politics

Election Reflections 2016

So another election campaign has ended and we are left to reflect on the 2016 result which has resulted in another SNP victory.

Here are some thoughts about the campaign and what happened in Midlothian North and Musselburgh.

The run-up to the election

I started the short campaign in a mood of optimism.

Although the polls had been consistent in showing a strong SNP lead, the message that we were getting from voters was that our support was staying with us and the more voters we spoke to, the more we were hearing concerns about being unable to get an appointment with a GP or that it was difficult to even register with a surgery.

There was also a  large group of people telling us that they were undecided and another group telling us that they had voted for the SNP the last time and that nothing had changed.

I also thought that it was positive that we started these elections with a clear message about using the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

When I stood in the previous election in 2011, there seemed to be little to choose between our message, aside from a policy on knife crime and the message of the SNP.

This time however, we were putting forward policies that were clearly different from the SNP mainly on income tax, the council tax and fracking.

I took part in a number of hustings and some SNP candidates were clearly uncomfortable that their line on taxation and the council tax was very similar to the Tories.

The message that we had been developing from the end of last year onwards, clearly reflected the change in leadership at the UK level and whilst some views were expressed privately and sometimes not so privately, as to whether the party was moving in the right direction, Some party members involved in the campaign could scarcely contain their enthusiasm when the party produced a leaflet with the words:-

Socialism – Solidarity – Equality

More than one activist said that they could not imagine the party producing a leaflet with such a strong left of centre message even a year ago.

In the initial stages of the short campaign we also seemed to be making the running across the news agenda with our message on taxation with the first leaders debate focusing on this issue.

The release of the Panama Papers also meant that the issue of taxation and tax avoidance featured heavily in the news for another week or so.

Around this time I attended a rally at Portobello town hall which was addressed by Jeremy Corbyn and Kezia.

Both spoke well, but the thing that stuck with me afterwards was how many people said that Kezia had really nailed it that day and was clearly growing into her role as leader of the party.

After that and reflecting from a few weeks later the whole election campaign seemed to go a bit flat.

The issue of the school closures in Edinburgh and the impact of the Private Finance Initiative started to grab the headlines, there was more talk about the European referendum in the news and when we were speaking to voters there were still a lot people saying that they still did not know how they would be voting.

Campaigning stepped up a gear in those last few weeks but although as an activist you always get that extra adrenalin as you approach polling day, large numbers of the electorate seemed to be disengaged from the whole process.

Even amongst SNP supporters there seemed to be a distinct lack of window posters.

Nevertheless, as we moved into the getting out the vote stage of the campaign the feedback we were receiving spurred us on to polling day.

Polling Day

The predictions that there was going to be a low turn-out seemed to be borne out initially.

I left my first polling station of the day around 11am, after the traditional early morning rush which had resulted in a rather disappointing turn-out of 15%.

Out of all the polling stations across Midlothian North and Musselburgh by teatime only one was reporting that it had been really busy, interestingly, given the eventual result, this is one which traditionally attracts a higher Tory vote.

By the end of the night voters had come out and turn-out reached 54.7% up from 51% in 2011.

At the count all of the parties started their sampling of ballot papers and it soon became apparent that the SNP had held the seat.

The eventual result gave the SNP  both an increased majority and share of the vote.

As happened in much of Scotland that night the Tories also increased their vote.

We were still in second place but our share of the vote was down.

So, though a small group of party activists had worked hard and well together, ultimately we were all disappointed with the result.

Election results

Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Midlothian North and Musselburgh
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
SNP Colin Beattie 16,948 48.9 +1.6
Labour Bernard Harkins 9,913 28.6 -8.6
Conservative Jeremy Balfour 6,267 18.1 +9.5
Liberal Democrats Jacquie Bell[1] 1,557 4.5 +0.3
Majority 7,035
Turnout 34,285 54.7
SNP hold Swing

It’s the Constitution Stupid?

We are still in the early weeks of analysing what happened in this election.

I am glad to see that Kezia Dugdale will be staying on as leader and that no one is seriously suggesting that we engage in another round of leadership elections.

In terms of issues, the constitution is already a topic that is emerging as one which party members are looking to discuss further, with Home Rule and Federalism again being mentioned.

Personally, my politics remain more based on the ideas of solidarity across borders, rather than the politics of national identity, but I guess we’ll see where this debate ends up in the coming weeks and months.

Locally, the referendum only came up occasionally during the campaign, when it was raised, it was usually in the context of Better Together and not in a positive way.

