LABOUR’S last man standing in Scotland has defended his failure to vote against the UK Government’s controversial Welfare Bill – dismissing SNP claims that a united opposition could have defeated the legislation and insisting his party would fight the proposals.
The Nationalists hit out at Labour after most of its MPs abstained on the main vote on Monday night, though 48 rebels voted against it.
How can Mr Murray explain to people in Scotland his failure to vote against them?Hannah Bardell
Just two weeks ago, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray warned nearly 80,000 children in Edinburgh and the Lothians were at risk from the Tories’ £12 billion benefit cuts.
The SNP’s Fair Work and Employment spokesperson, Livingston MP Hannah Bardell, said Labour’s decision to sit on their hands was “unforgivable”.
She said: “The welfare cuts the Tories are imposing need to be opposed for the sake of the millions of families and vulnerable people across the UK who stand to be much worse off.
“MPs from every opposition party – including the Northern Irish parties – voted against the welfare cuts bill, and Labour could and should have united to work with a united opposition to vote against it. Given that the Tories only mustered 308 votes for this miserable and hard-hearted Bill, a united opposition had the chance to defeat it – but Labour failed even to try. That will haunt Labour through to next year’s Scottish Parliament election and far beyond.
“Having identified the severity and unfairness of the Tory cuts, how on earth can Mr Murray explain to people in Scotland his failure to vote against them?”
But Mr Murray, Shadow Scottish Secretary, said the idea the government could have been defeated was “total nonsense”.
He said the pairing system – which sees government and opposition match numbers to take account of illness and other special circumstances – had been in operation and the SNP’s claims were disingenuous.
Mr Murray said Labour had put forward an amendment making clear its opposition to the Tories’ plans and highlighting the effect on children in low-income working households, the sick and disabled people.
He said when that was defeated, if Labour had voted against the whole Bill it would have been accused of opposing positive measures which were also in the legislation such as three million apprenticeships.
“We were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t,” he said. And he said Labour had already lodged two dozen amendments which would be considered as the Bill goes through committee stage.
“Perhaps it’s not the strongest position, but we took a practical decision.
“We all agree the Bill should not have gone forward, but for the SNP to argue the government could have been defeated is preposterous.”