By Martin Kelly
Labour’s Scottish Leader Johann Lamont has been urged to clarify the party’s position on council tax after several Scottish Labour local authority groups appeared to adopt contradictory positions.
The calls, from their SNP opponents, follow announcements from Glasgow Labour and their party counterparts in the Highlands.
In Glasgow the Labour group last week pledged a council tax freeze for five years, despite group leader Gordon Matheson claiming in 2010 that such a move would lead to the loss of two hundred teachers.
However, the Labour Highland manifesto condemns the council tax freeze, whilst the Edinburgh manifesto makes no mention of what the party would do. At least one local authority, Stirling, has witnessed a cut in council tax after Labour backed a Tory proposal.
Derek Mackay, the SNP's Local Government Campaign Director claimed Labour were in “a complete mess” over their position on the council tax. Mr Mackay said:
“Labour candidates in one part of the country support a 5-year freeze, while Labour candidates in another party are condemning the freeze. This just shows why Labour cannot be trusted.
“They have absolutely no credibility on this issue and Johann Lamont must start showing some leadership and tell the voters what Labour stand for.”
Under Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour party initially opposed the freeze on council tax, but switched shortly before the Scottish election in 2011 and pledged a two year freeze.
However in the aftermath of Labour's defeat, Gray’s replacement Johann Lamont called the council tax freeze "unrealistic" and claimed it would "hammer public services".
Speaking during the Labour leadership campaign last year, Ms Lamont called the Scottish Government's council tax freeze "reckless" and said it should be scrapped.
Mr Mackay insisted that the people deserved to know what Scottish Labour’s national policy was and added:
“But this about a more fundamental issue of honesty. If Labour council groups can’t even talk to each other and their national party on something as basic as a position on Council Tax, how on earth can we expect them to work together to deliver vital services and help build for economic recovery.
“It is time for Johann Lamont to end these inconsistent and confusing changes in policy – at various times they have opposed a freeze, backed a freeze, opposed a freeze again – and in Stirling Council they even backed cutting it.
“The fact is, average council tax across Scotland went up by 60 per cent under Labour. With a track record like this, it is no wonder that Labour are fielding even less candidates than last time.”
Labour’s Glasgow manifesto commits the council to a five-year freeze, after leader Gordon Matheson had called for the freeze to be scrapped, and just weeks after Scottish Labour’s Deputy Leader Anas Sarwar had said “I don’t think that’s credible. I don’t think that’s progressive.”
Mr Matheson claimed in 2010 that accepting the Scottish Government’s deal to freeze council tax was made “with a gun to my head”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland in August that same year Mr Matheson claimed that the SNP move threatened teacher jobs and services for the vulnerable and added:
"I'm calling for the option of being able to raise council tax in order to offset some of the more brutal cuts that we will have to make.
"We need to be able to have the option of comparing the impact of increasing the council tax with some of the more brutal options we face”
Hear Gordon Matheson attacking the council tax freeze on BBC Radio Scotland