As one of our members said, reflecting on the election result, it looks like it’s taken people nearly 30 years to forgive the Tories for the miners strike, is it going to take the same again for Better Together to be forgotten?

Or, is it still the Economy?

Then again, maybe it’s still the economy which voters judge things by more than any other measure.

Much has been written about “Middle England” and how political parties to try to address and respond to their concerns, less so about “Middle Scotland.”

Many political commentators remarked that the SNP were cautious about how they would use the new tax powers and that their plans for the council tax were less ambitious than had been hoped.

So, for many voters on the main issues that the election was fought, the SNP have presented themselves as the party most likely to carry on with the status quo.

Something that may well have had a particular appeal for “Middle Scotland.”

Whether the SNP can persuade the more cautious elements of “Middle Scotland” as to the merits of the arguments for independence will clearly be a defining issue for the future direction of Scotland.

And Finally…..

The past 6 years have been some of the best years of my life.

I consider it a real privilege to have been selected twice, the first time in 2010, by Labour Party members in Midlothian North and Musselburgh to fight two Scottish Parliament elections.

Having the opportunity to meet voters and party activist who still believe in the Labour Party and that it represents a cause still worth fighting for is a humbling experience.

The 2016 Scottish Parliament elections in Midlothian North and Musselburgh were fought by all parties in a positive spirit, we may have some fundamental disagreements about our respective political world view, but we all managed to keep things civilised.

The very first blog I wrote followed on from the 2011 election and after being selected for the 2016 elections I promised myself that I would write a blog a month in the run-up to 2016.

Completing this blog means that I have done that and ends this series of blogs.

If you’ve been reading my blog over these past few months I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lothian Women: Make your voices heard

On Thursday night I attended an event organised by women from Midlothian North and Musselburgh Labour Party at the Brunton Hall, Musselburgh.

The event was called ‘Lothian Women:Make your voices heard’ this was an event which was open to Labour Party members, non-members, men and women and candidates from all parties.

Speakers included representatives from Engender and Fair Funding For Our Kids.

The first speaker was Alys Mumford from Engender.

Alys started by talking about what Engender stood for.

Engender are Scotland’s feminist organisation and exist to highlight gender inequality, they have published a Gender Matters Manifesto :Twenty for 2016 for the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

Alys highlighted some of the key issues in the ‘Twenty for 2016’ manifesto:-

  • Bring forward a Gender Equality Bill;
  • Commit to gender balancing mechanisms at all levels of politics;
  • Implement a gendered economic development strategy;
  • Establish a national equality and wellbeing index;
  • Increase the strategic influence of the Equality Budget Statement.

Jenny Gorevan from Fair Funding For Our Kids was next up to tell us about their campaign.

Jenny said that though the Scottish Government policy is to provide 600 hours of free childcare  for 3-5 year olds the reality is that this is not being delivered.

Though the current system is in Jenny’s words ‘ridiculously complicated’, Jenny took the meeting through the main issues and raised some of the main problems with the current system:-

  • Most councils not offering the flexible hours that working families need;
  • Not enough funded places at private partnership nurseries;
  • Parents being asked to move children to a different nursery to chase their entitlement, only to find there are no other funded places available to them;
  • Council nurseries not having enough places, especially for 3 year olds.

After a few questions and a quick break for tea and coffee the meeting broke up into 3 groups to discuss the issues raised with the aim of coming up with 3 priorities to inform themes and campaigns for future meetings.

The group I was in came up with the following:-

  • Childcare – including rates of pay for those working in the childcare sector;
  • Violence against Women – what can be done to tackle violence against women, especially on social media;
  • Political Representation – improvement may have been made in regard to the Scottish Parliament, but what can be done when it comes to local government. Out of 6 councillors in Musselburgh none are women and only one party stood a female candidate at the last council elections in Musselburgh.

All in all I thought this was an excellent event, not just because Midlothian North and Musselburgh Labour Party hosted it, but because it did seem to engage people from across the political spectrum, Jacqui Bell (Lib/Dem candidate), Michelle Ballantyne (Conservative candidate) and Colin Beattie (SNP candidate) were in attendance along with people not part of any political party but who just came along to be part of the conversation.

Hopefully, this is an initiative that will be repeated.

Meantime, I would just like to finish by thanking Judith Dunn, Angela Gillan, Susan Harkins, Danielle Rowley, Katherine Sangster and Maureen Talac,  for all  of their hard work and organisation in putting this event together.


