The SNP school Labour in politics. Again.

8 January 2014

Alex Salmond might not wish to be compared to Gordon Brown but there is one sense in which the two dominant Scottish political personalities of the age are more alike than either would care to acknowledge: they each love a good dividing line.

In Edinburgh yesterday Salmond announced that all pupils in their first three years of primary school would henceforth be entitled to a free school lunch. This, he claimed, would save parents £330 a year per child. A useful benefit for those parents whose offspring do not currently qualify for free meals; a means of ending, the First Minister suggested, the stigma presently endured by those children who do rely on free meals.

Labour voted against the proposal.

Cue much celebration in Natland. Another dividing line has been established. The SNP are on the side of the kids; Labour will leave them starving. Imagine it: a Labour party that won’t feed Scotland’s children!

Of course it is not quite as simple as that. But the episode was another reminder that the SNP are quite good at playing the game of politics and Scottish Labour have, yet again, been wrong-footed by the nationalists.

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It’s politics, Jake. If the nationalists had simply proposed a motion for free school meals, Labour might well have voted for it. But that wouldn’t have given the SNP their dividing line. So they included a poison-pill in which they tied additional child-friendly measures such as increased child-care to independence. This was too much for Labour to stomach and Johann Lamont’s troops duly voted against the government motion.

SNP members in turn voted down a Labour amendment that removed all references to childcare provision post-independence and concentrated solely on the free meals policy. But no-one will hear or pay any attention to that.

It is true that many Labour types ask – not unreasonably – how choosing to spend money subsidising meals for middle-class children really helps poorer children who would have qualified for free meals anyway. Wouldn’t the money be better spent on expanding childcare now? These are, that is to say, both good things but one of them is better than the other.

Labour’s view – shared by the Conservatives, I believe – is not an unreasonable one. But that’s not what anyone will remember. Once again they have been out-witted by the nimble – if also, a sceptic might say, duplicitous – nationalists. We will feed the children, Labour wouldn’t. 

Nor, of course, will voters be encouraged to note that this is not really an SNP present at all. On the contrary, it follows the coalition governments plan to offer a similar programme of free meals in England. The SNP will not thank you for noticing that – as with a cap on benefits – they are following Tory-Lib Dem policies.

The money for all this comes courtesy of the famed Barnett Consequentials. Increases in spending in England trigger increases in spending in Scotland (and cuts cause cuts too, the equally famed Barnett Squeeze). Every time George Osborne finds some “new” money in England, Alex Salmond and John Swinney receive a wee present.

In essence, then, this is a policy made in London and might even be spun – if Labour in Scotland had anyone who could spin properly – as a demonstration of how we might actually be Better Together.

But, as I say, that’s not how it will play or be perceived in Scotland. Another dividing line has been created and the nationalists, in political and electoral terms, are on the better side of it. Once again they have the easier story to sell and Labour, hampered by the need to seem “responsible” are painted as child-starving Scrooges. This is unfair but, hey, that’s politics. And the SNP are better at it than Scottish Labour.


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  • terregles2

    Does Mr Massie have to illustrate his article with such a depressing hopeless photograph. Areas like that unfortunately do exist throughout the UK which is a sad reflection on governments of every political background. There are however in Scotland and everywhere else a majority of areas with decent houses, well kept gardens and nice surroundings.
    Why print a photograph af a building that is clearly just about to be renovated or demolished.? They seem to be unable to pass by any opportunity to show Scotland in the poorest and most hopeless way possible.

  • dougthedug

    “SNP members in turn voted down a Labour amendment that removed all references to childcare provision post-independence and concentrated solely on the free meals policy. But no-one will hear or pay any attention to that.”

    This is the actual motion as changed by the amendment. It actually ignores free meals and calls for childcare instead.

    “Motion S4M-08707.3: Johann Lamont, Glasgow Pollok, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/01/2014
    That the Parliament believes that the UK Government’s economic and social strategies have failed and threaten the progress made by the previous Labour administration in tackling child poverty; agrees that devolution allows the Scottish Parliament to take a different approach; notes that progress in tackling child poverty has stalled in Scotland under the current administration, and, while recognising the value of free school meals, calls on the Scottish Government to take action to deliver for children now, including providing 50% of two-year-olds with 600 hours of free early learning and care in 2014.”

    The massive financial problem is at the end. The childcare that Labour proposed in this amendment would have cost about £100 Million a year and the Scottish budget just doesn’t have the money. In usual Labour style the problem of where the money would come from out of the Scottish Parliament’s fixed Westminster block grant is not addressed in the amendment.

    Later on Labour shadow cabinet member Kezia Dugdale suggested removing funding from support for small businesses to pay for this childcare proposal, which Patricia Ferguson agreed with on TV before the party’s Finance Spokesperson Iain Gray contradicted them both and said in the Scottish Parliament that he “doesn’t agree” with Scotland having higher rates than the rest of the UK.

    The SNP may be better at politics than Scottish Labour but on the current evidence it’s not exactly an onerous task.

  • dougthedug

    “The SNP will not thank you for noticing that – as with a cap on benefits – they are following Tory-Lib Dem policies.”

    Alex, It would be difficult for them to follow the Tory-Lib Dem policy of a benefits cap as they don’t control benefits in Scotland.

    It’s also not a policy which is advocated in the Scotland’s Future White Paper published by the Scottish Government in November last year or one advocated by the SNP in either of their 2010 Westminster or 2011 Holyrood manifestos.

