I understand from your letter to Tom Harris MP that you are planning to vote SNP in the general election. As your SNP candidate in Glasgow South I’m obviously pleased to hear this.
In your letter to Mr Harris you wrote that the SNP will “work towards improving the lives of the poor, vulnerable and ordinary working people.” You are absolutely right.
The Scottish National Party is ensuring that an alternative agenda is on offer to the Scottish people – and arguably the people of the whole United Kingdom – from that which is on offer at the moment. We believe that the choice of further austerity being imposed by either Mr Miliband or Mr Cameron is a false choice, and fails to recognise the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people.
You may have noticed that, just last week, Nicola Sturgeon outlined that the SNP wants a very modest increase of 0.5% in public spending across the UK – which would free up £180bn to invest in infrastructure, jobs and services – and still see a reduction in the country’s deficit to a stable average. This is the sort of policy which many would traditionally expect Labour to advocate, rather than snub and stick to the Westminster consensus on austerity.
Mr Harris states in his letter that the SNP is opposed to the reintroduction of the 50p rate of tax for high earners. This is false. The Scottish Government has made it clear that if it had the power to do so right now (which it doesn’t) then it would be minded to reintroduce the 50p rate. It’s worth noting, however, that when a vote on this was called in the House of Commons in 2012, Labour MPs did not turn up to vote against the abolition of the 50p rate.
I would also like to touch on the point that Mr Harris makes about Labour’s proposed mansion tax on properties worth over £2m. This would have almost no effect in Scotland, as there aren’t many properties which would qualify for paying the additional tax, making it almost meaningless in a Scottish context. However, what Mr Harris failed to point out was that the SNP government have introduced a much more progressive Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT). This means that homes in Scotland worth over £1m will now pay £78,300 in tax, as opposed to the previous £50,000, and homes at £400,000 will pay £17,000 rather than £12,000 in tax. This is a progressive system which is designed to suit the housing market in Scotland, and ensures that those with the broadest shoulders contribute more to the tax take here in Scotland. This is markedly better than Labour’s mansion tax, which is designed to apply to London and the South East.
Mr Harris makes reference to the SNP’s position on banker’s bonuses – something that our group in the European Parliament have been working hard on and with some success – and he’s right to suggest that a tax on banker’s bonuses can be used to help people into work. However there are two observations that I would make at this stage. The bonus culture which has corrupted our banking system was allowed to happen unwatched by Labour when they were in office. In fact, the man who Labour wish to install into the treasury – Ed Balls – was Labour’s City Minister when corporate greed was running riot. It would perhaps be unwise to take Labour’s outrage on this at face value.
My second observation is on helping young people in to work. The SNP in government have, only last week, announced that they are well on track to deliver their commitment to 25,000 new apprenticeship places – in fields ranging from life sciences, tourism and engineering – with 78% of that target already met. More than half of the 19,517 new apprentices are aged between 16 and 19. Astonishingly, Labour voted against this policy in the Scottish Parliament at every turn.
I realise that Mr Harris is not a member of the Scottish Parliament, and so he might not be quite up to speed on what his colleagues in Holyrood are up to. However it’s clear that Labour have reduced themselves to opposing SNP arguments for the sake of it, rather than putting forward serious and costed policy options. Labour claim to have the answer with bus regulation, but they have failed to identify where the money would come from to implement a policy which would undoubtedly put strain on public finances elsewhere. Instead, the SNP Government invest around a quarter of a billion pounds in Scotland’s bus infrastructure.
The perfect example of opposition politics for the sake of it would be Labour’s response to the new rail franchise. The Scottish Parliament does not have the power to nationalise the railways, and Labour didn’t make any moves to give us that power when they set the parliament up or when they were in power. So it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to get the best deal possible for Scottish tax-payers and rail users.
The new rail franchise includes clauses on cheaper fares between cities; reduced fares for those out of work; wifi on all trains; an increase in carriage numbers; no compulsory redundancies for Scotrail staff; a living wage guarantee for all staff and sub-contractors; the protection of pensions and travel rights for staff; 100 new apprenticeship places and trade union representation at board meetings. This is the kind of rail franchise that Labour ought to be welcoming. Written all over it is the sign of a government that puts people – rail users and staff – at the heart of public procurement. By contrast Labour has opted for opposition for the sake of it. This is not serious politics.
The SNP are indeed focused on “improving the lives of the poor, vulnerable and ordinary working people.” I make no apology for that and I’m proud to stand in this election on the back of a strong record in government over these past eight years.
I do not have, as Mr Harris asserts in his letter, a hatred of the Labour Party. Suggesting this only goes to show that he does not understand where Scottish politics has moved on to.
It’s no wonder that so many people are viewing the general election in a totally new light and, like you, are planning to vote SNP. No longer are people in Scotland just thinking about who they want to form the next Westminster government; because who forms that government in Westminster is becoming increasingly irrelevant. What people in Scotland want is to make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard at Westminster. So as well as offering voters an alternative to the consensus on austerity, we offer something that Labour can’t: We will always speak up for, and act in the interest of, the people of Scotland.
I appreciate your support, John. And I hope to get the support of many more people in your community so that, together, we can change British politics forever.
SNP Candidate for Glasgow South