Author Archives: John Knox

Paying for Social Care

The current crisis in the NHS should be persuading us to re-consider the idea of a 10 per cent retirement levy to pay for social care. Everyone knows that bed- blocking is at the root of the over-crowding in our hospitals and the long waits for ambulances and in accident and emergency departments. But “delayed discharge” cannot be solved without more resources in home care and nursing homes. Massively more resources.

The lack of political courage over this issue is shameful, from all parties. Back in 2011, the Dilmot Report called for something to be done. Since then, Andy Burnham’s attempt to introduce a 10 per cent retirement levy was abandoned, even by his own Labour Party. It was ignored by the Coalition. Theresa May and Boris Johnson made various suggestions but quickly backed away from them. And Rishi Sunak thinks that by spooning out a little more money for the NHS will solve the problem.

The issue is much bigger than that, with Britain’s population aging as fast as it is. Age UK reckons we need £10bn a year extra to fund a National Care Service similar to the NHS. To raise that kind of money, we need a radical solution. An obvious source of money is a tax on wealth, and most pensioners have plenty of it.

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Open letter to the Scottish Conference – don’t turn right

It may be tempting for the Liberal Democrats to move to the right to capture support from Conservative voters following the collapse of their party at Westminster.  But let’s not do that.  Remember what happened the last time we moved in with the Tories – years of austerity and near oblivion for our party.

Instead we should see the opportunity presented by the Conservatives’ collapse as a chance to become the party of new ideas.  Ideas like decentralisation, green growth and an economy which is an equal partnership between the government and independent organisations.  Successful modern economies across Europe are moving towards a 50/50 relationship between the state and commercial companies, social enterprises and charities.

The Truss government proved once and for all that the “low tax, high growth” model does not work. Even the financial markets don’t believe in it any more.

We need to shake off the nostalgic picture we have of Britain as a manufacturing and exporting country.  We are a service-based economy. Manufacturing only accounts for 10 per cent of our national income, exports account for only a third, and most of those are services, such as finance, insurance, scientific expertise, education and tourism.

We should expose the Tory myth that foreign investment, or indeed any commercial investment, is the key to growth.  Companies will only invest if there is a demand for their products or services and that depends on enough people having enough spending power. Tax rates are only a consideration once you have made a profit.

And while we are at it, let’s destroy another Tory myth, that the only way to tackle poverty is by growing the economy.  We could just divide up the existing cake more fairly.

In short, the Liberal Democrats should become the party that tells the truth.

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Being serious about Council services

In the run-up to the Council elections in Scotland in May, can I suggest that the Liberal Democrats offer voters a real solution to the shortfall in Council budgets which has had such a devastating effect on local services.

We should be campaigning for a realignment of the council tax bands to bring them into line with the market value of houses and asking people in all bands, except the lowest, to pay more.  This would be a relatively simple and fair way to raise the extra £250m the Councils say they need just to keep services as they are.   

Before the Scottish Government published its budget, COSLA the local councils umbrella organisation, called for an increase in their funding by £1bn, just to stand still, and preferably a £1.6bn increase to “thrive.”  The budget did indeed give them an extra £1bn, or a 6 per cent increase, but it did not include money for wage increases or increases in National Insurance or the increasing  demand for services (eg home care). It left them £370m short.

Last month, in the final budget statement, the finance secretary Kate Forbes, found an extra £120m.  She suggested this was equivalent of a 4 per cent rise in council tax, hinting there was no need for councils to increase taxes in an election year.  This is an attempt to go back to the old SNP policy of freezing council tax which has led to years of unnecessary austerity in local services.    

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Let’s all agree on a federal plan

The Liberal Democrats may favour a federal Britain, but it would be so much more persuasive if all the Unionist parties could come together to agree on a specific proposal to put before the Scottish electorate in any independence referendum. There are moves afoot to achieve this, with Conservative and Labour heavyweights Michael Gove and Gordon Brown cautiously circling around the issue like two Sumo wrestlers.

They might come up with a plan for more devolution to stem the tide of support for independence in Scotland. Or, if Gordon Brown gets his way, they might go further and consider some sort of federal arrangement. Moreover, if all this seems to be just a “Scottish problem” to people living in England or Wales or Northern Ireland, think what we are missing: the chance to reform our centralised British state and build a modern democracy.

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A sensible strategy for the Scottish election

The Liberal Democrats should be able to prosper mightily in the Scottish parliamentary election on 6th May. But only if we stop attacking the SNP.

The SNP are unassailable. They are riding at over 55 per cent in the opinion polls, boosted by Nicola Sturgeon’s impressive performance in the Covid-19 emergency. And by next spring, they will be able to surf the wave of anger over Brexit and the expected surge in unemployment.