  • allymax bruce

    What is it about the Marxist Political Party’s that have to poo-poo everything good for people & society? The Labour Party here in ‘Britian’, The Republican Party in USA, they both find political policy in opposing everything good, sensible, and beneficial to a decent society. The Labour Party here in ‘Britian’ won’t feed our children, but are happy to close down our oil refinaries at Grangemouth. The Republican Party won’t support free Health Care for the poor in USA, but are happy to close down government through opposing The Budget 6 months ago. Why do citizens of these countries vote for such horrible, evil, self-ingratiated nasty people???

  • Malcolm McCandless

    Free School Meals for P1-P3 – young children
    Extended free childcare – working parents
    Tuition fees – students
    Free bus passes – OAPs
    Free prescriptions – the sick
    Bridge tolls – drivers
    Council Tax freeze – everyone in Scotland

    Now that is a lot of people for Scottish Labour to have against them. The people’s party without the people are unelectable.

    • terregles2

      We really do not get anything free. It all comes from the taxes that we pay. Some of the measures that you quote are actually cost effective in the long term. School meals help to build healthier children, Free childcare helps to encourage the work ethic which brings in more government revenue. OAP passes help to keep bus routes in use and helps older people to go out of the house and spend money in cafes shops etc and also helps their mental health. It costs a lot of money to administer prescription charges and if people neglect to take medication it can cost more in the long term. Council tax freeze helps businesses although it is worth noting council tax rates in Glasgow are even higher than in some areas of London.
      Most important thing though is ro have a government that will spend money properly on things that care for people rather than squander it on Trident, HS2, House of Lords. War etc.

  • AndrewMelville

    Dinner school in Scotland was ok. The food wasn’t terrific but I was never forced to eat anything. I did attend dinner school under an English regime – very briefly. At age six, I politely declined the foul smelling tapioca swill that was proffered for pudding. A junior Uriah Heep who was serving said to the Master at the table, “He says he won’t have any, sir.” The oily troll replied, “Well since it is his first day, we will let that go. But tomorrow, he must eat it all!”

    My parents weren’t indulgent but they heeded my cries for help. I never went back, which caused some minor inconvenience to them.

    In my memory, I can still smell that foul cauldron and my stomach turns. Why is it that children were forced to eat that which they found loathsome? Thank God that most of my parents’ English friends had dogs!

    • Jambo25

      I attended a fee payer, in Edinburgh, and the school meals weren’t bad. rather decent beef olives and venison vol au vents amongst other things.

  • Jambo25

    As a long term SNP voter I’m not particularly in favour of this policy. What I think is interesting about it is what it says about SLAB. They oppose it. At some point in the future London Labour will embrace the policy, or something very like it, and at that time the human dictaphones which make up the leadership of SLAB will, meekly, fall into line and say they were always in favour of it no matter what those horrid Nats are saying. At some point he same thing will apply to the Tories.
    Incidentally, talking of the Slab leadership. Has anyone seen Jo Jo recently? She seems to be keeping an incredibly low profile. Do any of you remember the old ‘Spitting image’ running joke about Gerald Kaufman: being kept trussed up like Hannibal Lecter and well hidden, so as not to scare the voters? Has Jo Jo become a modern equivalent of Kaufman in drag? A guaranteed vote loser kept well hidden.

    • Jambo25

      Seriously; has anyone seen Jo Jo lately?

  • manonthebus

    Well I’m an Englishman who wouldn’t dream of voting Labour and I think the free school meals for Years 1 to 3 of primary School is a good idea and, for a change, a decent use of some of my huge taxes. It ensures they get a decent meal once a day (I hope) and removes any stigma about poor families etc. If some money needs to be found, remove it from EMA, which is just ridiculous.

  • MichtyMe

    Fortunately never tasted a school dinner, went home to eat, and it was a gigantic repast, the main meal of the day, which my poor mother had spent all morning preparing. Regret how having never expressed any appreciation to my mother when alive.
    Father came home from work for a two hour break and the family sat round the table for the 3/4 courses. I knew all about school dinners however and threatened being banished to them, the ultimate action in parental discipline. Oh the horror, forced to swallow lumpy tapioca pudding.

    • manonthebus

      Father with a two-hour lunch break! Presumably your father was self-employed or ran his own business.

      • MichtyMe

        No employed, left work to arrive home at noon and departed at two to return having grandly eaten, read the paper and a snooze in the armchair. A long time ago, in the past, that foreign land where things were done differently.

  • anyfool

    This is Labour being paid back in its own coinage, the SNP is now the real Labour party in Scotland and regardless of the vote this year, will continue to rule Scotland for the foreseeable future.
    Cameron seems to have played a blinder, although its doubtful if he is aware of it, keeping out of the fray he has left Labour to fight for the union, the core vote of the SNP about 30% will never vote Labour for a long time, regardless of how the independence vote goes.

  • Saint Steve

    I hope you’re ready for the cybernats!!!

    • Rev. Stuart Campbell


  • Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “a Labour amendment that removed all references to childcare provision post-independence and concentrated solely on the free meals policy.”

    It wasn’t quite as innocent and apolitical as you make it sound. The amendment wittered on about how any reduction in child poverty was Labour’s work.

    • DougDaniel

      I was about to write that exact same thing!

      Also, it’s misleading to say the SNP are following a coalition policy – the SNP have been in favour of free school meals for P1 – P3 since 2007, when they introduced a pilot project (Labour played politics with that one too). If the SNP can be accused of following anybody’s lead, it’s the SSP, who have always been strong proponents of free school meals.

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