In his speech to Scottish Labour’s final conference before next May’s elections to Holyrood, Ed Miliband declared “Labour’s fight back has begun”, but what have we learnt from the weekend on Oban? First, these’s no love lost between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, with Miliband's deputy Harriet Harman calling Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander a “ginger rodent”.
In his speech to Scottish Labour’s final conference before next May’s elections to Holyrood, Ed Miliband declared “Labour’s fight back has begun”, but what have we learnt from the weekend on Oban? First, these’s no love lost between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, with Miliband’s deputy Harriet Harman calling Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander a “ginger rodent”.
Whilst Harman’s spokeswoman later apologised for the remark, the serious point is whether, given such language, Labour would prefer to coalition with the Lib Dems or to rule as a minority government, were they unable to form a majority.
Across Scotland, Labour plans to fight the government to ensure the cuts are made fairly. Talking to delegates in Oban, shadow work and pensions secretary Douglas Alexander warned 40,000 people across Scotland would feel the impact of the cuts to Housing Benefit, adding:
“Of course we need to deal with the deficit but you make that task harder when you decide to do it by dumping people onto the dole and holding back economic growth.”
“They think if government gets out of the way, the big society will miraculously spring up… The Big Society is one big fig leaf for an old pessimistic idea – that people do better on their own.”
However, it was Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray’s speech, made on Saturday, that was the most eagerly anticipated of the weekend. He faced two key tests – to show that he was ready to take on Alex Salmond and become first minister, and to set out a vision for the kind of Scotland he wanted to lead.
• A “zero tolerance of illiteracy” with newly qualified teachers unable to find work invited to provide one-to-one tuition;
• Establishing a national care service;
• A living wage of £7.15 an hour for all public sector workers as well as using procurement contracts to ensure it applies to private sector contractors;
• Ministers to take a 5% pay cut under his leadership, leading the way in the pay restraint being faced by public sector workers;
• Reducing the number of health boards, describing as “daft” each health board having its own IT systems;
• A new guarantee that every 16 and 17 year old will be given a place in work, education or training, with every qualified school lever who wants to being offered an apprenticeship.
Dubbing SNP proposals to make savings by reducing the number of Scottish police forces as “timid”, Gray added:
“I believe the time has come for a national police force, but with strengthened accountability for local policing. We can save headquarter costs, protect frontline policing – we should have a national fire and rescue service too.”
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“He called me the invisible man. But Scotland sees right through you Alex Salmond… Alex Salmond. He has to go.”