarding that national bond as "something for nothing", I ask Johann Lamont ..... Oh where shall I gae seek my bread ... ?

 


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