GE 2017: What the party leaders say on Welfare, the Environment and Brexit

Welfare, the Environment and Brexit

The Church of Scotland and SCPO had planned a national hustings event on Wednesday 24 May to explore key themes in the lead up to GE 2017. However this event was cancelled following the terrorist attack in Manchester on Monday 22 May.

Three videos were made for the event on the themes of Welfare, the Environment and Brexit. We are publishing them in the lead up to the General Election alongside responses from each of the Scottish political party leaders.


WELFARE: Debbie Leddie (41) from Gourock talks about the welfare system in the UK.

Debbie’s question to party leaders: “I know of many, including myself, who would rather struggle with mental and severe physical disabilities than put themselves in a situation where they feel unsupported by the welfare system. What will your party do to ensure that individuals like me get the help and support that we need?”

Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party

The creation of a welfare state, which aimed to achieve a society in which we all contribute fairly and we are all supported from the cradle to the grave, was one of the crowning achievements of the mid-20th century. After the Second World War, people could have been forgiven for feeling that the country’s problems were too great, too daunting to solve. But they had survived together, and what they then built together became something this country should have cherished. Instead we have allowed it to become a system which no longer ensures social security; rather it bullies people into low paid work, subsidises employers to pay poverty wages, and leaves behind the many people who aren’t in paid work for whatever reason.

This current system also fails to acknowledge the positive value of things like caring, volunteering, learning, resting and recovering from illness. These are things we all do at times in our lives, and they are all important to us as people, and to our economy.

The Green approach would be to renew the social security system with the goal of ensuring everyone can live with dignity, free from the fear of poverty. This would be underpinned by a Universal Basic Income, replacing many bureaucratic aspects of the tax and benefit system and funded by a return to fair taxation so that the wealthiest in society pay their fair share. In addition we need properly funded public services for people who need extra help, including decent pay levels so that the people delivering those services can feel valued and secure in their careers.

Kezia Dugdale, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Labour built the welfare state and will always support it and protect it. Over the last seven years, a callous Tory government has cut support for the most vulnerable in our society to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest.

The most desperate in our society have been used as a scapegoat for ideological austerity that hurts the poorest. Labour would deliver a government for the many and not the few. The Tories have completely failed on their promise of making work pay and on tackling the barriers to work faced by people with disabilities.

Labour supports a social model of disability. People may have a condition or an impairment but they are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for people with disabilities. We will build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to people with disabilities in 2009 as signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and incorporate it into UK law. Labour will repeal Tory cuts in social security support to people with disabilities through a new Social Security Bill published in our first year in office.

We know that our health service is struggling to meet demand, with a growth in vacancies and waiting time targets being missed. Labour’s plans for investing in public services means more money for Scotland to tackle the problems that face our communities.

We know that addressing anxiety, welfare and other mental health issues in young people can be hugely beneficial throughout their lives. We believe that all secondary schools in Scotland must have access to a qualified and appropriately experienced school counsellor, providing accessible counselling to young people who need it. Sadly, the SNP government has continually refused our calls for this much needed support.

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

It’s important that the welfare system works and acts as a safety net for those who need it. My party will continue to operate the welfare system in accordance with our belief that work is the best route out of poverty, that work should always pay, and that the system should be fair both to the people in need of support and those who contribute to it through taxation.

I recognise that we must minimize any administrative complexity and make navigating the system easier. Universal credit has helped in this regard and we propose continuing with its roll-out during the coming parliament.

It is also important to note that the Scotland Act 2016 transferred significant new welfare powers to Holyrood. Now, Scottish Ministers will be able to design a welfare system they believe best fits the needs of people in Scotland and will be able to put in place the measures needed to pay for it.

This includes disability benefits. The Scottish Conservatives will continue to work with parties to design a Scottish disability benefits system that allows the government to support the most vulnerable people in our society in the best way possible.

Nicola Sturgeon, Leader of the Scottish National Party

The SNP recognise the valuable contribution that the over one million disabled people in Scotland make to our communities and the talent, diversity and richness they add to our society. That’s why in Government in Scotland, the SNP are working towards establishing a Scottish social security system based on dignity and respect with the limited social security powers being devolved. Social security should be there for all of us in times of need. We are committed that the model of assessment in this new system – devised with the benefit of help from the experience panels, the expert group and our partners in health and social care – will be able better able to deal with mental health conditions and fluctuating conditions.

