Scotland moves left – Tories rejoice?

One of the more amusing developments since last Thursday’s elections – other than Violet Elizabeth Dale’s ‘thcweam, and thcweam and thcwaem until I’m thick’ routine in the face of the media’s stolid insistence on reporting the facts of the election results (no Tory breakthrough) rather than the Tory hype – has been the growing perplexity in Scottish Tory blogging circles at what, exactly, the SNP’s marginal ‘victory’ actually means for Scotland.
Rather than face up to a harsh reality – that the majority of the Scottish electorate are still a long way from ever forgiving the Tories for Thatcher’s use of Scotland as political petrie dish by imposing the still hated poll tax North of the border 12 months before unsuccessfully trying to stick it to everyone else – the eyes of Scottish Torydom have been firmly focussed on how this latest election might impact on the party’s fortunes South of the border. What mattered in this election was only that Labour were defeated North of the border, foisting on Gordon Brown the unhealthy prospect of starting his own premiership with a political civil-war on his own doorstep and never mind the kind of policies that the people of Scotland were actually voting for.

Little wonder, then, that the Tories actually ended up by losing a seat in the Scottish Parliament rather than making any gains out of the unpopularity of the Labour-Lib Dem coalition.

Time for a reality check.

As regards the actual results of the election, Labour lost four seats, the Tories and Lib Dems lost one each and the SNP gained 20 seats, the majority of which came from the complete collapse of the Scottish Socialist Party, which failed to contest the constituency section at all.

Scottish Socialist Party? Yeah, exactly – the vast bulk of the SNP’s gains came directly from the SSP’s vote of four years ago both in terms of the number of seats gained and their percentage share of the poll. What the result of the Scottish poll means is not that there’s a groundswell of support for independence but that Scotland moved to the left – the SNP gained seats largely because Labour has not been left-wing enough in government to benefit from the SSP’s almost complete meltdown.

If the numbers alone aren’t convincing enough then perhaps one should look at the SNP’s manifesto – yeah sure we all know about the whole referendum on independence thing, but what else were the SNP promising by way of actual policies?

Interestingly, or perhaps amusingly – the SNP’s election manifesto page includes versions in English & Gaelic plus Polish, Urdu and Cantonese and even an ‘easy read’ version (pdf), which I’ll reproduce here and which, perhaps, says much about both expectations North of the border and the chaos that resulted in 100,000 spoiled ballot papers – figures from 2001 indicate that around 16% of the Scottish electorate may be functionally illiterate, having a reading ability at or below the level expected of an 11 year old entering secondary school, which seems likely to be both a factor in the huge number of spoiled ballots entered during the election as well as being no great surprise to the SNP. Why else would they go to the trouble of producing a ‘Janet and John’ manifesto full of Janet and Janet policies.

Seriously – this is the text of the SNP’s easy read manifesto – see what you think… especially if you’re a Tory.

On May 3 Scotland will choose a new government.

The SNP is working hard to earn the trust of the people of Scotland. We have a good chance of winning this election and becoming the next government of Scotland.

This is our manifesto for the elections. It tells you about some of our ideas to make Scotland more successful.

For starters, doesn’t this just take the notion of ‘dumbing down’ politics to new depths.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the target demographic is for this manifesto and the only real surprise one gets if one looks at the PDF original is the lack of pictures.

This is what we will do if we are elected.

Scrap the council tax

Council tax is a tax that people pay to their local council. The SNP thinks that the council tax is not fair. It is too expensive for people who don’t have a lot of money like pensioners.

Democracy is, I know, supposed to be fully inclusive, but fuck me, can one have any confidence whatsoever in a democratic process that has to stoop to communicating at this level to get its message across.

It’s time to have a fairer system.

An SNP government will abolish the council tax.

We will replace it with a fairer local income tax which is based on ability to pay. That means that people will only have to pay what they can afford.

Most families and individuals will be better off. Over half a million pensioners will pay nothing.

It will be simpler for people to pay the tax. It will cost less to administer.

The problem with a local income tax, as was pointed out when the Lib Dems tried the same policy at the last election only for a rather tired and careworn Chatshow Charlie to fuck them over by his complete inability to explain how it worked, is that the poorest local government areas struggle under a double whammy – low incomes and levels of poverty mean that they generate the lowest local income tax receipts despite requiring the greatest amounts of expenditure on services.