 

This Land is Your Land, this Land is My Land

In the past week we have seen a flurry of headlines focusing on the financial decisions facing our councils.

For the first time in eight years the council tax freeze would appear to be under a sustained attack with one council, Moray, appearing to be seriously considering a council tax rise.

It would I think to be overstating it that a consensus is starting to emerge on this issue in Scotland, about the need for the Scottish Government’s current policy to change.

However, it is not just the opposition parties that are questioning the wisdom of continuing with the current policy, there are also those within the SNP expressing concern about the wisdom of the current policy.

Sandy Howat, SNP group leader on the city of Edinburgh Council has said that:-

A revenue cut of this scale would be very damaging for jobs and services within Scottish local government generally, and here in Edinburgh specifically – the harsh reality is that this will translate to real job cuts that hit real families, in real communities throughout our capital city.

Everyone will be hurt by this.

Campaigning on this issue is already being seen around the country but the more fundamental question is whether the Council Tax survives the next parliament.

In December the Commission on Local Tax Reform announced that the current system “must end”.

In its place the commission set out three options:-

  • a replacement property tax, which would be based on the value of land and buildings;
  • a land value tax, based on the the value of land only;
  • and a local income tax which would raise revenue based on a householder’s taxable income.

Out of these three options a Land Value Tax (LVT) would appear to be gaining support on the political left.

The Green Party have produced a detailed report called ‘A Land Value Tax for Scotland – Fast, Efficient, Sustainable‘  the report concludes ‘Combined with pressure for just rewards, fairness and greater equality, the arguments for LVT suggest its time may at last have come’.

Labour Uncut in an article before last years general election entitled ‘If Labour wants to tackle inequality, it’s a land value tax, not the 50p rate that’s needed’ makes the case for LVT from a Labour perspective and ends by stating ‘So, whilst a LVT may be difficult to implement initially (some growing pains have been seen in Denmark, for example), there would be great potential for a One Nation Labour government to genuinely offer a fairer, and more equitable, tax system, which would finally see a proper shift in emphasis on revenue collection from income to wealth, incentivizing work, and, finally, beginning to narrow the inequality gap that has stained our society for far too long’.

Interestingly enough, both the Green Party report and the Labour Uncut quote Winston Churchill in support of the case for LVT:-

The landlord who happened to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities …. sits still and does nothing. Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still… To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist as a land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced.

By way of contrast politically, Owen Jones in an article from May of last year said that ‘We should scrap council tax and stamp duty, replacing both with a land value tax collected by local authorities. As the economist Jonathan Portes points out, this would help dampen excessive price rises. Here is a more effective alternative to the mansion tax too’.

So, what is LVT?

Land Value Tax is a tax on the value of land, it does not take account of property or amenities on the land such as drainage. The tax is set as a percentage of the capital value of the land or the rental value.

What are the benefits of LVT?

Supporters of LVT point to a number of positive benefits that would be realised through the introduction of this tax, the main ones being:-

  • Collection – It would be a difficult tax to avoid, land is a fixed and visible asset so that make it difficult to hide and therefore tax avoidance theoretically more problematic ;
  • Control – Proposals for the introduction of LVT include that a local rate should be set. This would hand more control to local councils and help to redress the balance of power between local and central government decision making, an issue that has been hotly debated in recent weeks;
  • Investment – There is also the potential for LVT to move investment away from land speculation to more productive investment. LVT is not collected on improvements to buildings so, it would encourage people to improve the land that they own.

The introduction of any new tax would not be without its problems.

A number of different groups would not view the introduction of LVT as a positive step.

Those that own property on valuable land and the question of agricultural land is a recurring theme in the debate.

In the run up to the elections in May the public will want to know more about where the parties stand on any replacement to the council tax.

Scottish Labour supporting a land value tax with the potential to be more progressive and redistributive than the council tax and the other alternatives would, in my view, be in a position to help shape that debate.

Over to you

What are your thoughts on a replacement for the council tax? Do you think that LVT is a viable option or do you favour a replacement property tax or a local income tax?

You can let me know what you think by clicking on the poll attached to this blog, by leaving a comment, or by contacting me at the following email address:-

election2016@bernardharkins.com
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My friend works for the national health…

So, here we are at the end of another year and like a number of people I’ve done a bit of looking back over 2015.

I guess one of the things that comes to mind, is that as you get older, you might have to access medical services a bit more often.

Aside from the occasional visit to the doctor over the years, until this year, my main contact with the NHS had been when my daughter was born.