We’ve also announced that in Scotland under our new social security system that, unlike the UK Government system, private firms will be banned from carrying out benefit assessments. We believe that public funds should be used for public services, not for private profit.

In Westminster, the SNP acknowledge that transformational change is needed both in Scotland and UK wide in order for disabled people to realise their full potential. That’s why, as we set out in our recently publishedmanifesto, the SNP are committed to the ending the cruel cycle of welfare cuts, and SNP MPs will continue to call for the Scottish Parliament to have full control over all social security benefits. Only with full control over social security can we ensure that Scotland has a strong, secure safety net to protect the most disadvantaged in our society.

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Party

The Liberal Democrats are clear that balancing the country’s books on the backs of the poor and disabled, and demonising people who claim benefits, is neither acceptable nor responsible. We want to change the way that welfare works so that it is more sympathetic to people’s needs

Of course government budgets must be scrutinised but this must not be used as an excuse to attack the poor and vulnerable. And in any case it is more effective to tackle the causes of the benefits bill – low pay, high rents, unemployment and ill-health.

That’s why we will reverse unfair Conservative policies like reducing support for younger people and cutting the benefits of people not fit for work. We will reinstate the legally binding poverty targets of the Child Poverty Act.

Research from the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that Liberal Democrat policies are best for the people in the lowest income brackets of any of the UK parties. The reasons for this is that we will uprate working-age benefits at least in line with inflation.People have felt the squeeze for too long. We will lift the public sector pay cap that currently means millions of people are falling behind inflation. With a damaging extreme Brexit threatening to increase inflation even more, this policy is really important.

We will abandon the two-child policy on family benefits, and abolish the Conservatives’ ‘rape clause’ where a woman has to declare children that are born as a result of rape in order to access tax credits.

We will scrap the discredited Work Capability Assessment and replace it with a new system, run by local authorities according to national rules, including a ‘real world’ test that is based on the local labour market.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have fought tirelessly to reduce the historic inequality between the way physical and mental health are treated in the NHS and are proud of the strides forward we made.But we know that not enough resources reach front line services and that, in the fight for parity of esteem, there is still a very long way to go.

One in four people will suffer from mental ill health some time in their life. The cost to individuals, families, our communities and the economy is immense. The capacity and scope of existing services doesn’t come close to reflecting this need, piling pressure on other public services. Our fully costed plan will bring new mental health services to every GP practice, A&E department, police division and school. We have a new five point offer for new mothers who struggle with mental health around the time of the birth of their child.

The Environment

ENVIRONMENT: Rev Tamu Ina Maramba (30) from East Sumba, Indonesia talks about the environment.

Rev Maramba’s question to party leaders: “Care for the environment is essential for the future of us all. How is your party committed to nature and what will it do to ensure the future of our planet?”

Kezia Dugdale, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

A Labour government would place environmental protection at its heart.
The Tories’ hard Brexit will put hard-won environmental protections at risk – and destroy the cross-border cooperation that is so necessary to tackle this global problem.

Labour would seek a close relationship with the EU post-Brexit, focused on retaining the rights we enjoy as EU citizens, including environmental protections.
A Labour government would also ban onshore fracking across the UK.

Here in Scotland, we are pushing through a Member’s Bill that will ban onshore fracking in Scotland. The SNP has prevaricated on this issue – but Scottish Labour is forcing it to act.

The Green Party here in Scotland professes to be environmental, but is just as obsessed with driving through another divisive independence referendum as the SNP.

Instead, it is the Labour party in Scotland and across the UK that will stand up for the environment and deliver a government for the many and not the few.

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

Earlier this year, the Scottish Conservatives set out our approach to environmental policy in a comprehensive policy document covering the Circular Economy, Biodiversity, Energy, Homes and Transport. The Scottish Conservatives believe in protection and enhancing our natural heritage. We must do more than just repair damage, we must also improve our environment and leave Scotland a better place than we found it.

Our plans include establishing new national parks where there is local support, sourcing at least 50% of Scotland’s energy from renewables by 2030, encouraging regenerative farming, incentivising the uptake of electric vehicles and increasing the energy efficiency of our homes. Scotland had hear too many warm words and seen too much inaction when it comes to protecting our environment. Full details of our policy document can be accessed via the following link: Global Challenge Local Leadership

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Party

Eighteen months ago, it seemed that the world had come to a consensus on the need to take the perils of climate change seriously but with the election of Donald Trump in the US and Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the tides of isolationism and populism could halt or even reverse the progress that has been made.

