Engagements

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 June 2013.

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Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

1. To ask the First Minister what engagements he has planned for the rest of the day. (S4F-01437)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Later today, I will have meetings to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Is Aberdeen Donside the only place in Scotland that will not benefit from independence? Is that why neither the First Minister nor his candidate are mentioning the I-word there?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The Labour Party fought a by-election in Glasgow North East under the campaign issue that the Scottish National Party was neglecting Glasgow and giving lots of money to Aberdeen, but it is now fighting desperately to defend its appalling track record in the administration of Aberdeen City Council by suggesting that the SNP is giving money to Glasgow but not to Aberdeen. If only the internet had not been invented, this Labour campaign might have been successful.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Yes—but the First Minister is not talking about independence when he is in Aberdeen, although he spends all his life talking about it everywhere else. Is not it the case that the First Minister does not mention independence in Aberdeen because his case is falling apart? His economic advisers—with or without Nobel prizes—say that it is rubbish. Joe Stiglitz says that the First Minister’s corporation tax policy will not work and Jim and Margaret Cuthbert say that his idea of independence is not independence at all.

John Swinney is exiled for saying in private—

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Well, we live in hope—[Interruption.]

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We live in hope that John Swinney will say in public what he has said to his Cabinet colleagues in private. If we remember, he said that an independent Scotland might not be able to afford the state pension—

Members: No!

He did say it. He did not say it to you, but he did say it. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Order. Speak through the chair, please.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

John Swinney said in public that the SNP cannot say what currency the state pension would be paid in if we had one. Is not it the case that, although independence is the First Minister’s passion, every time there is an election, it becomes the love that dares not speak its name?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

First, I will introduce Johann Lamont to John Swinney. John Swinney, Johann Lamont. Johann Lamont, John Swinney.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

John Swinney is, apparently, not in exile—unlike the Labour candidate for Aberdeen Donside, who after his first television interview, when he suggested that he wants the right to increase the council tax in Aberdeen, which already has the highest council tax in Scotland, was exiled from television interviews, in case he repeated the gaffe.

The case for independence is articulated in terms of the economic progress and social justice that independence will bring to the people of Scotland. Unfortunately, the Labour Party—today of all days, and this week of all weeks—is in no position to talk about social justice, because it is tearing up its opposition to the Tory party’s welfare reforms, I presume so that Alistair Darling will feel more comfortable at the Tory conference this weekend. [Laughter.] Let us hear no more “something for nothing” rhetoric from Johann Lamont.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

That went down well. [Laughter.] That was an astonishing response from a First Minister who is to the right of George Osborne in giving cuts to big business. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Order. There is far too much noise in the chamber.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The last time I noticed, the First Minister was still saying that he would cut corporation tax by three points more than George Osborne, and he is the only person—he is unique in the whole United Kingdom—who, on the one hand, is offering tax cuts, but is saying that we will continue, on the other hand, to spend in the same way in public expenditure. That is simply not credible, and everyone knows it.

The First Minister’s campaign started with a day at the cinema. A year on, he is going to the zoo. In our hearts, all of us know that his campaign is going nowhere. Scotland has a lot of sympathy for the panda, Sweetie. We know what it is to reject the unwanted advances of a big beast with only one thing on its mind.

We also know that the Government has its priorities all wrong. That is why Mark McDonald asked more questions in Parliament about Japanese knotweed than about accident and emergency services in Aberdeen. Is not it the case that the Scottish National Party will not mention independence in Aberdeen because the yes campaign is not helping Alex Salmond to get his yes man back into Holyrood?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

It is better to do the punchline at the end of the question rather than in the middle of it.

I want to read something to Johann Lamont.

“The worry is this is the top of a slippery slope towards US-type system of public services for the poor only ... The attack on pensioners’ allowances leaves a big question hovering over the future of the welfare state: is it for everyone, or just for the poor?”

That was Peter Hain, this week. He was not talking about the Tory Government; he was talking about the Labour Party’s change of policy.

In a week in which even former Cabinet ministers are openly doubting Labour’s commitment to the welfare state, and on a day on which, as we are told in The Times, Ed Miliband is going to repeat Johann Lamont’s rhetoric about a “something for nothing” society, I suppose that we should be proud that Johann Lamont is leading the Labour Party across the United Kingdom to the right.

The whole focus of the SNP programme is on a something-for-something society, to hold society together—on universal benefits; on the benefit to household incomes of the council tax freeze and free prescriptions; on the benefit to students of not having to pay tuition fees; of the benefit of free personal care; and of the benefit of free transport. Those are the policies that will win in Aberdeen and across Scotland.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

That lecture would have been a little more credible if the First Minister was not the last man standing arguing for Reaganomics in this country. [Interruption.]

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The First Minister talks about his fantastic spending programme. Tell it to the would-be college student who cannot get a place. Tell it to the care worker who has a 15-minute visit on task and go. Tell it to the pensioner who cannot use their bus pass because there is no bus at all.

The fact of the matter is that, bizarrely, on the doorsteps in Aberdeen, the First Minister does not talk about the obsession that brought him into politics. When he is here, he and his ministers tell us what they cannot do until they have independence, but when they face real people, such as the people of Aberdeen, they speak about anything other than independence.

Members: No.

Oh, yes. I think that SNP members will find that that is so, and that includes their own candidate. Is not that because the First Minister knows what the people of Scotland really think about his independence obsession? Perhaps the real reason why he went to see the pandas at Edinburgh zoo this week was to find out first hand from Sunshine how to deal with rejection.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

On the question of the Labour Party’s commitment to Aberdeen, let me quote the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, Gordon Matheson. He said of the SNP in the Evening Times of 13 December:

“They have given up on Glasgow and decided to concentrate the nation’s resources on ... Aberdeen for the SNP.”

That was the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council. I know that it is a big embarrassment to Johann Lamont for people in the north-east of Scotland to be aware of the campaign that the Labour Party fronted to try to stop additional cash for the city of Aberdeen. Of course it is an embarrassment to have a Labour candidate who wants to increase people’s council tax and—from the Labour Party’s perspective—of course the new dental hospital in Aberdeen, the new emergency care centre, the green energy centre and the oil and gas academy centred in the city are embarrassments, but they are benefits that the Scottish National Party has brought to that city.

For the Labour Party across Scotland, its moving on to Tory ground on welfare policy after three years of continually attacking it at Westminster, and following the example of the “something for nothing” rhetoric in this country in Parliament from Johann Lamont, is a huge embarrassment, as Peter Hain identified.

As far as students are concerned, we have a record of number of students in higher education in Scotland. In England, there has been a collapse in student numbers because of the tuition fees policy south of the border—which Johann Lamont says is the obvious thing to introduce in Scotland.

When the excellent policies that are being pursued in Scotland and the things that are being imposed on us from Westminster are weighed in the balance, the people in Aberdeen and across Scotland will vote to mobilise this nation’s resources and the social justice that will come from an independent Scotland.