Brian Monteith: Honestly, let’s end freebie lies

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At last, at long last, a Scottish politician has got up and said it’s time for an honest debate, it’s time 
 to challenge the idea that Scotland can live on the “never-
never”.

Well, some of us – like in this very column – have been saying this for years, but I shan’t bore you with all the speeches and articles of the past, let’s just congratulate Labour leader Johann Lamont for having the outrageous audacity to get up in front of her comrades and say the gravy train is about to run out of bullion.

Being herself a long-time backer of the spend, spend, spend culture in the Holyrood parliament, Lamont must have had an epiphany that is worthy of the retelling. Maybe she saw the brilliant Born Bankrupt documentary by Jeff Randall on Sky that explained how Labour took a surplus from the Conservatives in 1997 and managed to rack up seven consecutive years of deficit from 2003 to produce the highest debt in living memory that our grandchildren – not yet born – will have to pay for on our behalf.

They will literally be born bankrupt, with huge debts incurred by us to pay off for the rest of their lives.

The same happened to us as we have only just finished paying off the war debt incurred between 1939 and 1945, but at least that was a debt run up to pay for our freedom from foreign servitude; the new debt has been run up by a government that went out on the lash throwing freebies and jobs at everyone so it could get re-elected in 2001 and 2005. It was bribery of the highest order paid for not by those that voted Labour into power, but by those still to be old enough to vote in 2015, 2020, 2025 and beyond.

Thanks to the interest payments – now higher than what we spend on national defence even while we are at war in Afghanistan – the debt is still climbing and is more than £1,400,000,000,000, which is why Cameron and Clegg are agreed they must tackle Britain’s debt crisis so we don’t end up like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

The same game of bribes to be paid for by future generations has been played out at Holyrood, with first Donald Dewar, then Henry McLeish, then Jack McConnell and finally Alex Salmond all playing the same game of promising more and more freebies with the invoice sent to Westminster in the belief that it would always be paid.

Without believing they would have to raise taxes to pay for the largesse, that motley crew of First Ministers hosed us down with borrowed money for free bus passes across the whole of Scotland, free university tuition even though you can expect a salary eight times higher over your lifetime, free prescriptions no matter your earnings, free ear tests and eye tests even though some opticians were already providing them free of charge and, to cap it all, frozen council tax that benefitted the wealthiest more than the poorest.

Well, that particular gravy train is about to smash into the buffers of reality and the sauce will splat across everyone like blood at an Al Capone shoot-out.

So yes, let’s have honesty, let’s tell the public what has been kept from them – that we can no longer afford all of the goodies and have to decide which ones are the most important to us and which ones we have to let go of.

But there’s a catch. And it’s quite a big one.

Johann Lamont keeps talking about how it is wrong that people earning £100,000 or more get free prescriptions, or free tuition fees, or free this and that. Time and again, the suggestion is made that simply depriving “the rich” will be enough for us to afford to get back on the gravy train destined for never-never land again. This is dishonest. It is a lie. We do not have enough rich people earning more than £100,000 in Scotland taking free benefits to provide the savings to carry on with freebies for the rest of us.

Frankly, I don’t think depriving free bus passes, or free prescriptions, or university education to those with more than £50,000 will make enough difference. Quite simply, some of the electoral bribes will have to go altogether. That’s the honest truth.

Johann Lamont needs to remember that just as you can’t be half a virgin you can’t be half honest.

Maybe Lamont is being gentle with her comrades before giving them the whole shocking truth. Maybe Lamont’s advisors have only given her the first part of the speech. I don’t know, but what I do know is that if there is to be honesty in politics, Lamont, Salmond and all the others that keep promising to spend money on the never-never have a long way to go before they are honest about what the country can afford.