The Conservatives have cut support for renewable energy and home insulation, sold off the Green Investment Bank and failed to control air pollution. Their actions put not just Britain’s environment at risk but the health of its citizens and its economy, undermining the increasingly successful green industries which already employ more than half a million workers.

Liberal Democrats are determined that we live up to our environmental obligations. That’s why we will pass five green laws at a UK level, all with benefits for Scotland: a Green Transport Act, a Zero-Carbon Britain Act, a Nature Act, a Green Buildings Act, and a Zero Waste Act to incorporate existing EU environmental protections, maintain product standards such as for energy efficiency, and establish a framework for continual improvement.

At over £1,200 a year, the cost of heating and lighting an average home in Scotland is too high. More than two million families across the UK cannot afford to heat their home properly.

Liberal Democrats will reduce energy bills permanently by improving home insulation and encouraging small-scale, community and local authority renewable schemes. We will make saving energy a top infrastructure priority, slashing energy bills and carbon emissions, creating thousands of jobs and helping end the fuel poverty crisis once and for all.

Nicola Sturgeon, Leader of the Scottish National Party

Scotland is a world leader in tackling climate change and the SNP is taking important steps to protect our natural environment. Under an SNP Scottish Government, Scotland has exceeded a world-leading target to reduce emissions by 42% by 2020 six years early. To ensure this positive action continues the SNP Scottish Government has produced a draft Climate Change Plan, with tougher targets for future years. At Westminster, the SNP will press the UK government to match Scotland’s commitment and ambition.

Scotland has a wealth of onshore and offshore renewable energy potential and more than 50% of Scotland’s electricity is now produced from renewables. The SNP, both in the Scottish Parliament and in Westminster, will continue to support renewable energy projects, pressing the UK Government to include onshore wind in its industrial strategy and demand an increased focus on offshore wind, tidal energy and wave power.

We recognise that fighting climate change and protecting our planet requires cohesive action across countries. The SNP will work to prevent Brexit being used by the UK Government as a reason to reduce commitments to tackle climate change or undermine the European Union’s efforts to fight climate change and protect the environment. Scotland has, and will continue to, play an important role in these areas. We are determined to safeguard the advances which have already been made, while continuing to protect and enhance our environment in the years ahead.

Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party

The way human beings are living today is fundamentally unsustainable, and risks destroying the life support system we all depend on. Some of the impacts are now high profile issues, like climate change and ocean acidification. Others receive less attention, but from the degradation of habitats to the loss of soil fertility they are all having a profound effect on people, and on the other creatures we share the planet with.

The transition to a sustainable society, in which we aim at every generation to leave a healthier environment and a more secure life support system than we inherited, is the basic reason why the Green movement exists. That movement includes Green parties in many countries all around the world.

It should be clear to everyone that simply adding a few ‘environmental policies’ to a basically status quo political and economic system is entirely inadequate. Greens challenge the idea that everlasting economic growth can be achieved without everlasting exploitation of people and of the planet. The growth obsession also fails to measure what really matters – the things that actually contribute to our quality of life don’t always show up in the narrow economic measures that currently drive the policies of governments. There is so much opportunity from sustainable economics, from renewable energy that benefits whole communities instead of just big business, to healthier local food systems with animal welfare at their heart. But we will only realise those opportunities if we embrace the transition, instead of digging our heels in and pretending that the current fossil fuel economy will last forever.

Brexit (from an EU Nationals perspective)

BREXIT: Rev Anita Stutter (54) from the Netherlands, who now lives in Lochcarron, talks about Brexit.

Anita’s question to party leaders: “Brexit has been divisive and has created a lot of uncertainty for people like me. What will your party do to create an inclusive society and to reassure those who are being made to feel like bargaining chips?”

Nicola Sturgeon, Leader of the Scottish National Party

Leaving the EU will have an impact on every one of us. For EU nationals in particular, Brexit will bring uncertainty about their right to continue living and working in Scotland. Throughout the Brexit process the UK government has treated EU nationals living in the UK as bargaining chips. We think that this is shameful, and it must end.

The Prime Minister has refused to provide any firm answers for our EU neighbours, colleagues and friends. Instead she has made a series of vague commitments to seeking an early resolution to the issue. That just isn’t good enough. The Prime Minister cannot speak on one hand of building a fairer and global UK whilst also jeopardising the status and rights of EU citizens who have made the UK their home. EU nationals contribute immeasurably to our economy, our public services and our culture. By giving straightforward access to permanent residence, we can end the uncertainty about their future. The SNP will continue to stand up for the rights of EU citizens at Westminster. Our MPs will continue to press the UK government to confirm the rights of EU nationals to remain as a matter of urgency.

