SNP “talk left but act right” says Willie Rennie in first leaders’ debate

The first leaders’ debate of the Scottish election campaign took place in Dundee this week. Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie faced SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, Conservative Alex Johnstone (standing in for leader Ruth Davidson) and Patrick Harvie.

He strongly attacked the SNP’s record, saying, according to the Evening Telegraph:

Nicola presents herself as an anti-austerity party but look at her record in comparison with George Osborne.

She wants to match him on the income tax, she wants to undercut him on air passenger duty and she is undercutting him on the council tax.

This is not an anti-austerity party, they talk left but act right. They need to match up their record with their rhetoric.

This is consistent with what he’s been saying for some time. In December, the SNP Government were forced into yet another humiliating freedom of information climbdown as they had to release a memo from Nicola Sturgeon’s poverty advisor which highlighted that the SNP’s universal benefits disproportionately helped the better off. At that time, Willie said:

It is no wonder they tried to prevent the release of this report. The verdict from the experts is in. The SNP talk about helping the poorest in society but their policies are targeted at the middle classes. The First Minister has the powers she needs to reduce the burden on people struggling to get by but her rhetoric has not been matched by her actions.

That same Government poverty advisor has suggested in a report out today that public services affecting the vulnerable should not be cut and that an end to the Council Tax Freeze should be considered. Willie commented:

This report calls for bold government action on a range of policies, including council tax, but the First Minister has already showed that her government cannot follow through.

The independent advisor says quite clearly that access to public services should not be closed off to anyone but particularly to people on low incomes. Those public services, like nurseries and schools, are provided by local authorities and are going to be the first to suffer under the SNP’s cuts.

The £1m announced by the First Minister is barely a drop in the ocean for the Scottish Government. There are immediate steps the First Minister should take to reduce poverty and inequality in Scotland, including lifting the threat of financial penalties facing local authorities if they raise council tax even by £1. But instead she is sweeping poverty under the carpet.

The First Minister’s own advisor says it’s time to consider a thaw in the council tax freeze and warns against cuts to public services. But Nicola Sturgeon has already shown that she is not listening.

Willie’s comments aren’t particularly new. Back in 2009, Tavish Scott highlighted how SNP policies like the Council Tax freeze helped the rich more than the poor. From the Herald at the time:

Mr Scott said SNP policies of freezing council tax, providing free prescriptions, free schools meals and the abolition of tolls on the Forth Road Bridge and the Tay Bridge would cost £950 million.

It would mean a two-child family on an income of £15,000 a year, which he said was the income of at least 40% of Scottish households, would only be £6 better off over a year.

The same family on an income of £100,000 would be £802 better off over a year, Mr Scott claimed.

He told the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth: “Over four years the SNP will have spent £950 million on a set of distorted priorities and hand-outs that give more to the rich than to the poor.

“This is what you find. If you have two children and earn £100,000 then you will have gained £802 per year from the SNP.

Willie also suggested that the massive Amazon warehouse in Dunfermline hadn’t delivered for the area. From the Courier:<

Willie Rennie, who represents the region at Holyrood, made the shock claim during the first leaders’ debate ahead of May’s election.

The company, which pledged to take on 750 permanent workers and employ 1,500 temporary workers at peak times such as Christmas when it opened in the kingdom, has been implicated in a series of controversies involving workers.

Mr Rennie told students at Dundee University’s Dalhousie Building: “The quality of the experience (for staff) is terrible and they (ministers) need to bring these kind of things to an end.

“I think Fife would be far better off if we had invested in home-grown industries rather than chasing tax- dodging companies.”

It’s good to see someone actually bothering about not just pay, but people’s actual experience at work. Amazon’s employment practices have been questioned before, with staff citing some pretty draconian rules.

All in all a good start from Willie. If he’s criticising the SNP’s tax plans so much we can expect some radical ideas from him when he sets out the Lib Dem stall next month.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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12 Comments

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Jan '16 - 3:28pm

    It’s certainly a good start. It’s a tough job, though. Facts don’t seem to have any relevance to what’s going on up here.

