Many happy returns to Yousuf Hamid, 21 yesterday and already one of Scotland's blogging veterans. I have met Yousuf a few times and he was kind enough to invite me to speak at a debate he was organising in Strathclyde University. A very nice chap, full of enthusiasm for political and social change - wish more of his generation were so engaged in the democratic process. However Yousuf's posting last week on the Campaign for Fiscal Responsibility was unfair and misleading. The arguments he makes - and shares with The Daily Telegraph - need to be countered.
Yousuf doesn't express a view on the goals of the campaign, a pity given that he has just graduated with an 2:1 in Economics. Instead, he attacks it, and, by implication the think tank Reform Scotland, which is behind it. Reform Scotland's board of political advisors includes Wendy Alexander, the former leader of Labour in Scotland.
Yousuf wrote: The main reason the SNP and business want fiscal autonomy is so that they can lower taxes for businesses and I don't think in a time of massive cuts that even more cuts should be introduced in order to fund a tax cuts for profitable businesses.
SNP supporting businessmen? Unfortunately for Yousuf's argument, the two main businessmen who have come out in support of the campaign worked closely with the last Labour/Liberal Democrat administration in Holyrood and with Gordon Brown in Westminster. Tom Hunter was a big supporter of Jack McConnell’s Schools of Ambition programme. Jim McColl was invited by Gordon Brown to oversee Glasgow’s Welfare to Work programme. Both men are passionate about solving Scotland’s high number of NEETS (young people not in employment, education or training) They have given their money and time because they want to put something back, not because they support a particular party.
If this logic were applied to Yousuf himself, he would stand accused of being in cahoots with the Daily Telegraph's Alan Cochrane and the CBI Scotland chief Iain McMillan, who have both attacked the CFFR.
The odd thing about Yousuf's argument is the idea that business growth is somehow incompatible with good public services. One begets the other. The model on which CFFR is based, drawn up by the economics professors Andrew Hughes Hallett and Drew Scott, is designed to expand the economy by tailoring the tax regime to meet Scotland's needs. If we can grow the economy, we will have more money for public services. The Hughes Hallet Scott solution includes borrowing powers for capital projects like Yousuf's beloved Glasgow Airport Rail Link. It has attracted wide support from the voluntary sector, worried about cuts to budgets if we are dependent on block grant. Campbell Christie, the highly respected former leader of the STUC, who is now involved in community regeneration, supports it for this reason. So does Douglas Osler, the former HMI Scottish schools inspector and the CFFR's latest high profile signatory.
There is no reason why members of the Labour Party cannot join this broad church. But Yousuf does not even feel he can express an opinion. He appears to be waiting for the official party line.
The CFFA is not some kind of nationalist front. It issued a press release this week insisting that fiscal responsibility would STRENGTHEN the union. I support the campaign because I think the opposite, ie full fiscal autonomy will show the Scottish people they live in a wealthy country, with no need of subsidy, that they are capable of standing on their own two feet. All those confidence-bashing arguments that Scotland is too uniquely poor/irresponsible/stupid to become independent will be dead. Some nationalists disagree. They believe that fiscal autonomy is a trap to kill independence. At least we can have an open and constructive debate about it.
Back in the day, Labour also had healthy debates about the best way forward constitutionally. Now they appear frightened by the whole business. Why are they so threatened by Scotland having economic powers? They would benefit whichever government is in power, not just the nationalists. Unless of course they expect the SNP to be in power forever....
Yousuf also writes: “The consensus amongst the majority of the Scottish people is that a large state is needed to tackle our deprivation and social ills.” That comment would be be fair enough if he was a member of The Scottish Socialist Party. But he is a member of a Labour Party that planned deep, budget-balancing cuts, albeit a year after Cameron and Clegg. He supports the leadership bid of David Miliband, a prominent member of the government whose laissez faire approach to the excesses of capitalism got us into this mess.
To be fair on Yousuf, his rhetoric is similar to that of his new boss at the Scottish parliament, the Labour finance spokesman Andy Kerr. We are asked to suspend our disbelief - and our memory - and pretend that Labour did not pander to The City, cripple us with expensive PFI deals, lock up the children of asylum seekers, go to war illegally in Iraq, ignore the real hardship caused by above-inflation council tax rises, and failed to tackle the activities of underworld figures who sometimes appear at official party functions in Scotland. And let's not forget committing billions to upgrading weapons of mess destruction. But perhaps I'm too cynical...
Let's forget all that and adopt Yousuf's view that Labour will Bash the Rich and use their dosh to link a railway to every airport in Scotland. This is all the more reason for Yousuf to support fiscal powers. The kind of society he says he wants will not be delivered through a block grant from London.