Taxation is not a zero-sum game – if most people are going to be better off and 500,000 pensioners will pay nothing then some else, somewhere, has to pick up the tab for all this, either by paying more tax or by cuts in services. As is now obligatory, the SNP parade reduced administration costs as if this is where they’ll square off the deal – this is utter rubbish.

The cheapest local taxation model to administer is one that is no redistributive between areas – tax is both collected and spent locally with council expenditure pegged to the revenue it can raise locally. This doesn’t work simply because needs for expenditure are greatest where capacity for generating revenue is least, hence the need to introduce a ‘middle man’ to collect the revenues into a central pool for redistribution based on need and not the amounts of income generated – this is where bureaucracy gets it foothold and bumps up the administration costs.

The core taxation package promised by the SNP is replacement of council tax with a 3% local income tax and a £500 ‘cashback’ payment to pensioners, plus a rebate on business rates for small businesses and eventual reduction of corporation tax rates to 20%. from which they intend to fund a massive programme of social investment, as evident in the next part of their Janet and John guide to SNP policy.

More police on the streets

There is too much crime and bad behaviour in some places. This makes some people afraid to walk down the street.

People would feel safer with more police on the streets.

An SNP government will employ 1000 more community police officers. This would help make people feel safer.

So… pretty much every party promises more police when an election is in the offing – the key thing is here is 1000 more police means, what? What’s an average Bobby on the beat cost these days?

Salary-wise, you’re looking at 22-23K on average in terms of salary plus another 2-2.5 K employer’s NI. Then there’s the running costs, overtime, training costs, plus all the admin and bureaucracy…

You’re looking at the thick end of a £40-50 million increase in policing budgets as a minimum spend.

Sometimes people behave badly because they have had too much to drink. The SNP will stop shops selling drink at really cheap prices. Selling cheap drink just encourages people to get drunk and get into trouble.

Tsk… Tories living in Salmond’s socialist paradise won’t even be able to drown their sorrows on the cheap either…

Education

Children do better in school when they are in small classes.

Being in a small class means that children can have more time with their teacher.

It is very important for young children to have time with their teacher when they are learning to read and write and add up.

The SNP will make sure that children in Primary 1, Primary 2 and Primary 3 are taught in classes of 18 or less.

Preschool is also important. An SNP government will give children more free nursery education. All 3 and 4 year olds will be able to have a half day at nursery for free.
Anyone any idea how much this lot is likely to cost? No? Nor, it seems, does the SNP who make no effort at all to explain how they’ll pay for all this.

Some children need extra help to learn. It is very important that teachers understand about things like autism and dyslexia.

Like what we do by producing manifestos like this one…

Going to university

Going to university is too expensive. People leave university with an average debt of £11,000. The SNP thinks this is unfair.

We will make going to university free.

Students will not have to pay any fees. We will bring in student grants instead of student loans. People who live in Scotland and owe money to the Student Loan Company won’t have to pay any more.

This will mean that people can go into university without having to worry about getting into debt.

Any Scottish Tories reading this starting to wonder about what it’ll cost to move South yet?

Health

The SNP will keep local hospitals open. We won’t shut any more local Accident and Emergency departments or maternity units.

We will bring in a new individual waiting time guarantee. We believe your doctor should decide how long you wait for an operation. An SNP government will make sure that happens.

So doctors will decide how long you’ll wait for an operation but there will also be a universal waiting time guarantee?

Does that sound like a bunch of ‘have your cake and eat it’ bollocks to you?

We will scrap prescription charges. It is not fair that people who are ill have to pay for their medicine.

We will make sure that disabled people can choose how they are cared for by using direct payments.

We will also spend more money to help carers. We will improve services to help carers. We will pay for more respite care.

I think I’ll leave it there for the moment.. there is more but maybe the key thing for Tories to note is that when they’re not writing manifestos for the illterate, what the SNP are talking about is much the same kind of Scandinavian-model social-democratic system that Polly Toynbee thinks is the dog’s bollocks.

And that, dear Scottish Tories, is what you’ve got for the next four years, should Salmond manage to pull together anything approaching a functional coalition government.

Feeling quite so cheerful now?

11 thoughts on “Scotland moves left – Tories rejoice?

  1. Being pedantic I know, but that should be Nordic, not Scandinavian and it’s not far from the dogs bollocks of a system, not once you’ve experienced living in it anyway.