  • Jane Ann Liston 20th Jan '16 - 3:37pm

    When he was leader, Tavish made similar remarks about the wisdom or otherwise of giving money to Amazon, (and well before their imaginative tax dealings came to light), rather than small businesses. He was roundly condemned by the SNP at the time for ‘talking Dunfermline/Fife/Scotland’ down but he was right, as is Willie.

  • Talk left and act right. Couldn’t have put it better myself. They used to call the SNP the tartan tories. I think it became obvious to the SNP that they couldn’t win the independence referendum without the support of a large number of labour supporters across the central belt so they pretended to be left wing and offering a social democratic independent Scotland.

    Full fiscal autonomy would sort the SNP out, could blame it all on Westminster them…

  • Willie makes some compelling points from a radical perspective. He also happens to be a thoroughly decent bloke.

  • Tell Willie it should be #talkleft #walkright – this gives a more dynamic directional contrast to highlight SNP hypocrisy, and avoids the problem that to ‘act right’ often means to do the right thing …

  • Isn’t this a bad idea, given than Liberal Democrats are vulnerable to the attack (however accurate it may be, there is enough perception to make it stick, at least among some groups of voters) that in 2010 they ‘talked left’ in the election but then ‘acted right’ by going into government with the conservatives?

  • John Mitchell 21st Jan '16 - 3:56pm

    @Dav

    I see what you mean and no doubt the repeated attack of the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with the Conservatives at Westminster in 2010 will loom large for some time. I think it’s somewhat unfair because I believe that the Liberal Democrats put the country before the party. The country needed a government and the Lib Dems helped to deliver one. I do however, think they were far too many compromises whilst in government. The party surrendered too much ground in 2010 for the sake of pragmatism or having a functioning administration.

    I don’t actually think that ‘talking left’ and ‘acting right’ labelling will make much difference. It is true that the SNP’s record does not match its rhetoric. On the other hand, it’s also clear that the SNP are appealing to a broad base and the vote they’re going for is not just on the left or centre-left. As the former First Minister Jack McConnell said, the SNP are appealing to the left, right and the centre. The reason for this is because the SNP don’t and never really have had an ideological strand to their politics. It’s all about identity and the issues are secondary. That makes for poor governance as has been demonstrated in the past 12 years and particularly from 2011 onwards.

    I hope to see a radical set of ideas by the Liberal Democrats in Scotland in the forthcoming election. I like the idea of a roadshow and the party visiting various parts of the country as I have seen mentioned. The council tax freeze needs to go and I’d also like to see the Lib Dems put local government (and its funding), and housing as important parts of the manifesto. If anyone can get it reformed, it’s our party.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 21st Jan '16 - 6:27pm

    The problem is don’t the SNP have a vested interest in making sure their governance isn’t too good? After all they don’t want Scots to think ‘actually, it’s all right being in the UK’

  • John Mitchell 22nd Jan '16 - 8:00pm

    @Thomas Shakespeare

    I think you’re right. Or as Conservative MP David Davis said the SNP use Holyrood as a ‘grievance machine’.

    Theoretically with more powers coming and extensive ones too it’s going to leave the SNP less room for leverage. Nevertheless, it is alarming at the amount of people who don’t understand what powers are devolved and what is reserved.

  • @thomashakespeare and @johnmitchell

    “The problem is don’t the SNP have a vested interest in making sure their governance isn’t too good? After all they don’t want Scots to think ‘actually, it’s all right being in the UK’”

    If they do, they are making a bad job of it as latest polling shows strong positive ratings for the SGovt across all main policy areas! In practise, the SNP wants to be the “natural” party of government in Scotland and build confidence in the ability of Scotland to govern and finance itself. And of course the Lib Dems believe in “Home Rule ” for Scotland don’t they? So presumably the LDs are in agreement with the SNP that more powers for Holyrood will lead to better government.

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