IDS cooks up an alphabet soup

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19 September 2012 Last updated at 11:23

IDS cooks up an alphabet soup
Did you catch IDS on GMS talking about DLA,
ESA, IB, PIP, HBOS, RBS and the SNP?*
Fascinating, wasn't it?

OK, enough of the alphabet soup.

The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith,
was being pressed by my estimable colleague Gary
Robertson anent his benefits reforms and sundry
related matters (catch it online if you missed it on
the wireless: it's a good listen).

Gary repeatedly referred to the evidence given to MSPs by claimants with disabilities to
the effect that the system degraded them - and left them short of cash.

In response, IDS repeatedly argued that reforms had been introduced in order to target
support more effectively and to get folk back into work, if at all possible.

But why were MSPs investigating this issue at all, given that welfare is reserved to

Lack of control
Broadly, three reasons. Firstly, there is authentic concern at the knock-on impact of benefit
changes upon services which are devolved to Scotland, such as social care.

Secondly, though, there is politics: Scotland's two largest parties, the SNP and Labour,
welcome the chance to give the coalition parties a kicking over the benefit changes,
arguing that they will disadvantage the poor (the Tories and LibDems dissent, insisting that
those in genuine need will still receive substantial assistance).

But there is a third element: the ever-present factor in contemporary Scottish politics. The
SNP are citing Holyrood's lack of control over welfare as evidence of the need for more
powers and, indeed, independence.
In addition, the Nationalists are preparing an
advance rebuttal for an argument which IDS was
already setting out to make on the wireless this

His case was that you require a large polity and a
large economy like the UK in order to operate an
effective redistribution system whereby resources
are transferred from the relatively wealthy to the
relatively poor. A family, as he described it.

In essence, this is the same broad case that formed a core part of the Calman Commission
report - which talked of uniform social welfare as an object of the UK.

It is also the case adduced by, for example, Labour's Johann Lamont in her party
conference speech in Dundee.

Once again, it is sufficient for those defending the Union to attempt to sow doubt in the
minds of the voters. Could Scotland afford welfare? Could Scotland afford to protect the

This is where my third discernible element comes in. As well as offering vigorous
assurance on these points, the Nationalists are seeking, legitimately from their standpoint,
to argue that UK governance can, palpably, not be trusted to deliver a welfare system
which is fit for purpose.

Strengthen grip
One can hear a similar argument from Alex Salmond with regard to the changes being
introduced in the NHS in England.

Be afraid, he argues. Turn to independence to entrench the NHS in Scotland. Ditto
university tuition fees. Not until the rocks melt wi' the sun.

Once again, the core debate is: doubt versus reassurance.

PS: On the subject of Ms Lamont, it is intriguing to note that she is attempting to
strengthen her grip upon the machinery of the party in Scotland - which she now leads, the
remit having been extended beyond Holyrood.

To be fair, she said upon election that she regarded reform of the internal party machinery
as crucial.

One change that has been little noted is that the building blocks of Labour's structure will in
future be Holyrood constituencies, rather than Westminster ones.

Indeed, that change is under way right now with the new local parties meeting to regroup.
Likely to have a psychological impact in that it will mean the fundamental focus of the
party, structurally, is upon Holyrood.

* For the pedants, worthy band that we are, the initials stand for Iain Duncan Smith; Good Morning Scotland; Disability Living
Allowance; Employment and Support Allowance; Incapacity Benefit; Personal Independence Payment; Halifax Bank of Scotland;
Royal Bank of Scotland; Scottish National Party. But then you already knew that, didn't you? Pip, pip!

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Description: Did you catch IDS on GMS talking about DLA, ESA, IB, PIP, HBOS, RBS and the SNP?* Fascinating, wasn't it?