Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers

1. Britain's dirty secret: class still matters (Sunday Times)

Jenni Russell argues that neither of the two main parties is being honest about what is needed to improve class mobility. Labour fails to look closely enough at behaviour and character, while the Tories refuse to confront the realities of structural privilege.

2. Why Ulster should celebrate its sex and money scandal (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley says that the Iris Robinson scandal demonstrates that the politics of Northern Ireland, abnormal for so long, are becoming a little bit more like everywhere else's. Sex and money scandals are the stuff of ordinary politics the world over.

3. How many years out in the cold? (Independent on Sunday)

John Rentoul says there are hopeful signs that Labour will not fall into open warfare if defeated at the next election. Jon Cruddas, a thoughtful and unifying figure, is said to be open to running as David Miliband's deputy.

4. There's no shame in hiring a pariah (Observer)

By hiring Sir Fred Goodwin as a senior adviser, the international architecture firm RMJM has recognised the talent beneath the tarnish, says Heather McGregor.

5. The world expects the US to do its duty (Independent on Sunday)

Barack Obama has responded well to the Haitian crisis but he must now ensure that more aid gets through, says James Moore.

6. Forget it -- Blair will never be branded a war criminal (Observer)

Nick Cohen argues that opponents of the Iraq war are still unable to substantiate their claim that the 2003 invasion was "illegal". The Ba'athist regime was not entitled to treat the country as its private prison.

7. Gordon Brown's election strategy is doomed, but you have to admire the cheek of it (Sunday Telegraph)

Matthew d'Ancona predicts that Brown's attempt to present himself as the champion of the middle classes will backfire.

8. Be afraid, China, the Google dragon stirs (Sunday Times)

Dominic Lawson says that when civilisations clash, there is generally only one winner. Despite its genius for repression, the Chinese Communist Party will be beaten by Google.

9. Our troops need aid too (News of the World)

Fraser Nelson argues that, with Britain at war, David Cameron should give priority to the defence budget over international development.

10. Say what you like, as long as it meets with the mob's approval (Observer)

Catherine Bennett says that, following the rise of the Twitter mob, the privilege of free expression carries with it a grave responsibility: not to say anything that people might not like.

 

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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.