My experience of the care we received at the time was excellent and the dedication and professionalism of the staff was truly impressive.

It was the same again this summer, when for the first time I had to stay overnight in hospital.

Again, I left the NHS having had a positive experience and being impressed by all of the staff that I come into contact with.

It is the same any time I’ve had to attend my local medical centre, but the service that the NHS provides is increasingly coming under pressure.

In September of this year, Quarryfoot Medical Practice in Bonnyrigg, announced that it would no longer be taking new patients due to recruitment difficulties as it struggled to fill GP vacancies.

Eskbridge Medical Practice in Musselburgh has also experienced problems in recruiting new GPs to replace two doctors who left over the summer.

It would appear that this experience is not unique to people staying in Midlothian and Musselburgh.

A few months ago the Labour Party published a consultation paper called ‘Fit for the Future’ which highlighted some of the issues that primary care is facing in Scotland.

The consultation which is being led by Dr Richard Simpson MSP is based on a survey of GP practices and states from the outset that:-

No party or organisation has a monopoly of wisdom. This paper seeks to start a discussion which will secure the future of general practice in this country, and ensure better care for Scots for decades to come.

The 330 practices out of 990 which responded to the survey highlighted a number of different issues, but there are 3 which underline the issues experienced by people living in Midlothian and Musselburgh these are:-

  • a growing level of practises being taken over by Health Boards as GP partner vacancies remained unfilled;
  • a growing number of vacancies for GP partners [92/330];
  • a growing number of practices who were restricting new patient registrations either to a specific number weekly or to members of existing registered households. This on top of more restrictive geographical practice boundaries. E.g. 23 Edinburgh City practices operating restrictions had introduced these since 2014.

There are no easy solutions to these problems and the paper is seeking views on a number of immediate and medium term actions.

The immediate actions include:-

  • training more GPs;
  • cutting down red tape for substitute GPs;
  • ensure practices notify Health Boards on unfilled posts.

Health will be a key part of the debate we have about Scotland during the forthcoming election campaign.

My hope is that ‘Fit for the Future’ will help to shape that debate and it will help all parties to reach a consensus as to the way forward.

 

 

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Ch-Ch-Changes

 

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The start of November found me in Perth along with other Labour Party members and supporters.

I’ve been to the Scottish Labour Conference before where conference had taken the form of a rally. Sometimes, this was effective in motivating members for the campaigns that lay ahead, but undoubtedly a number of members felt that there was something missing from this format.

This time round as part of a change agenda put forward by Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour Party Leader and Alex Rowley, Deputy Leader, we were promised something different and a departure from recent years.

Motions would be debated and conference would decide on the issues that would inform our manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections next year.

True to their word and under a banner of Change and Take a Fresh Look, members debated a variety of issues including; Housing, Tax Credits, the Trade Union Bill and Trident.

Moving conference away from a rally based format, and returning to a focus on motions, is I believe a positive step.

By way of illustration take the example of what happened in our CLP.

Members at our CLP debated motions on the Council Tax, Trident, Care Alarms and Further Education.


Changes to each motion were suggested and discussed before we finally voted on which motion our CLP would put forward.

Cuts to Further Education was selected and duly submitted to the party.

So, on Friday afternoon at conference I was able to put our motion forward, where it was debated and carried.

Being able to influence party policy in this way means that our members will feel more engaged in how we decide things and feel part of the debate – a positive step!

Combine this with the optimistic tone set in speeches made by Jeremy, Kezia and Alex, delegates left conference feeling energised and in an u
pbeat mood.

I know some in the party may not be too sure about some of the recent changes that we’ve seen. But as long as we can keep the same spirit of tolerant debate that I’ve seen in the last few months, which recognises that there may be differences in views and opinions, then I remain hopeful that we can move forward together and focus on working towards a Labour victory next year.

We know that the Scottish Parliament elections next year aren’t going to be easy for Labour and that we face a massive challenge in the months to come.

But I believe that conference has provided us with a positive platform to move forward together on and that come May we can win in Midlothian North and Musselburgh!

As a final point, a couple of weeks ago we were out campaigning in Dalkieth to Stop the Tax Credit Cuts and telling people about the policy Kezia had announced at conference , that Labour would use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to restore the cuts.

We got a good reaction from the public and a lot signatures for our petition.

So, its great to hear today that because of pressure from the Labour Party and others, George Osborne has announced a u-turn and that it looks these cuts have been scrapped.

It just goes to show what can be achieved by acting boldly and campaigning effectively!

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