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As I See It

Dugdale digging a deeper hole for labour

Terry portrait with tieLabour will publish its manifesto for Holyrood this week, not so much in expectation of victory next month, but in the hope that it helps the party edge the Tories out of second place.

From what has emerged so far from Kezia Dugdale’s leadership, that is by no means certain. A new pledge to ban MSPs from holding paid directorships and other outside work will only add to the list of misguided tax and economic policies that show how far Labour still has to go in order to restore its credibility.

Ms Dugdale promised to change Scottish Labour. So she has. She has made it worse. Since succeeding Jim Murphy she has floated plans to relocate the House of Lords to Glasgow, a city which voted for separation from the UK, proposed higher taxes on the wealth creators, and an unnecessary shake-up of economic development.

Like the equally worthy but somewhat vacuous tax policies of Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, Ms Dugdale preaches about boosting public services and bringing an end to austerity. This, of course, means raising more tax from those who are expected to build the economy.

As pointed out in this column, Ms Dugdale’s proposal to raise the top rate of tax by 5p in the pound, would raise a mere £200m – enough to build six miles of dual carriageway, not to fix the education system. It would have the added effect of driving talent from the country and deterring more from coming.

As revealed by Daily Business last week, former Scottish Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry was apoplectic over Ms Dugdale’s plans to reunite the agency with Skills Development Scotland. Mr Perry spent years carving SDS out of SE, a move that has benefited both. Last week he described Ms Dugdale’s proposal to reunite them as ‘hair-brained’ and said there was no evidence that business wanted it.

She now wants to stop elected members having outside interests to prevent them from being motivated by vested interests. That’s fair enough if it improves the democratic process. But she should not throw the baby out with the bath water. It is also vital that MSPs be allowed to have other work.

It ensures they are plugged into the world beyond the Holyrood cocoon. Many come into parliament with expertise that can be applied to public life and policy making. By continuing to have other jobs they remain up to speed on developments in their profession.

Many work in consultancies, write books or are part of family businesses. Are they expected to relinquish these activities in order to go into politics?

Parliamentarians have always undertaken other work and many still do. One Tory MP is a practising barrister, earning almost half a million pounds, well above the annual MP’s salary. If Ms Dugdale’s plans were implemented, our parliaments would be robbed of such people who would refuse to sacrifice their income and professional life.

Ms Dugdale has stated that she wants Scottish Labour to have its own voice, though this is a sticky point for those who believe it should toe the line with the national party.

To that extent, she should note that former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was one of the highest earners outside parliament.

Of course, taking views that conflict with her party’s leaders is nothing new. Ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s election she said he lacked credibility to be Prime Minister, a view she was forced to reverse.

This week’s manifesto is Ms Dugdale’s last hope of seeing off the Tory leader Ruth Davidson who seems to be growing in confidence. There are more Tory supporters in Scotland than some would have us believe and the polls suggest that the vote will be close. Ms Davidson’s pro-union and tax-cutting agenda appears to be gaining some traction, helped, of course, by her chief opponent’s propensity to shoot herself in the foot.

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