I gave up on the Scottish media a long time ago. I can't imagine any other democratic nation on earth having to put up with the mediocrity we in Scotland do. The entity behaves like a long time heroin addict who requires a regular fix from its dealer - Labour. When it gets one it feels good for a brief spell before continuing its downward spiral.
It's latest 'hit' has come from Scottish Labour's Tax Credit pledge. Kezia 'Drugdale' has injected the nonsense straight into our media's withered arm and boy is this good stuff. Radical Kez is ... radical. She's got Nicola on the run. Ecstatic journslists can barely contain themselves. But cold turkey looms, and boy is Kez a turkey.
On Thursday at First Minister's Questions the subject of Tax Credits and Air Passenger Duty came up. It was the chosen subject of the latest Scottish Labour leader who is now displaying all of the qualities of her predecessors.
To say that Dugdale didn't perform as hoped would be an understatement. The Labour MSP was beaten hands down by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The first question set the scene when the SNP leader reminded her hapless opponent of an interview she [Dugdale] had given to Holyrood Magazine on Friday 30th October.
In her interview Dugdale said the following:
"But in the case of us not raising what we hope, we also have an additional redistributive mechanism which we would use for education, which is to scrap the APD measure which would bring £250 million and we would spend that on educational inequality."
Just 24 hours later at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth, Dugdale announced that the cash generated by her APD measure would be used to part fund a reversal of Tory Tax Credit cuts. Yes that's correct. Cash she had already earmarked for education was to be spent again.
Had Nicola Sturgeon made such an appalling gaffe, the media would have been all over it. But this is Scottish Labour and the Scottish media aren't about to start battering the Union's last hope. Dugdale has enjoyed uncritical media coverage since making her announcement.
Instead of doing the job they are supposed to do, which is scrutinise and inform, some journalists have instead swallowed the nonsense from Dugdale. The glaring contradictions and gaping holes in her announcement have been ignored as they strive to bolster the image currently being manufactured for Jim Murphy's former deputy.
The media has had to refuse to scrutinise Dugdale's tax Credit Con because to do otherwise would be to expose her as a charlatan. Scottish Labour cannot afford another Wendy Alexander.
The image being cultivated is of Radical Kez. She is the all-new Left leader who has forced the Scottish Government's hand. Even after receiving a battering at FMQs some journalists couldn't bring themselves to admit she had been exposed.
Here's what Iain Macwhirter tweeted after a First Minister's Questions that had seen Dugdale battered:
"All credit to @keziadugdale's tax credit pledge for reframing taxation debate and forcing Nicola Sturgeon's first righteous u-turn."
Kezia Dugdale has placed Tax Credits and APD at the front of the political debate, that much is true. But crediting her with "reframing debate" is like applauding Nixon for reframing his Presidency after Watergate.
Far from being a U-turn as Macwhirter claims, the Scottish Government [or SNP] are merely reacting to the media hype. This, as I have pointed out, is a scrutiny free trip for journos addicted to 'Drugdale'.
Macwhirter and his journalistic colleagues are doing a disservice to the Scottish public. I have yet to see any of them try to explain what the tax credit issue is all about.
Tax Credit is a benefit paid by the UK Government. It is entirely reserved to Westminster. The reason it remains reserved is because the Labour party in Scotland opposed the devolution of the power to Holyrood.
There are two types of Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. The Tax Credit that tends to be the subject of debate is the Working Tax Credit. Working Tax Credit is a state benefit made to people who work and have a low income. From next year The Conservative Government will begin reducing the amount paid to the working poor.
Can the Scottish Government do anything to mitigate against the Tory cuts that are looming?
According to the Scottish Parliament SPICE briefing:
'If Tax Credits are accepted as a "benefit" then Clause 21 of the Scotland Bill would provide a power to top-up any tax-credit payments, provided entitlement has not been entirely lost.'
According to the UK Government's online explanation of income tax, Tax Credits are indeed a benefit. So it would appear that the Scottish Government could make top-up payments.
However, it isn't as clear cut as it seems. There may well be people who aren't entitled to the full amount and who - correctly - have their benefit payments reduced. Scottish Labour has insisted that every single person who suffers a reduction will be topped up regardless.
But what if the reductions were indeed appropriate? If Kezia Dugdale is to be believed then these people will receive payments from the Scottish Government even though they are not entitled to any top-up.
The power coming to Holyrood makes provision only for people who are in receipt of the benefit. People who lose their entitlement altogether won't be able to receive top-ups. Thus, Kezia Dugdale will be compelled to break her own pledge.
Claimants can be fined up to £300 if they don't report a change within 30 days and up to £3,000 if they give wrong information on purpose. Will Scottish Labour top up these penalties?
Already we can see that the pledge made by Jim Murphy's replacement is a dog's breakfast, and we haven't even started to look at how the top-up payments will be administered.
The Funding Catch 22
This is the fun part. According to Kezia Dugdale, £250m of the amount required to 'reverse' the Tory cuts will come from the scrapping of the SNP's cut to Air Passenger Duty [APD]. This is where the hapless Labour MSP excels herself.
The only way that Dugdale can implement her Tax Credit pledge is by winning the Holyrood election. If she wins the Holyrood election though, the SNP will be prevented from halving APD. John Swinney cannot reduce APD if he isn't in power. Even then he couldn't cut it until 2018 when it's devolved.
Thus, Dugdale will have no APD cut to reverse. The Scottish Labour leader has created her own Catch 22. This means the new Labour First Minister has got to find £250m from somewhere else in order to fund her Tax Cut pledge. And don't forget she has also pledged to spend the same £250m on education. Dugdale has half a billion pounds to find from the current budget.
The reason the SNP is planning to cut APD is because far too many Scots have to travel south to catch their flight abroad. By reducing APD the SNP hope to stimulate business for Scottish based airports. A study carried out this year on behalf of Edinburgh Airport concluded that halving APD will create nearly 4,000 jobs and add £1bn to the Scottish economy by 2020. Dugdale opposes the very measure that could provide the funds she needs.
The SNP announcement that the party will come forward with its own fully costed proposals when all the facts are known wasn't a reaction to Kezia Dugdale. It was a reaction to the partisan nonsense being promoted by elements of the Scottish media - broadcast and print.
Had our media applied the same forensic scrutiny to Dugdale's Tax Credit pledge that it does when the SNP make similar policy announcements, then we may have ended up with a mature debate about the best way forward. But it hasn't. Instead we have the usual turning of the blind eye and the misrepresentations that are endemic in Scottish political coverage.
Take a look at the following headline:
The article begins:
'Changes to the Scotland Bill will give Holyrood the power to restore any tax credit cuts made by the UK government, the Scottish government has said.'
Both the headline and the opening sentence are false. Holyrood will only have tax credit powers if amendments tabled by the SNP group at Westminster, for the tax to be fully devolved, are accepted. If not then all Holyrood will have is the erratic and potentially very expensive power to top up.
Dugdale's Tax Credit Con, promoted by the Scottish media, is a cruel hoax perpetrated on some of the poorest people in society. But the truth will out eventually. When it does, Christmas will await these two cold turkeys.
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