A view from the Bridge

IT has been a long time since I followed anything inside the Labour Party with interest; however Johann Lamont’s announcement that the party would be re-examining the affordability of key Scottish Government policies raised a quizzical eyebrow from this particular journalist.

While she was very careful not to single out any policy in particular, she has announced a Labour commission which will examine some of the benefits secured by the nation since devolution. Among them will be free personal care for the elderly; free, universal prescriptions; our absence of tuition fees; and the ongoing council tax freeze.

In a time of austerity, some of these do look a bit extravagant. The council tax freeze can’t be indefinite (though let’s enjoy it while it lasts...), and in the long run I personally can’t see comprehensively free personal care being sustainable in its present form. However, these policies remain extremely popular with the electorate and, thus far, have been funded from within the Scottish Parliament’s budget without the need for borrowing.

I trust that among those benefits which won’t be considered for cuts is free-at-the-point-of-need university education. In a technologically developing world, access to university remains one of the best stepping stones for youngsters with talent to secure a well paid place in the global economy.

Narrowing access to those with wealthy parents would be a monstrously retrograde step, placing us at a competitive disadvantage with up-and-coming countries with well educated populations. A meritocratic education system which recognises talent irrespective of its financial background is something that gives us an edge in the modern era. I’d go far enough to suggest that it’s something that returns money to the government in the long run, given that higher taxes many graduates will pay.

Personally, I could never have afforded to go to university had it implied £27-36,000 worth of debt. Having watched Nick Clegg being turned into a political pantomime villain following his u-turn, tuition fees are clearly electoral kryptonite to those embracing them.

Johann, take note.