Tag Archives: Scottish Labour

What’s So Anti-Scottish about Free Education?

A clear sign of Scottish Labour’s gradual drift towards Tory type thinking was posted yesterday in Johann Lamont’s speech to mark her first anniversary as leader of the party:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/political-news/lamont-calls-for-an-end-to-free-tuition-at-university.19706720

Her general point is the obvious one, which Cameron and Osborne have never tired of ramming home, that the policy of free universal services is unsustainable in the current economic climate.

Perhaps that is the case, but they always omit to say that the current economic climate includes horrendous sums of money wasted every year on unnecessary and illegal wars, and the vast amounts of revenue lost by turning a blind-eye to multinational organisations choosing not to pay their share in corporation tax. Not to mention the unforgivable betrayal of Scotland’s future that occurred when the decision was taken not to set up an Oil Fund.

Lamont develops her point by arguing that persisting with the unaffordable policy of free higher education has been made possible at the expense of significant cuts to the further education sector, which has in turn created huge inequalities between Colleges and Universities.

So whereas Lamont claims that the policy of free higher education in Scotland is being paid for by the college sector, others might feel justified in countering that claim with the reminder that there would have been no need to reduce spending on education at all, had successive Conservative and Labour governments in Westminster not chosen to squander substantial sums of money elsewhere.

The most troubling part of her position is the manner in which her argument progresses from the economic sustainability concern to an attack on the fairness of free education, when graduates are said to expect higher earnings over their lifetime compared to non-graduates. Free education is either fair or it isn’t, regardless how much money self-helping politicians have thrown to the wind.

And perhaps the most baffling part of her position is the contention that the Scottish Government’s policy of free education is anti-Scottish. It is difficult to understand exactly what this is supposed to mean. How can it be anti-Scottish to promote a principle that has been distinctively Scottish for generations?

In his St Andrew’s Day message, Alex Salmond commented:

“Scotland is proud of its history of invention and discovery. We actually invented quite a bit of the modern world, from the telephone, to television to penicillin to beta blockers. However, perhaps – actually certainly – our greatest invention of all, the one that made all of the others possible, was the invention of universal free education.”

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It Wasn’t Needed Then…

It is interesting to consider whether an independent country would make the decision to give up its political and economic autonomy today, because it believed that it would become stronger and more prosperous as a result?

Scottish Labour Leader, Johann Lamont, believes that Scotland would do exactly that.

She claims that had Scotland already been an independent country, we would be seeking the type of political, economic and social union that we currently have as part of the United Kingdom.

Lamont supports this claim with the argument that being part of the United Kingdom enabled Scotland to weather one of the worst economic crises of our lifetime when the banking sector collapsed.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-18271392

The implication is that had Scotland been an independent country at the time, exactly the opposite scenario would have occurred. It would not have been able to survive the banking collapse and economic ruin would have been the result.

Whilst I completely respect her right to believe in Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom, I think it is disingenuous to be told that Scotland only avoided complete economic collapse by virtue of its union with the United Kingdom.

This seems to be a key argument used in favour of the Union, among many other similar ones. Yet it was the UK Government’s deregulation strategy that ultimately led us to the point of collapse in the first place. It wasn’t a policy set in Scotland and the Scottish Government had no control over it.

Furthermore I think it is outrageous to suggest that an independent country would make the choice today to surrender its economic and political autonomy to another country, just because certain individuals harboured an unsubstantiated belief that it would be stronger as a result.

As it happens, I think it is an equally unsubstantiated belief that becoming an independent country would make Scotland a wealthier country and create more opportunities for its people. Otherwise both sides of the debate would have clearly set out their stalls. But they haven’t, because they can’t.

There is very little to be gained by rehearsing the same rhetoric over and over again. It is all about creating hope on the one hand and stirring up fear on the other. We know the facts of the matter regarding the current arrangement and many people will understandably take comfort in that.

But I think there is much more to be gained by simply asking the question whether you believe that your country should have the right to determine its own future and whether you want to take responsibility for that, or whether you are content with this responsibility remaining with others.

To return to the original question: it is one thing to suggest that an independent country would seek strong links with other countries in order to strengthen its position in the global economy. That is perfectly standard practice.

But it is another thing entirely to suggest that had Scotland already been an independent country, it would actively seek to give up its right to make its own decisions, because of a misleading and completely unsupportable notion that it could not survive on its own.

Johann Lamont obviously makes this suggestion in defending what she believes is best for Scotland’s future.

But in fact, this way of thinking simply takes us back three hundred years.

It wasn’t needed then, and it isn’t needed now.

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