Clear Red Water – Scottish Leadership Debate

The first hustings I sat through was for the two Falkirk constituencies. Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard treated each other as Labour comrades should, laying out the elements of their particular vision for Scotland under Labour.

The televised hustings last week could not have been more different, with Anas Sarwar using constant interruptions and a series of personal attacks on Richard Leonard. It reminded me of the personal attack strategy used by Owen Smith when he tried to unseat Jeremy Corbyn. Of course Anas Sarwar tried to deliver in ‘smiling assassin’ mode but let slip into view his anti-Jeremy Corbyn positions. Richard Leonard, like Jeremy, remained polite and fair throughout.

Anas Sarwar attempted to attack Richard Leonard for voting in a totally symbolic vote in the Scottish Parliament to support triggering article 50. Richard was supporting the position of the UK Labour leadership, Keir Starmer and party. The triggering of Article 50 has actually revealed how the Conservative Government and Party are incompetent and weakened by divisions. Labour at UK level, has accepted the democratic outcome of the EU referendum and then developed a policy of seeking to maintain the structure and benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union while not retaining membership. This has built a workable policy as a Government in waiting, with a prime minister in waiting who only last week, received a standing ovation as he delivered his speech in Europe, stating “We are here to make sure that negotiations get on track, that we defend jobs in Britain and that we make sure there is trade access to Europe in the future.” This position Richard has been resolute in supporting during the campaign as well as during the debate. Anas Sarwar’s attack on the Labour Party’s agreed position on Europe, only highlights his continued opposition to Jeremy Corbyn which led to his signature on the recent letter calling for Jeremy to go.

The most telling blunder Anas Sarwar made was to try to justify his vote, alongside Tory MPs for the Welfare Cap raised by a members of the studio audience using the term Benefit Cap. The Welfare Cap resulted in an even more brutal Benefit Cap, and consequently people are suffering hardships that have flowed from the Welfare Cap. The welfare cap was a nasty blunt instrument which has resulted in increased poverty as welfare spend has been cut and homelessness as housing costs have risen. Beside myself, and other Labour MPs, the present Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s Deputy Leader, Tom Watson voted against such an obvious attack on the poorest. It would have at least shown some missing humility if Anas Sarwar had apologised for getting that vote so badly wrong, rather than blaming the Whips. Anas Sarwar completely failed to justify why he stood on the wrong side of the argument while Labour’s present Leaders were on the side of fairness and compassion.

Richard Leonard’s clarity in supporting the universal principle of Child Benefit, and praising Gordon Brown’s success in lifting almost a million children out of poverty by increasing Child Benefit by 20% underscored the socialist approach that Scotland is missing. By contrast, Anas Sarwar appeared to demean Gordon Brown’s child benefit approach by announcing yet another of “My strategies” to use ‘means-tested’ Child Tax Credit to target child poverty. Any benefit adviser could confirm that it is holding wages down that has resulted in the vast increase in working people in poverty, and only a ‘Living wage’ and non means-tested family support lifts people out of poverty with dignity. As wages rise, tax credits are cut.

It was clear that the issues raised by the debate presenter, but not used by Richard Leonard, of Anas Sarwar’s family company failing to pay the Living Wage caused some discomfort. His protestations in support of his family business, and his arrangements to deal with the shares that netted £500,000 last year were wholly dismissive. It left me with serious doubts that Anas Sarwar has learned that Scottish Labour must join fully in the transformation set out in the UK Labour manifesto 2017 and led by Jeremy Corbyn if they are to deliver hope for the many in Scotland.