Sunday, 13 February 2011

MacNeil condemns budget but opportunist Labour offer no solutions

Greenock MSP Duncan MacNeil has spoken out against Finance Secretary John Swinney's Budget, claiming that it will devastate Inverclyde.

The SNP government's Budget - passed after useful deals were made with the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives - actually proposed a reversal of cutbacks on funding for urban regeneration companies. This means that Riverside Inverclyde, which initially had its funding slashed by 70%, will now face a lesser budget reduction. Scotland's four urban regeneration companies were originally advised their funding would be cut by £12million - that figure is now only £6millon, although it's too early to say with certainty how much Riverclyde Inverclyde's individual budget will be affected. But it's still welcome news.

This isn't good enough for MacNeil, though. According to the Greenock Telegraph (aka The Inverclyde Comic) MacNeil is "very disappointed this budget will continue the disinvestment in Inverclyde. The Scottish Government has imposed an unfair financial settlement on Inverclyde Council...and put at risk our ambitious regeneration plan. It is not acceptable to cut our budget by 70 per cent, reinstate part of it and then pretend this is good for Inverclyde."

Not a mention of the economic realities dictating these measures. Not a word about Labour's sorry economic legacy. No praise for those MSPs from all parties (other than Labour, of course) who were determined to put together as positive a budget as could realistically be achieved and who ensured the u-turn. No, that's just not MacNeil's style. Notably, he also didn't state what Labour's position was on the additional £6million for the regeneration companies - just for the record, Labour did not support it.

Perhaps in his direct appeal to populism, MacNeil has failed to notice that neither the SNP nor the Liberal Democrats are relishing making cuts. Other local MSPs like the Lib Dems' Ross Finnie and the SNP's Stuart McMillan were particularly keen to see that regeneration in Inverclyde continues which is why the improved budget ensured that the funding reduction was kept as low as possible. Unfortunately MacNeil, with his unrealistic and dishonest "no cuts to jobs and services" mantra not only fails to recognise the significant efforts of others but also Labour's own contribution to the Inverclyde's problems as a result of mishandling the UK economy.

MacNeil wants to paint himself in the mould of an anti-cuts MP, but he should be honest about his party's legacy while in government. Remember the threats to Inverclyde Royal Hospital? Whose watch did they happen on, Mr MacNeil?

Unfortunately, as the various parties were locked in intense negotiations to ensure that the Budget represented the best possible deal for Scottish people, Labour preferred to reject the Budget proposals - not on principle but out of opportunism. Unlike the other parties, who disliked large parts of the Budget but went through the difficult process of improving it, Labour found it easier to stand on the sidelines, doing nothing, arrogantly waiting for the return to power to which it feels a sense of entitlement. In rejecting the Budget, Labour sent out a signal that it has nothing to contribute to the debate.

MacNeil and his party are eager to blame others for regrettable but necessary cuts that no-one wants to make. Labour could take the responsible option and put forward a workable alternative proposal. But that would require some political courage, as well as imagination. Whatever John Swinney's many faults, he could never be accused of cowardice. MacNeil, on the other hand, doesn't even have the courage to admit that cuts are a painful necessity because Labour made "a few mistakes" (as Ed Balls did to his credit on today's Politics Show).

Scottish Labour's electoral campaign will presumably be based on blaming each of the other parties for budget cuts, while ignoring their own role in creating the problem in the first place. Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph reported that Labour's finance spokesman, Andy Kerr, had wanted to do a deal with Swinney but was prevented from doing so by Iain Gray. This says everything we need to know about Labour's leadership, which has no interest in building consensus. Who would want to vote for this group of cynical opportunists who - in rejecting the Budget last Wednesday - were so pleased to wash their hands of any responsibility for taking Scotland forward?

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