The Nationalists will blame the Johnson government for all the problems and the lack of resources to tackle them. In that they are quite right and it would be counter-productive for the Lib Dems to take a different tack. It’s misleading and dishonest to suggest the Scottish government can fix our schools and hospitals, and the potholes in the roads, with the austerity budgets they’ve been given by Westminster. Yes, the SNP could put up taxes to raise more funds but not by a significant amount.

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Five big ideas for the new post-COVID world

Although we are still in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, radical political parties like ours should be beginning to think about the brave new world that, hopefully, will emerge from this catastrophe.  I offer five policy suggestions, some of them familiar, some of them new, all of them more revolutionary than you think: –
– a citizen’s wage at £2,500 a month;
– a charge for using natural capital;
– ending the triple lock on pensions;
– bridging the divide between the NHS and the care sector; and
– re-empowering local government.

Support for the citizen’s wage is growing now that even the Conservatives have discovered it’s affordable. The idea is very Keynesian, to keep demand in the economy high so that jobs are sustained, and firms encouraged to invest. Moreover, please, can we remember that services form by far the largest part of our economy and consumer demand is key to creating jobs. A straight payment of, say £2,500 a month to everyone whose income is below that amount is a fair and simple replacement for Universal Credit.

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The road to redemption – a Lib Dem manifesto

With a new leader comes a new beginning.  Here are some thoughts.  Liberal Democrats need to make a more positive case for staying in the European Union and address the fears of those who backed Brexit.  We should argue for a real end to “austerity” which involves being honest about the government borrowing more and taxing more.  We need to make the polluters pay for the damage they are causing to the environment. And we should re-invigorate local government, and local services, by returning to a realistic level of council tax.

Yes, some of these suggestions will be unpopular but it is better to be unpopular and right than to be popular and wrong.  Let’s just be brave. We were brave over a second EU referendum and now it’s a widely held position and may even come to pass.

On Brexit, we should be trying to bring the country together again after the shambles of the last three years.  Immigration is clearly a worry for many English cities.  European regulation is resented by many businesses.  Some European court rulings are hard to take.  People fear a Federation of Europe dominated by a corrupt elite.  We need to address these concerns by saying: of course Europe is not perfect but we can reform it from within. There are other countries in Europe who feel the same way.

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New thinking on job creation


One of the big challenges of our time is to provide work for all those who need it, work which is useful, fulfilling and which pays enough to live on. And although the British economy is creating around half a million jobs (net) a year, many of them do not satisfy those simple criterion.

The need for good quality jobs will increase as the population increases and working careers get longer, yet hardly anyone is thinking about where these jobs are to come from.  Government departments, unions and think-tanks tend to concentrate on where jobs have been created in the past or predicting where they may come in the future, or on skills training or how to improve conditions for those already in work. The private sector seems to regard jobs as a by-product, a necessary evil in the process of making a profit, and in the public sector the government wants to cut as many jobs as possible to save tax-payers’ money.  No one is actively looking at areas where new and worthwhile jobs can be created and how to do it.

Let me be bold and suggest six sectors where this might be done, in what I call the “infinite industries” ie where there is no limit to the amount of production that can be done: education, health, energy, environment, sport and the arts.

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What the Scottish Liberal Democrats should be saying in 2016

The Liberal Democrat manifesto for the Scottish elections this spring needs to be a cracker or we will not be noticed, even by the 5 per cent of voters who are thinking of supporting us.  So let me suggest a list of radical ideas.

First, we should be arguing for a 3p rise in income tax to raise around £1bn for public services.  Just about every day there is an example of our schools, colleges, health and care services, social work departments, police and fire brigades, libraries, sports fields etc. being short of money.  And George Osborne is only half way through his austerity programme.  This constant cutting has to end and we should be honest with people and say we all need to pay more in tax to halt this drastic decline in our public services. And while on the subject of income tax, we should say that from next year onwards (when Scotland gets its new powers) those earning over £60,000 a year should pay income tax at 50 per cent, so raising another £100m for public services.

Of course, extra funding should not be pumped into these public services without constant reform. The funding should be targeted….on struggling schools, poor communities, on preventive medicine not expensive treatments for the very old.     

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Opinion: Going it alone

BRITAIN POLITICS UK ELECTION CAMERON BECOMES PMAs the new year dawns there’s much press speculation about when the Liberal Democrats are going to cut and run from the Coalition and start campaigning for the next election.  At some point, of course, we are going to have to do this but having given an undertaking that we would work with the Tories for five years, that point I think should be quite late. But what we can do now is much more exciting.

We should declare that at the end of this coalition we shall not be entering into any further coalitions, either with the Tories or with Labour.  And we should do this as soon as possible.   We need to end this single-question politics of which way will the Liberal Democrats jump after the next election.  This would allow us to get on with explaining our policies and winning back our support.

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