  2. Sounds like the best thing for the other parties to do is to let the SNP have their government. If their manifesto pledges are so ill thought out then it wont be long before they collapse in an utter mess and perhaps that will kill them of as a political force for a generation at least. Unfortunately it means living with the mess for a year or two but maybe it would be worth it in the long run.

  3. You do know that the Labour Party did an “Easy Reading” version of their manifesto at the last election, don’t you? I don’t know if any of the other parties did, but it’s not just a tactic of the SNP.

    Other than that one pedantic detail, keep up the good work.

  4. A quick google reveals that the Tories did an Easy Read version of the 2005 Manifesto [http://www.conservatives.com/pdf/manifesto-05-easyread.pdf – set in comic sans as well aaaaaargh].

    And I wanted to ask about your final paragraph – “writing manifestos for the illterate” Since there were versions of (for example) the 2005 Labour Manifesto availiable for people with no sight, or restricted sight, and a DVD with a sign language version of the text for those with hearing difficulties…..why not a version for those with reading difficulties?

  5. The thing with so-called ‘easy read’ manifestos is that they walk you headlong into a complex philosophical question about the nature of democracy – specifically that of to what extent one should value informed choice.

    Having worked with a learning disabilities organisation to support them to become a limited company and registered charity in which the organisation’s members – all of whom have learning disabilities – comprise the majority of its board, I know first hand just how much time and effort was required to ensure both that they fully understood the responsibilities they were taking on and were clear about what accepting those responsibilities entailed and how much support is required over the long term to ensure that they remain able to exercise informed choices when taking decisions.

    Simply slapping out a Janet and John manifesto might seem to satisfy basic requirement for inclusivity and non-discrimination, but in reality its actually the worst possible option for its intended readers, who get a dramatically oversimplified string of messages with insufficient information and support to permit them to consider what those message might mean.

    In short, if you real want to include people with limited intellectual capabilities in the democratic process then what you need to do is take considerable more time of explaining things and working through the implications of policy with them than you would the rest of electorate – reading does equal understanding, and its understanding that matters.

    For all the democratic value contained in these ‘easy read’ manifestos you might as well just show them pictures of the party leaders and ask them vote for the one they most like the look of – in fact, I know from people who’ve worked in polling stations at general elections that that’s precise what they’ve done on occasions on being confronted with a voter with little or no English or who cannot read sufficiently to navigate the ballot paper.

  6. To illustrate the point, the SNPs manifesto states that:

    The SNP will stop shops selling drink at really cheap prices. Selling cheap drink just encourages people to get drunk and get into trouble.

    Will it really reduce the problem?

    The Russians tried it a while back by hiking a massive surcharge on the cheapest 25-30 brands of vodka.

    This actually had two basic effects:

    1. Sales of the next cheapest brands of vodka – those just outside the tax surcharge – rocketed, and

    2. There was a massive increase in the availability of home-distilled ‘hooch’ some of which turned out to be particular nasty and dangerous due to the inclusion of old favourites like anti-freeze in the mix.

    The Russian policy didn’t reduce alcohol problems, it merely shifted the profits around a bit and created more short-term health problems as a consequence of all the shitty and dangerous home-brew that was taking up the slack in the market.

    What are the chances that the SNP took the time to explain that to readers of its ‘easy read’ manifesto?

  7. Thanks for the considered reply, I agree that there is a massive difference between producing an Easy Read manifesto and helping those with learning disadvantages to understand what their vote entails and what it is worth.

    And on your second point I’m a little surprised that the SNP manifesto said anything more detailed than “English = bad”, Easy Read version or not.

  8. As well as the Russian issue, if you up the prices of booze, people will find a cheaper way to get fucked off their faces. Pills are quite cheap – certainly once you put a surcharge on ale…

  9. On the drink issue. When did tax policy get devolved? I can’t see how they’re going to be able to deliver on the pledge, particularly as the Treasury keep on saying no to calls for increasing the tax on alcohol.

  10. In paragraph 12 don’t you mean that tax is a zero sum game? A zero sum game is one where somebody has to lose for someone to gain (like this tax). A non-zero sum game is one where everybody gains (free market exchanges), or everybody looses (certain forms of taxation). Just pointing it out because it detracts from your otherwise spot on arguments.

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