We believe that, if the UK government chooses not to give EU nationals the certainty they deserve, then immigration powers should be devolved so that Scotland can do so.

Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party

I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met while out campaigning, who are from other EU countries and are feeling anxious about their future. This anxiety is entirely the result of the UK Government’s refusal to guarantee their right to stay in the UK after Brexit. There is absolutely no need to wait for negotiations to do this, because even if other EU countries don’t follow suit (which is of course highly unlikely) it would still be utterly indefensible to force people who have made their lives here to leave.

Not only was the Brexit debate itself divisive, leading to a heightened level of hate crime, but it also came in the wake of many years of hostile, xenophobic and racist debate about immigration. Disgracefully, a large section of the media and many politicians have knowingly created this atmosphere. Changing it will not be easy, but as we have seen recently in Manchester people are capable of extraordinary acts of solidarity even in the most difficult of circumstances. By encouraging people to embrace a deeper understanding of one another’s lives, and ensuring that we avoid using language which divides and alienates people, we can all help to change the tone of the debate. However it’s also vital to see an end to austerity economics, and tackle the poverty and inequality we see around us. When so many people’s basic needs are not met, it will always be easier for divisive and xenophobic attitudes to be fostered.

Kezia Dugdale, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

It is disgraceful that the Tory party has yet to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here in the UK. A Labour government will immediately guarantee that right on day one.

It is not just morally repugnant for the Tories to treat people as bargaining chips – it is economically foolish too.EU citizens do valuable, even life-saving work across the UK every day. They work in our NHS, teach in our schools and staff our businesses.

Here in Scotland, they are essential parts of many key industries, including agriculture and fish processing. Without the contribution of EU citizens who live and pay their taxes here, the UK and Scotland would be a lesser place. As well as guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, a Labour government would work to tackle the root causes of discrimination and division.

Unlike the SNP – which is only obsessed with how to divide people with a second independence referendum – Labour would bring people together. By investing in our economy and improving our public services, a Labour government would tackle the poverty and ignorance that so often pit people against people.

By voting Labour on June 8, we can deliver a government for the many not the few.

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

As regards to the status of EU nationals, I would like to assure you that the UK Government has been clear that there will be no immediate change in European citizens’ status in the UK. EU nationals make an important contribution to our society and we value them.

The Prime Minister has also stated that she wishes to guarantee the rights not just of EU citizens who are already living in Britain – but also the rights of British nationals in other member states – as early as possible.

A number of European leaders have said that they too support such an agreement and the Prime Minister has been clear that resolving this challenge as soon as possible remains a key priority for the UK Government. I welcome this commitment and recognise the uncertainty felt by people such as Rev Stutter. During last year’s referendum, I campaigned passionately for a Remain vote. However, I recognise that the will of the British people must be respected.

The Scottish Conservatives are also clear that none of the questions posed by Brexit will be answered by leaving our own union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends and we are determined to get the best deal for Scotland as we leave the EU.

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Party

Liberal Democrats are open and outward-looking. We passionately believe that Britain’s relationship with its neighbours is stronger as part of the European Union. Whatever its imperfections, the EU remains the best framework for working effectively and co-operating in the pursuit of our shared aims. It has led directly to greater prosperity, increased trade, investment and jobs, better security, and a greener environment. Britain is better off in the EU.

Liberal Democrats campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU. However, we acknowledge the result of the 2016 referendum, which gave the Government a mandate to start negotiations to leave.

It is now clear that the Conservative plan for an extreme Brexit means leaving the Single Market, ending freedom of movement, and abandoning the Customs Union. The effects of Brexit are already being felt. The value of the pound has plummeted. Inflation has risen. Growth in the economy has slowed, and the government is already borrowing billions more to fill the gap in lost tax revenue. Young people, who voted overwhelmingly to remain, are being told their voices do not matter. Urgent problems, such as the future of the NHS, are being neglected because of the sheer scale of the challenge posed by Brexit.

This is why we say people should have the opportunity to reject a bad deal on Brexit.

At the end of negotiations, there will be a decision on the deal. The Conservatives want the decision to be taken by politicians. Liberal Democrats believe the British people should have the final say.