Watching Labour politicians knock lumps out of each other over the last couple of weeks has been pretty sad but the real tragedy is the absence of any new ideas in this leadership contest.

Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard are both very different but very capable individuals.

They have both been round the block a few times too so they know what they are doing and how to run campaigns.

Why, then, have we seen so few genuinely new ideas?

Richard Leonard tells us that health inequality is the big challenge facing the country, yet his plans to address this include a new ministerial post and an audit to make sure the cash gets spent in the right places. More managerial than radical.

Anas Sarwar tell us his mission is to save the NHS . It’ll take more money and more staff in his view. But he’s yet to say anything about how to keep people out of hospital altogether.

We know childhood obesity is costing the NHS hundreds of millions but where’s the debate about the role of state in stopping our kids getting so fat and unfit?

We know hundreds of millions more is spent in hospitals caring for elderly folk who have tripped and fallen at home but where’s the desire to spend more on adapting houses to reduce demand on our hospitals?

One of the few advantages of a contest like this, is that it offers a real chance to reset the policy direction of the party but so far we’ve just had the same old tune from both camps, just mixed at different tempos and levels of base.

If either camp want my vote, they’ll need to say something fresh, new and relevant to the challenges ahead.

Let’s take tax.

When I first proposed Labour ’s plans to increase the basic rate of income tax by 1p in the pound, it was with one goal in mind. To raise enough cash to stop any further cuts to public services.

Raising around £600million a year, it was enough to protect local council budgets, lift the public sector pay freeze and increase child benefit by £5 a week, lifting 40,000 Scottish kids out of poverty. It was the right and decent thing to do.

But when I wrote that policy, the Scottish Parliament didn’t have the power to vary the bands that income tax is levied on. That’s why we had to ask those earning over £21k to pay more tax even though that was less than the average wage. A problem the Greens fairly, and the SNP cynically, exploited.

The parliament does have those powers now, though, so the Labour leadership candidates should be getting their calculator and moral compass out to refine a new policy that allows them to raise the same cash but in a even fairer way.

This is the type of debate the party and indeed the country needs in my view.

Labour led and won the argument on the need for progressive taxes. We know that because even Nicola Sturgeon accepts the need to use the parliament’s powers now after years of rallying against it.

The leadership contender that does this hard thinking will get my vote but they’ll probably also get their way in this year’s budget process too.

 

This article first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 3rd of October 2017

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